Covid-19: NRM has lost chance to hold Uganda together - Muntu

Sunday June 14 2020


By Derrick Wandera

What were you up to as Uganda, and indeed the world, came to a standstill?
We were on track, conducting our rollout across the country until we went into lockdown. We ended in mid-March and since that time we have only been able to conduct business online.
Unfortunately, we were unable to conduct any physical meetings, which are very critical because the effort that we were engaged in was going down to form committees at parish, sub-county and district levels.
ANT has made one year, but one would say the party has been largely quiet…
Unfortunately, our first anniversary is being celebrated under lockdown, so we are only able to do activities online and no physical communication. But we have communicated to all leaders within the party to plant a tree in commemoration of our first anniversary. Maybe when the lockdown is lifted, we shall go through activities to celebrate the anniversary.
We are slowly resuming normal routine following close to three months of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. How would you assess Uganda’s response?
I think the initial responses were quite good because there was cooperation from the population and government. Even we in the Opposition gave them the benefit of the doubt because we were focusing on how we can have the government focus on how to prevent the death of any citizen. So we gave maximum cooperation. Even the guidelines which were set by the Ministry of Health became effective and we thank God that we haven’t lost any life.
Unfortunately, the regime lost track because there was no reciprocation of the cooperation they got from the Opposition. You could see that they were trying to use the situation to their advantage – partisan based – which saw them go so low. But we are used to such actions from the regime. We had hoped that they would learn from the situation, take the moral high ground and hold the country together. But they have failed in that.
How have they failed?
Just being narrow in the way they look at things. They are driven more by advancing themselves. First as individuals and second as an organisation looking at keeping themselves in power. But in a crisis of this nature, if you have got leaders who think the right way, this would have been the opportunity for them to rally themselves together so that in case this situation got worse, you would have everybody together.
I could see some of the things they were doing were based on partisan interest, like the distribution of food. I could see that the regime was not focused on the guidelines, it was focused on seeing that they gain advantage and score political points.
That was one. Two was when government through their numbers in Parliament manipulated the allocation processes and allocated themselves Shs20m and it caused problems amidst their own ranks. I saw Gen Museveni condemning the action and they backtracked and took back the money. For them to go back in the closet and give themselves Shs40m for supporting the [lifting of the presidential] age limit was something so low.
The Cabinet, MPs and the President are the cream of the country, one would argue. As a country we deserve better and that shows that these leaders should not be where they are and the public should prepare to punish them heavily through the ballot box.

What would ANT have done differently were it in power?
The leaders are petty minded at the Executive. When you are in such a crisis, you need to be broad minded. Why would you refuse to involve all the other organs of government? That is why the MPs came out in broad daylight to disagree and I understand there is a WhatsApp group where Gen Museveni’s portrait has been used as the display picture, but after that incident, it was removed they put the Speaker. This threw him (President Museveni) into panic to the extent of giving them Shs40m so as to put it back. This was a mafia kind of operation which has eaten government from top to bottom. These people feel we are fools.
At a regional level, how would you rate the EAC response to the pandemic? Countries have failed to agree on how to move forward
It is unfortunate that they are failing to agree on some of these things. People’s lives are at stake. The one thing that would be for them to come up with is a breakdown of cooperation. They should not wait for a crisis like this to spread beyond any capabilities and then get deaths like those in Europe. And it should not be about rating. Death is death, if you get it wrong the population will be punished for it.
Gen Muntu, the government has emphasised the aspect of import substitution and export promotion during this crisis. Looking at our local production rates and quality, what do you think of this policy?
It depends on how the whole economic community of East Africa coordinate the effort because it is a big market of about 100 million people or so. Therefore, if they concentrate on the production within the community, it is sustainable because the whole world is moving towards the same direction.
So out of this new situation, a number of countries will concentrate on production within their own countries, other than importing. It also depends on what is being produced because it is a question of demand and supply. The EAC needs to focus on transportation of commodities. For instance, DR Congo could play a huge role because geographically, it can only trade through the east and not the west. That would give East Africa a chance for promotion of their commodities.
And we have just witnessed how chaotic the transport sector in EAC can be with the tens of kilometres of traffic jam we saw at the border. How can it be improved?

They must concentrate on building the railway networks, because that is the only alternative to road transport which is very expensive. The other problem that they are grappling with is corruption, which they need to eliminate because it is a big problem that affects the planning and implementation of big projects.
For instance, what has stalled the SGR is the fact that the leaders have not taken a decision because these trucks are owned by the people in power. They can’t take a decision which will see their trucks thrown out of business.
Crossing to politics, the 2021 elections are just around the corner. Are you going to be the ANT presidential flag bearer?
Our position as ANT has always been that getting a flag bearer would be at the tail end of our programmes. Our delegates’ conference was supposed to be in June and this would take us into the process of getting a flag bearer.
You recently came out to criticise our judicial processes when your comrade, Gen Henry Tumukunde, was denied bail. Why was this so?
It is legitimate for everyone who wants to stand for president to do so. It was only unfortunate that the regime decided to clump down on him when he tried to do so, the way they have done to Dr Kizza Besigye and Bobi Wine [Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi]. They are threatened that whenever someone comes and generates momentum within the population, it threatens Gen Museveni’s political base and that is how he felt when Gen Tumukunde came and was jailed and denied bail. It was unfortunate.

The requirements they set for him to get bail is something we will have to challenge in court because it should not be used as a precedent. That you have left the army and you still have to get someone within the army to stand sureties who are of your rank or above to be able to get bail. I am out of the army, therefore, the laws of the army do not apply to me.

We shall challenge that precedent so that no other judge or magistrate is able to set a condition ever again.