By Moses Ssejjoba
President Museveni on Wednesday evening made his fifth address to the nation on coronavirus. That’s just within the space of a week. Once again he left Ugandans with more questions than answers in regards to his response to the outbreak.
Many Ugandans expected Museveni to at least speak tough on leaders who have frustrated the already bungled preparations for the disaster. These include NRM bigwigs like MPs that dodged quarantine even when they arrived in Entebbe from high-risk countries. These people in addition to throngs of relatives of senior UPDF officers, came from Dubai over the weekend but dodged quarantine.
Many were “untouchables” whom airport security couldn’t stop, but most simply bribed their way out. Museveni said nothing about these people, or their behavior.
Also he has been very vague on efforts to deal with the consequences of the virus, mainly on the national economy. In his Wednesday address, he ordered closure of public transport and urged Ugandans to use private means.
On Tuesday, employing vulgarities he had disparaged retailers for increasing prices, conveniently ignoring the fact that supply chains of all essential commodities have been taken over by cartels whose bosses Museveni knows very well. These cartel bosses sit with him in his cabinet.
Many Ugandans are now in a state of despair and need national leadership. They haven’t seen anything like leadership. What assurance has Museveni given to the ordinary trader in Kikuubo, who has a bank loan to pay, but whose business has been paralyzed by his directives?, many ask. The answer is zero!
“I have always patiently waited every time TV networks announced Museveni would be addressing the nation on coronavirus but today, I decided I will not listen in again! He has not said anything meaningful to Ugandans,” said Aisha Kabanda, a former RDC of Butambala.
She chronicled Museveni’s speech, saying that the first half was delivered mostly in Runyankore in which all he did was lecture Ugandans about sneezing; and the second half was devoted to delegating his leadership’s virus response to God. After that he was back to preaching about sneezing.
“Now he is talking about revoking trading licenses for retailers who hike prices; does my neighbourhood kiosk have a trade license? I think he has taken the joke too far,” remarked Kabanda in disgust.
Many Ugandans are now bracing for an imminent social explosion as a result of the lack of national leadership in the response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Mobs of hungry Ugandans are already attacking food trucks, because Museveni failed to anticipate this problem, as some social commentators have already observed
According to commentators, Uganda had the opportunity to learn from other countries where the outbreak was first reported. But because of the dispensation Museveni has presided over for 35 years, systems simply do not work. “Take an example of the way the quarantine of potential patients taken from Entebbe airport was handled; ministers and other government officials came to pick their relatives.
But when police officers saw this, they felt it was an opportunity to take bribes from others who felt they didn’t want to go into institutional quarantine,” a Kampala attorney pointed out. “As a result a lot of ‘super-spreaders’ are out there spreading Coronavirus!” added the lawyer who requested not to divulge his name.
“But who can blame the poorly paid officers for soliciting bribes from potential cases, including Chinese who were coming from the epicenter of the virus, and releasing them into the city? Who can blame them if NRM ‘super powers’ can just pick their relatives or friends without following the law,” asked the lawyer.
Now two of these Chinese have turned out to have COVID-19.
The quarantine itself did not make medical sense, as explained by Dr. Jimmy Spire Ssentongo, an academic who was among those that were initially quarantined at a hotel in Entebbe, at their own cost.
“What we are subjected to here is hostage, not quarantine. No health officer has stepped here to see what is happening. It is hotel staff in charge, and they barely have knowledge on how to safely conduct themselves in the circumstances,” he said on his Facebook page.
The hotel in question was negotiated by officials from the Ministry of Health who advised the owner to double the accommodation price in order for them to get a cut.
According to Ssentongo, even well meaning Ugandans like himself did not see any reason to stay in quarantine, as it wasn’t serving the supposed purpose. In fact there was high risk of contracting COVID-19, or even other diseases due to the squalid conditions they were staying in.
“This can easily become a breeding center from which the virus could spread to the outside. Yet all of us here are at high risk of being infected,” wrote Sentongo.
Speaking during a talk show on NBS Television, MP Mohammed Nsereko painted a gloomy picture of where the country is headed.
“The response was commoditized from the word go. How can a government tell people to pay for themselves in an institutional quarantine? Then ministers and other big people were allowed to collect their relatives, while others were allowed to take them to fancier hotels, which suited their status to be quarantined there!
“What kind of response is that to a disaster of COVID-19 proportion?” wondered the vocal legislator.
Nsereko wondered why Ugandans were being asked to wash their hands regularly yet the government was not playing its role. “Over half of Kampala people whom I represent in parliament have no running water; the taps are dry and you ask them to wash their hands as many times as possible; wash with what? And what about those deep in villages who still rely on stagnated water to subsist? Do they even have a bar of soap?” he fumed.
Nsereko accused Museveni of personalizing the battle against the virus, which he said was counterproductive. “It is not always about politics; we all know he is angling for 2021 but this is not the time to politic; he should refer himself to what is happening in countries like Italy or Spain to appreciate the dangers of this virus,” Nsereko said.
Meanwhile several Ugandans have been taken aback by Museveni’s blaming of hiking commodity prices on small-scale retailers whom he called all sorts of names. People saw through the charade.
“Museveni very well know the cartels controlling supply chains of different essential commodities but blames poor retailers. He knows where and when prices are manipulated, which is right from the top by people around him, so he is only hoodwinking people,” said a Kampala-based journalist.
“We know people like Kahinda Otafiire who sit in his cabinet are behind the manipulation of prices for essential commodities like sugar. Others are part of Museveni’s own household,” said the journalist who preferred anonymity so as to speak safely.