There’s a toad jumping in broad daylight but Kampala’s elite are not be bothered

Friday April 10 2020

Benjamin Rukwengye

Benjamin Rukwengye  

By Benjamin Rukwengye

One of the more interesting subplots to the Covid-19 turmoil is to be found in the pirate-like methods that countries are having to employ in order to secure medical equipment such as masks, hazardous materials (hazmat suits), medical alcohol and ventilators.

Take, for example, the case where officials from one country showed up at Shanghai Airport, offered three times the amount that another country had paid for a consignment of masks, and managed to seize control of the cargo for their country. The masks had already been loaded onto the plane, mind!

Or how another country held onto medical equipment, including ventilators worth $3 million, and only released it after it was publicly called out by the country that had paid for the equipment.

Others have outrightly seized supplies going through their territory, but destined for other countries; while in another country, state leaders who are seen to be hostile to the ‘central government’ have had supplies destined for their states seized. Some others have even passed regulations barring local manufacturers from exporting medical equipment.

This flagrant flouting of international trade policy and basic ethos in times of crisis has not only ensnared the more advanced economies. It has seen even smaller economies such as Barbados, lose 20 ventilators it had paid for to the supplier country. Bedlam!

But it’s not just the intrigues and pragmatism around medical equipment and supplies. Almost all of them have enforced lockdowns of varying degrees, ranging from limiting interactions between more than two people, to preventing anyone under 20 years old or over 65 from leaving their homes.


These stories are intriguing and will soon make for interesting theses on internationalism and diplomacy, especially because they involve advanced economies such as Spain, France, the United States, Germany, Turkey and China – engaging in modern jungle law to survive.
But if this crisis can bring the Robbing Hood out of supposedly more cultured and endowed societies, then we, lesser mortals, need to realise that we are cooked, if we don’t get our act together.

It should tell you how our work is cut out for us, if more advanced economies, with far superior health systems, are having to throw the kitchen sink at this thing. It takes a certain level of idiocy on a poor man’s part, to feel safe when their wealthier neighbour is panicking.

To start with, we don’t even have the money to buy equipment that might get stolen or seized. Before this, we were already hustling with drug stockouts, a shortage of equipment and infrastructure, and not enough motivated health personnel. To that mix, add the chaos and dysfunction surrounding emergency and public transport, and errant Kiboko squad.

You would think that not many Ugandans need reminding about the incapabilities of our health system. Many of us have seen a carwash poster to fundraise for a heart surgery or a bone marrow transplant; buried a child, friend or relative because they couldn’t access better healthcare; a currently nursing someone; or even been a direct victim of the malaise. So you should know enough to not even try.

But you wouldn’t tell by looking at the hordes of urbanites who seem to have suddenly decided that now is a good time to pursue their life-long-elusive fitness goals. Or those who somehow continue to use their privilege and filial access to get vehicle stickers and move around unnecessarily. The easiest way to catch and spread the disease is all this converging to work out in groups and driving around like it is business as usual. The easiest way to die – albeit fit – is by putting your trust in this, our health system, which you already know so well.

Or, for the ‘connected’, is by forgetting that local hospitals will be overwhelmed and airports to your favourite oversees hospital are closed. So, please, whatever it is that you are running or walking for or driving to, it can wait for the sake of everyone. For now, pipe down and show up only when the coast is clear.

This pandemic might not compare to history’s darkest moments, yet for the poorest, it represents yet another existential threat. History has a record of African elites being the weakest links during times of adversity – enablers, collaborators, and jesters – just don’t be another of them.
If you are reading this, please stay home before things fall apart for everyone.

Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds.