Uganda: A corona star now groping for guidance

Sunday June 14 2020


By Alan Tacca

Several weeks ago, when our bigwigs were heroically dictating the dos and don’ts by which we would claim the privilege to remain alive, Uganda was shining like a bright star against the darkness of Covid-19 and death. That far back, I wished – and wrote on this page – that Covid-19 would teach Uganda to stop living like a drunkard.

Unfortunately, more than two months later, Uganda still looks, smells, and staggers like a drunkard.

Just think. Unless of course the creatures President Museveni calls ‘parasites’ just stole the money, can you, for instance, understand how beans and maize-flour worth billions of shillings was soiled, much of it becoming declared unsuitable for human consumption, and more of it vanishing in thin air, unless you visualise gangs of drunkards staggering with bags of animal feed and abandoning most of the food in the muddy roadside trenches where they fell?
Then consider the sheer chaos around the so-called registration of Kampala’s taxis.

Listening to Kampala minister Betty Amongi the other week, I despaired. She seems to think a city is laid out like a game board.
Okay, drunkards have their good points. If he is not using obscene language, a drunkard can bring some relief to a funeral environment. But then you do not make him the master of ceremonies.

Ugandan’s bottle syndrome materialises from many corners. Last Sunday, exactly as a tipsy witchdoctor might curse, I heard an emotional ‘apostle’ on radio and television vowing to curse Ethics minister Fr Simon Lokodo out of his job, if the latter did not work to get churches unlocked.

How irrational! The decision maker in this matter is the President; not Lokodo, the soft target. Moreover, endowed with such divine (or satanic?) power, why not curse the coronavirus out of our society instead?


But let us return to Uganda’s record against Covid-19. Especially in the early days, with very few people (officially) sick, and nobody (officially) dead, Uganda was basking in glory as a pioneer.

However, Uganda was only following WHO guidelines and copying Asian and European countries that had been attacked much earlier and had already locked-down.

Conscious of the inadequacy of Uganda’s chaotic healthcare system, which starts with an acute shortage of ambulances and ends with an even more acute shortage of intensive care units and mortuary space, President Museveni rightly went for infection avoidance.

But now that the number of infected people is steadily rising, while the government is tentatively loosening the 12-week lockdown, the sheer complexity of the movement of people and interconnectedness of functions in an active society is exposing the naivety of our ruling politicians and administrators. With every measure announced by the often ill-advised President, those responsible for implementation get surprised and confused by the effects.

That was how you got thousands of people stranded in the wrong places when public transport was suddenly locked in March, and how again you got thousands of people stranded in the wrong places when public transport was haphazardly opened in June.

War is Museveni’s pet metaphor for describing our confrontation with Covid-19. But projection is a very important feature in the management of war, and an exhausted NRM government makes very poor projections. The government drives blindly into a wall on dark nights; then the officials come out of the wreckage groping for the right direction.

Opening up now is far more complex and presents far more contradictions than locking down three months ago. And, apparently, a former star like Uganda has not found a model to copy.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.