Covid and ‘eating in kavuyo’ from Harare to Kampala

Sunday July 12 2020

Bernard Tabaire

Bernard Tabaire  

By Bernard Tabaire

The headlines, nicely crafted or not, say quite a bit.
From Zimbabwe: “Mnangagwa fires health minister over Covid-19 test kits scandal”. The good minister over there bought Covid-19 test kits at inflated prices. A neat $60 million (Shs223b) was in play.
“S. Africa probing graft allegations over Covid-19 funds.” Yet another headline.
From the UK, there was this via The Guardian: “Firms given £1b of state contracts without tender in Covid-19 crisis”. The story spoke of “a Covid-19 bonanza for some firms” after government officials suspended the standard rules so as to have contracts awarded “with extreme urgency”.
Over here in Uganda, we saw this: “OPM officials arrested for inflating Covid-19 relief food cost”.

Our human tendency to cut a corner is enduring. I think when we were hunting and gathering, we had to cut many corners to not exhaust ourselves but also to stay safe from predators. We had to outwit them. Self-preservation at whatever cost is still paramount. If it happens with some enrichment on the side, that is fine.
Look, some of the officials may have acted in good faith. In the Uganda case, the four OPM officials, including the permanent secretary, needed to get relief items quickly for the “vulnerable poor” during lockdown except that in doing so they chose winners and losers apparently on no sound basis.

Daily Monitor reported a few days ago: “According to court documents, the emergency procurement of relief items comprising maize flour, beans, sugar, salt and milk was done by OPM and that consideration was given to large scale suppliers such as Mandela Millers, Afro Kai, Aponye, Mehta Group, Pearl Diaries and Global Centre, targeted to do initial supplies because the supplies were big and the turnaround period was only 24 hours.”

Next stop was the court and facing charges of abuse of office, fraudulent false accounting, corruption, and colluding to commit a fraudulent practice.
One wonders whether the good people from the large-scale suppliers will be invited to tell their side of the story on the witness stand. This would help tell us how business is done with the government from the people who know how “things work around here”.
Who knows, out of all this, the government may craft workable standard operating procedures for how to procure stuff during emergencies. Looks like we have been flying blind all along — which makes you wonder what a government is for that is not prepared for apocalyptic scenarios.

Never mind that we have had emergencies with refugees — which has also provided immense opportunities for eating — and the mudslides. Before that there was the mayhem of the civil war in norther Uganda, with its camps for internally displaced persons. That too provided good hunting ground for kavuyo eaters.
In all of that, no one saw fit to prepare for extreme emergency situations.
Now the talk of the town among the usual politically exposed persons (crooks, cronies, and criminals) is about the Covid-19 pie. Our investigative journalists could interest themselves in lining up for us who is actually enjoying this massive Covid-19 banana and how they got to get a piece.

It is good to know that the pandemic has not meant catastrophe for every Ugandan. Some have made a killing. Fairly or not is a moral and secondary matter. Some fellow citizens have fared well and should be wished well.
The rest, like the protesting boda riders can, well, go on protesting to allow to carry passengers. It is their right. Let them eat it too.


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