By Edith Wandera
For 34years, President Yoweri Museveni has either intimidated his opponents like he has done with Kiiza Besigye and many others; or he has coopted by bribing them like he has done with Beti Kamya and others. However, in Coronavirus Museveni has met his match; an opponent he can neither intimidate nor bribe. As a result, Museveni is everywhere on television in a feat of panic, trying to reassure a population that has zero trust left for him.
A social media commentator summed up Museveni’s challenge, “The virus will continue to expose the weakness of @NRMOnline” he wrote on Twitter on March 28, adding, “You’ve suspended everything. Next is total country lockdown and it’s where we’ll see @NRMOnline capabilities to feed poor Ugandans you’ve been sucking dry for 36 years. It’s time to give back. Believe me or not everyone is waiting to see how your party is going to help its citizens.”
Everyone is waiting because for over 34 years, Museveni has destroyed the very systems and institutions he now needs to offer essential services to Ugandans in this critical hour. There is no single institution that is trusted, which has created a vacuum that has forced Museveni to the frontline rather than pull strings far from the dirt as he has usually been preferred in case things go belly-up and he needs scapegoats. Museveni intentionally destroyed these institutions because he didn’t want any challenge to his power.
He was so effective in destroying them that in the end even he himself lacks the trust and authority needed to effectively engage Ugandans on how best they can collectively confront the virus. The President has been reporting that the situation is under control; however, immediately he does this another source provides information that contradicts his, in a show of defiance against his leadership.
On March 27, President Museveni tweeted that “the majority of the 14 people who are hospitalized at Entebbe, Mulago and Masaka with the virus are responding well to the treatment and seem to be improving.” It didn’t take long until someone reported from Mulago hospital, “URGENT!! More than 100 cases of patients are suffering from Covid-19 at Mulago hospital. Medical staff are overwhelmed, the hospital over-crowded. Without enough protective gear, medics are running away.” This was on the same day it was revealed the first Coronavirus victim had died.
As information was circulating of the 100 cases, President Museveni was still telling the public that the number of confirmed cases was only 23! Moreover, Museveni had unwittingly revealed to the public that not only were the sick at Mulago hospital, others were at Entebbe and Masaka hospitals. In other words, if there are 100 cases at Mulago hospital then surely the number of cases confirmed is way higher than the government is prepared to disclose.
Even more importantly, people are more trusting of independent sources and simply ignoring Museveni to the point of disrupting his message. Museveni has been complaining about this sabotage,
“My team has notified me about a forged tweet reportedly saying I have ordered a total lockdown of the country. That is false. Like I indicated earlier, I will keep the country informed of any new measures to curb Covid-19 through the usual channel of a live broadcast,” Museveni tweeted on Saturday, March 28.
Two days earlier, his spokesperson was equally overwhelmed as the police and army unleashed brutality on citizens. “This wasn’t @KagutaMuseveni directive. Been in contact with concerned authorities. The directive was misunderstood by some lower commanders. Consultations are underway to ensure incidents like this doesn’t (sic) reoccur,” Ofwono Opondo tweeted after shocking sights of women being clobbered mercilessly.
This mess was predictable. At Entebbe airport, Bahima were openly defying quarantine, arrogantly dismissing officials and underlining their entitled status, “Do you know who I am?” they have been proclaiming to any who tried to do their jobs. Others were bribing their way out of quarantine.
It is therefore not surprising – in fact it was all too predictable – the number of sick people is being under-reported by a huge factor. Most importantly, one wonders what has happened to Jack Ma’s donation of equipment for testing and care because reports show that people aren’t receiving any medical treatment. Have those, too, been stolen by the usual suspects?
Meanwhile, the First Lady issued a “call to all Ugandans, especially women, to pray!” She knows her husband’s efforts will yield no results because there is no functioning system left to administer directives and the person who could provide the leadership, her husband, is not trusted by anyone since a long time as people blame him as the one responsible for destroying Uganda’s institutions that would normally be at the forefront of responding to this crisis.
Museveni is at his most vulnerable since 1986 because for the first time he faces an opponent he can neither bribe nor intimidate.