A disease freaks out world and suggests some things

Sunday March 22 2020


By Bernard Tabaire

I have to pile on as well.
A nice thing about the unfolding coronavirus global mayhem is that our entitled politicians and other government kahunas cannot go abroad on taxpayer shillings for treatment should they come down with Covid-19 or any other disease.

They will have to be treated by our doctors in our underwhelming healthcare facilities. Once they see how rickety the situation is in personnel, equipment, and medicines, they may rise from their self-induced slumber. This may be one heck of a clarifying moment. We may get a better healthcare system once it is daylight again.

To achieve this, though, the healthcare workers should act in self-interest. The politicians, being people who can never find a corner they cannot cut, will try to rig the system even in the present times. They will go to our hospitals, all right.

But they will try to get VIP treatment — jump the queue, demand to be attended by a consultant, grab the room with the best view. The doctors should not indulge these people. They should serve everyone equally. The big fish will learn their lesson and possibly work to fix things going forward.

Cutting corners by chasing us off Kampala roads because they are rushing to do nothing of consequence for the country may be one thing, repugnant as it is, but behaving like Neanderthals in hospitals at the expense of the health (and possibly lives) of other Ugandans in uncertain pandemic circumstances must not be tolerated.

That said, the larger issue the Covid-19 pandemic suggests is that this is quite a moment in history. Not the kind of history you want to live through, to borrow an idea trending out there. This is the kind of history you simply want to read about decades later.


Imagine the whole known human world shutting down. Literally. Filmmakers and novelists will mine this period for ages. The material to work with is so wonderfully rich it is phantasmagorical.

Two hours after President Museveni announced Uganda’s lockdown on Wednesday, I went to two of the smaller grocery shops I frequent in my Kampala neighbourhood. There was a quiet rush. The trolleys were packed with pasta, rice, maize flour, cooking oil, and all manner of packed foods and products.

The first store had no Rwenzori jumbo water. I broke into a small sweat. Was the stuff all finished already, yet the Health minister was telling us to drink as much fluid as possible? The second shop had the water, and those big bottles were disappearing into shoppers’ cars very fast. Imagine when Uganda announces its first case, and I hope we never have that case. Some of the shelf-clearance we have been seeing for weeks in other world cities may become a reality in Kampala.

These lockdowns cause a domino effect of anxiety. I flinched when on Thursday morning a colleague announced she was going to condole with a friend for losing a father hours earlier. I told her that she was not a key stakeholder and so she should not go. She countered that she was going for a quickie visit early enough because she would skip the vigil and the funeral. Even then I suggested she self-quarantines after the fact.

President Museveni talked about a scientific wedding of no more than 10 people, but he should also have emphasised the same for burials: a scientific burial of no more than 10 stakeholders. Probably the reason he did not is because he recognised that a patriarch may die, and his 20 children have to show up to bury. You can’t stop them.

People, however, have some novel ideas as much as they carry novel viruses. Someone on social media said we may be better off hightailing back to our villages like we do over the Christmas holiday. And the time to do so is now, before that first Covid-19 case strikes.

We shall have “deconcentrated” a place like Kampala when we disperse to the different rural locales of Uganda. While there, even if we ran out of dry rations, there is plenty of muwogo, mangoes, potatoes, embaata, etc. to eat. We did this during those decades when we were slaughtering each other. We can do so again. We are waging war again.

Bernard Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.