COVID19: INSIDE MUSEVENI’S BASKET OF CARROTS & BUNDLE OF STICKS
By Samuel Kamugisha
For close to two hours Friday night, President Yoweri Museveni sought to cheer up Ugandans undergoing a two-week lockdown (most of whom had hitherto only read lockdowns and curfews in history books), water the few seeds of hope left in their hearts, and tell all and sundry that his measures issued from March 18 through March 30 were working. Appearing as cool as a cucumber in some episodes of his address, the president dangled a carrot here, and threatened to crack the whip there.
Unlike in his previous speeches where he openly warned Ugandans to be careful or prepare thousands of graves, Museveni began by praising Ugandans.
“I want to congratulate you. I knew you would do it,” he said, calming the hearts of many Ugandans who had earlier thought the President would officially declare a state of emergency, and perhaps further tighten the noose on movements, including those of essential service providers.
He even suggested that the reason Covid19 had ravaged Europe and Asia was “because of the way they live” – priding in their technological advancement, and bundling the elderly in institutional homes.
“I know we can stop it here because we have a different life style,” encouraged Museveni.
‘THE OTHER SOFT PARTS’ & M7’S OTHER WORRIES
He emphasised the general hygiene and social distancing measures – staying away from those sneezing or coughing, washing hands with soap or sanitizing and avoiding touching the facial soft parts: eyes, nose and mouth.
“I was worried about ‘the other soft parts’ but doctors told me they are okay. The virus doesn’t reach there. The crucial ones are the nose, eyes and the mouth. You can imagine if it went to the other soft parts of the body,” said the President, cracking ministers and members of the Covid19 National Taskforce who gathered at State House Nakasero for the address that ended only two hours to midnight.
Besides the question of whether the deadly Coronavirus disease was a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) or not, the other issue that has been giving the President sleepless nights is that of the returnees who had made contact with their communities. So, he shared figures of those that have been tested so far, and the positive cases since March 21 when the first case was confirmed. Later, Health Minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng announced the results from the 419 tests done on Friday. Three new cases had been confirmed, bringing the total number of patients to 48 in about two weeks – out of a sample of 2204. At least 13 of the confirmed cases had been to communities such as Hoima and Masaka.
Noting that at least 660 contacts of these 13 had been identified for follow-up, Minister Aceng said: “These might not be the only ones because we also need the contacts of these contacts.” That means the Ministry of Health (MoH) might test over 2,000 others to be sure there are no ongoing cases in communities because, besides the contacts of the confirmed cases, there are some returnees who skipped quarantine. In fact, the Ministry is looking at travel manifests at the Entebbe International Airport, and will liaise with security forces, communities and telecom companies to trace Dubai (UAE) returnees and screen them.
“If we are serious, we can weed out those cases which might have entered into the population,” said the President, after listening to Aceng.
REPORT PIGS TO NAKALEMA
Museveni emphasized that the Uganda Police Force (UPF) was taking the lead role in the implementation of the curfew and the lockdown. The Force was being backed up by the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), Local Defence Units (LDUs) and Local Councils (LCs). He saluted the later group for the good work but rebuked Crime Preventers for self-assigning themselves surveillance roles during the curfew, and lashed at undisciplined LDUs who had reportedly been breaking into people’s homes and whipping them.
“Crime Preventers are part of our system but they should not get involved until they are called upon. If the UPDF needs them, they will be called,” he guided. “That self-deployment must stop. I don’t want to hear that again.”
“But also some of the LDUs are misbehaving. I heard that some are entering the houses. If somebody says the want to enter the house, don’t open for them… Those are just pigs. If you are not valuing Ugandans, then you are a pig. We are going to deal with these pigs harshly.”
The President has since appealed to Ugandans to report any rogue LDU to Lt Col Edith Nakalema, the head of State House’s Anti-Corruption Unit.
STAYING HOME VS STAYING INDOORS
The head-of-state also took time to explain the difference between staying indoors and staying at home.
“You are staying indoors to do what? Sometimes it can be hot inside. We are talking about staying at home. Please don’t interpret my orders in a kiyaaye [an inappropriate] way, as if you don’t know how Ugandans live,” cautioned Museveni. There are people who don’t have indoor toilets, are you saying they stay indoors and don’t go to latrines? In fact, it is our government which said the latrine should be far from the main house.”
He then explained that home meant one’s house, compound, veranda, plantations and farms during daytime.
“But don’t go to the neighbourhood; don’t visit your friends and neighbours.” He also sought to understand why some people were still walking to the city and trading centres. He even suggested that Uganda Police Joint Chief of Staff AIGP Brig Jack Bakasumba and (UPDF) Deputy Chief of Defence Forces Lt Gen Wilson Mbasu Mbadi try and find out, in a friendly way, what these people are trekking to do in town.
“You walkers, stay home. I won’t use force, but please stay at home. Let us stop and listen.”
THE PAGANS OF KALERWE
The Commander-in-Chief, somewhat apologetically, called the traders working in- and leaders of-Kalerwe Market and other markets who have failed to observe basic hygiene and social distancing measures “pagans.”
“There you are pagans. And don’t say Museveni has insulted us. If you resist science and enlightenment, then you are a pagan.”
Museveni also shared a story of how his mother Esteeri Kokundeka (RIP) and the first batch of Balokole brought light to their area, preaching against practices like taking un boiled milk and people drinking from the same cup and gourd.
On Thursday, MP Elijah Okupa (Kasilo County) presented a report of the task force Speaker Rebecca Kadaga instituted on March 19 to study the economic impact of Covid19 on Uganda. Although most MPs and Speaker Kadaga agreed the report “paints a gloomy economic picture in the immediate future” characterised by “lesser incomes and slow economic growth,” Museveni said he was hopeful Uganda would overcome the pandemic.
“I don’t believe in that line of pessimism. Yes, some of the sectors will suffer, for example tourism, music, night clubs, etc.”
But Museveni said the Coronavirus epidemic presented opportunities in other sectors such as agriculture.
“For example, this crisis will create more demand for food. Tourism will suffer but cows will continue producing. I have not heard that Covid19 kills cows… Manufacturing: you now see that when there is a crisis, people think about themselves first.”
POVERTY NOT AN EMERGENCY
The President also responded to requests by Kadaga and her MPs that the distribution of relief food to hand-to-mouth earners in Kampala and Wakiso be halted until a national emergency plan has been drawn to donate food to all districts in the country.
“Poverty is a long-term problem; we are now dealing with something called an emergency. We shouldn’t mix our problems with this new problem because the emergency is a short-term issue. Poverty is not an emergency, we have had it all this time and we are addressing it,” Museveni replied to the MPs, further revealing that he had explained some of these issues in his letter to the Prime Minister, and copied to Kadaga, Chief Justice Bart Katureebe and their deputies.
“Please don’t mix up issues because if you try to mix up short and long term issues, we shall solve nothing. I don’t like this thing of mixing up issues. The people we are going to help are those affected by our anti-Coronavirus measures. We are talking about people who get their food from the money they earn everyday.”
For those with hotels, salons and other affected businesses, the President suggested that they might have to accept losses as an occupational hazard, or consider switching enterprise after the lockdown.
“When my cows were attacked by foot and mouth disease, I suffered quietly; I said it’s my bad luck.”
Meanwhile, although, he variously described the current situation as an ‘emergency,’ the President seemed to walk around the issue of formally declaring a state of emergency as Kadaga and Katureebe advised him in a high-level meeting called to discuss the matter. It is hoped he addressed the matter in his letter to Rugunda, a copy of which the Speaker and the Chief Justice are expected to get.
MBAYO DEFENDS RDCS
Earlier, Museveni had warned corrupt Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) who were reportedly demanding ‘kitu kidogo’ before issuing travel permits. But Presidency Minister Esther Mbayo told the president his envoys in the districts had made errors because of the rush that came with the abrupt announcement of a lockdown, and a curfew.
“They didn’t intend, and I wouldn’t say they are corrupt. I have guided them and they are now doing better,” said Mbayo.
“I have forgiven them,” replied Museveni.
VIRUS OF WHITES?
Mbayo also reported that her recent tour of Acholi during which she met the Prime Minister of the cultural institution, and addressed locals via Mega FM and Radio Rupiny, had revealed much about the effective of Coronavirus messaging.
“The urban people have understood, but in the rural areas, they say it is a virus for Kampala people, and for the whites,” she said.
Museveni emphasized that Covid19 was not a disease for white people only because some of those who have died in Europe are Africans including famous musicians.
Since the address last night, Trade, Industry and Cooperatives Minister Amelia Kyambadde has dominated social media commentary for trying to put in a word for low-income earners.
She informed Museveni that support staffs have not been given stickers and they have nowhere to stay inside ministries. In response, the President advised that they should camp in the compounds of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) because “this is not time for comfort” but “war time.”
To this, Minister Kyambadde pushed further, arguing that it would be difficult for some of these workers to camp at workplaces because they were single mothers with children. “Let those with such problems stay at home,” insisted the President.
For the traders who have to go to the city to do shopping, the President advised that they should make orders through their sophisticated mobile phones. He even sent for his ‘kabiriti’ phone to teach Ugandans some financial frugality.
GEN WAMALA’S STICKERS
Other concerns and clarifications came from Works and Transport Minister Gen Katumba Wamala, and ICT and National Guidance Minister Judith Nabakooba.
Gen Wamala said some 2,000 travel stickers had been given to health workers, while the same number had been offered to the Uganda Manufacturers Association. He added that the stickers for healthcare personnel were of a different color to allow them keep working in case the situation worsened and all other groups had to be ordered to stay home.
“Even if other services stop, the health services will continue,” said the Minister.
He also revealed that the stickers had a special security feature to make it difficult for unscrupulous people to forge them.
WITCHDOCTORS & HERBALISTS
Minister Nabakooba had asked Kampala Minister Betty Amongi to request the President to add his voice on those of the Ministry regarding herbalists and witchdoctors who were telling Ugandans that they had found the cure for Covid19.
In response, Museveni noted that “although herbs may cure diseases, they do so when a disease is known.”
“I grew up taking herbs; I started taking these drugs from hospitals at the age of eight. [But] those who tell you that they have discovered the medicine for Covid19 in such a short time are telling you lies; those are thieves. Medicine must be researched on, and approved.”
He then instructed Nabakooba to crack the whip on media outlets marketing such witchdoctors and herbalists.
“The media should stop advertising such. Any radio which advertises fake drugs that are not authorised by the National Drug Authority (NDA) should be closed. Nabakooba should work on that.”
AND WHEN DOES THIS WHOLE THING END?
From Museveni’s Friday night speech and clarifications from his Ministers, a cloud of uncertainty still hangs high on whether the lockdown will be lifted mid-April when the 14 days end or not. But what was clear was that that decision will depend on how Ugandans follow the preventive measures and how quickly and effectively the MoH tracks returnees, contacts of the 48 patients – and contacts of those contacts.
In Museveni’s words, a MoH clearance would help determine whether government decides to “lift the lockdown and leave people to work, or add like another seven days” to be sure the country has defeated the virus.
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