Is Gen Museveni’s military approach to Covid-19 workable?

Sunday May 24 2020


By Philip Matogo

In our bush language, all these measures were aimed at: simama, piga magoti, nyamanzeni and sikiliza - stop, kneel, keep quiet and listen. In that way, you can hear clearly ekirikukaabuuza (moving in the grass or bush), locate its approximate position and act,” said President Museveni in one of his televised addresses on Covid-19.

He was describing his government’s military strategy in the war against the coronavirus. To many, his enlisting Bush War military tactics in the fight against this virus seems like a case of overkill.

However, like us all, he seems to be trying to find a still point in a turning world. A place to stand, if you will, that is familiar.

For this virus has forced the pace of the times faster than our preparedness has permitted. And has thus left us all looking for our footing; economically, socially and politically.

In some fundamental sense, we are all on a war footing too. And Gen Museveni must assume a continuum between means and ends in order to lead us into battle.
This requires calm under fire.

English statesman Edmund Burke once said, “Our patience will achieve more than our force.”


So we can’t attempt to run through the fire with a full can of gasoline in an effort to be done with this fight in a hurry. Especially as death brushes against us, courtesy of the virus.

But how does Museveni’s strategy square with WHO guidelines?

The President’s war effort is grounded in age-old military warfare and so is not something he personally invented during the 1981-86 Bush War.

As with most countries, a lockdown was imposed in Uganda. This, in military terms, is in line with the President’s wait and see tactics: let silence prevail and listen out for any sound regarding the enemy’s approach.

Military science declares this tactic as “defence in depth”, which may also be called a delaying action.

According to military science, “this helps a smaller force harass a larger force and delay their advance. All the while, this smaller force inflicts as much damage as it can on a larger force without directly engaging them.”

As our smaller force or medical personnel attack, the main force of our Covid-19 army, which is the general population of Uganda, disengages the enemy while maintaining good order.

This enables it be given the time necessary to set up a new defensive position. In the fight against Covid19, such a position involves taking better precautions by following Ministry of Health guidelines.

Where and how the aforementioned small force (medical personnel) protects the main force (Ugandans) is called a rearguard. This rearguard action dispenses advice such as:

“Clean your hands often. Use soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand rub. Maintain a safe distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing. Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth” and so on.

This defence in depth can slow down an advancing army (Covid-19), causing it to lose momentum.

Leading military strategists Carl von Clausewitz and Sun Tzu agreed that the preferred form of war was defence.

Clausewitz stated that such defence can prevent an attacking force from surrounding your positions.

It also sets the stage for a counterattack as we soak up enemy attacks and hit the enemy “on the break.” Manchester United football club has used such counterattacks devastatingly in football matches.

Additionally, a defence in depth is subdivided into a defence in space and a defence in time.
The former is about not being there when an enemy attacks (health precautions). And the latter means slowing down or blocking an enemy when they do attack (lockdown).

The forces of Covid-19 are infinitely superior in number, being marshalled by countless germs with a view to a kill. And their ability to manoeuvre is freighted by the airborne nature of their onslaughts.

So a frontal attack, without a vaccine, is out of the question. Defensive warfare is our best bet.

Finally, when one of history’s foremost generals, Napoleon Bonaparte, was criticised for winning battles with the aid of what his critics called luck, he famously retorted: “I’d rather have lucky generals than good ones.”

More than a hundred years later, the allied commander in World War II, Gen Dwight Eisenhower, reaffirmed this point by saying: “I’d rather have a lucky general than a smart general. They win battles.”

In light of how many of us have flouted Ministry of Health guidelines and lived to brag about it, luck might actually be our greatest military weapon.

Mr Matogo is a digital marketing manager with City Surprises Ltd