Inside Uganda’s chaotic COVID-19 world imposed by Museveni

By Edith Wandera

“If you were poor before Covid-19 but you were eating, continue eating what you were eating, we shall deal with your issues of poverty later,” Museveni told Ugandans during his latest address on the Coronavirus crisis on Tuesday.

The statement left many Ugandans outraged, but it was not a complete surprise to them. It was simply another view of the naked greed, social dysfunction, misery and arrogant misuse of delegated power that they have suffered since the delusional president first announced a lockdown on the country two weeks ago. Extended for another 21 days until May5, the additional days will bring the extended lockdown to a total of 35 days.

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But if the experience of the past two weeks is anything to go by, one prays that neither any of them, nor any loved ones fall sick. Expectant mothers better postpone their delivery dates! And those on the brink of death better push back their date of departure! In short one better become a magician if they are to safely navigate the measures Museveni has announced.

The measures to control movement of people show he is either out of touch with the realities of the country he rules or he simply doesn’t care about the plight of Ugandans. The latter is more plausible. Take for instance the requirement that one needs written authorization from a Resident District Commissioner to move a sick person to a health facility for treatment.

This has resulted into untold misery and hundreds of unnecessary deaths as the sick arrive too late, or completely fail to see doctors. For many the chief impracticality of the measure is that one will be arrested for driving without permission, if in the first place they try to drive to the RDC’s office to secure a movement permit. Yet in some cases, the RDC’s even want to see the patient in question to be convinced that the movement permit will not be “misused”.

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Even in Kampala where you have a fairly high concentration of RDC’s, walking to their offices can be a tall order, involving a walk of several dozen kilometres. And God help you if the emergency happens at night! You then can’t dare move because there’s a curfew in force. The few vehicles and ambulances that have been mobilized are not available to respond to such emergencies because they are now dedicated to respond only to COVID-19 specific calls.

After a futile day-long wait on April 14, a young man summarized the feelings of many at the Mukono RDC’s office. “It would be okay to extend the lockdown for even a year, if it did not mean condemning innocent people to needless death through a system that is obviously not working,” he said. That was the second consecutive day he had been waiting to secure a movement permit from the RDC so that he could take his father for a scheduled medical appointment. The last time they had been to see the doctor, the medic failed to turn up because he was yet to secure a movement sticker from the Ministry of Transport.

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Although Museveni has directed that RDCs delegate the function to a dedicated team, the latter aren’t eager to “surrender their powers”. So it is not unusual to find people waiting for six hours and more before the big man finds time from his other countless tasks, to attend to personal emergencies.

Museveni has called out to industrialists to donate vehicles to help during the emergency. His target is 1350 vehicles although, he says, he believes he can raise up to 4000 vehicles going by the number of medium size factories in the country. And indeed many have responded coming in with an assortment of pick-up trucks. A few have given proper ambulances.

Despite their inappropriateness to the task of ferrying sick people in the first place, this fleet is largely immobile. For one thing there is no budget to fuel them. This is despite the Ushs 75 billion budget for the emergency, and the generous cash donations from various quarters running into billions of shillings. Actually, the huge amounts of money now appear to be the problem.

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The huge budget has whetted the appetites of Museveni’s “40 thieves” who have mounted a vicious operation to eat as much of it as they can.

The first victims have been credible businessmen and diligent civil servants whose reputations have been rolled in the mud after they became an obstacle to well-connected serial tenderpreneur of the kind connected to the First Family. These people did not qualify for tenders to supply the Ushs 35 billion worth of relief food that the government was buying to feed the vulnerable.

Such things matter less in Uganda however, everyone know. The most vital thing is what links one has to the individual in State House and his extended family.

The first scalps were those of procurement officials from the office of the Prime Minister who had shunted aside bidders that did not qualify. While this was perfectly in line with the law, the tenderpreneurs cried foul, accusing the procurement officers of inflating the prices of the relief food.

When that failed, social media gangs working for the State House-linked tenderpreneurs adopted another ruse. They began posting on Twitter and Facebook images of adulterated maize flour and beans with tons of foreign debris that they claimed had been supplied by a company called Aponye Limited, which had been the bidding winner.

But without going on the ground to verify, since at least none of the early recipients of the food had raised any complaints, their State House hireling Lt. Col. Edith Nakalema swung into action, carting off to jail the procurement officers, including Christine Guwatudde the elderly Permanent Secretary to the Prime Ministers Office. To add insult to injury, the honest old man had long asked to retire.

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For the record Aponye is perhaps the largest flour miller in the country, for years having been supplying to the World Food Program’s relief programs in the Great Lakes Region. Just over a decade ago the company was the beneficiary of a USAID grant for value chain development on the cereals and legumes trade.

This allowed the company to set up massive warehouses in central Uganda; a sophisticated grain cleaning and sorting plant that was a demonstration of their capabilities. There is definitely no way such a plant would have failed to detect metal and stones in beans, informed commentators say. Neither would Aponye silos allow maize grains to rot.

The good company’s name has been sullied by the Museveni family enforcer Nakalema, working to divert a tender to greedy thieves whose single qualification is their links to “big people”. Nakalema’s “clients” now have their finger in the pie.

With donations by well wishers coming in from all directions the gravy-train is in overdrive. Some well-meaning donors have been shocked to hear their donations under-stated on national television. One such victim is a foam mattress manufacturer who donated 500 mattresses to the COVID-19 task force in Mukono District.

Only 200 were put on the record with the rest disappearing somewhere along the 21 kilometres between Mukono and Kampala.

At this point the only question is why, after 34 years of Museveni rule, anyone would be shocked by such an act.

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