In my world, the word virus has always sounded dangerous. Bacteria, not so much.
I suspect the reason is that I hit my teens when HIV, that virus that causes Aids, was just beginning to properly reveal its destructive self in Uganda. Before my first lesson in S.1, I heard a lecture on HIV/Aids. Dr Peter Okaalet was the speaker. Things were so bad the school had to import an expert from outside to come speak to us.
The HIV sermon would continue steadily all the way through Makerere University. That was many years of scaring a young person out to explore the world. But death was all around.
It is now time for another scary virus. The coronavirus via its disease Covid-19 (such a harmless-sounding name) is causing death and mayhem across the world. Scientific knowledge of it is still inadequate. The world is quaking in unison. Social media has helped amplify the fear via fact and fiction.
Are we dying or are we not? We are living in surreal suspense. Since when has the world almost simultaneously shut down in the face of the same enemy?
The thing about this virus is that it has gone after the three things people cherish: health, wealth, family.
Even when we behave recklessly — drink too much alcohol, smoke too many cigarettes, abuse narcotics — we still want to live to a wizened age and go out smoothly. That is the general impulse.
Today, we are under a severe social distancing regime in terms of lockdowns or quarantines. We are not making money. The personal and community economy is dying. This touches our wealth. We don’t want penury.
Family. For some, loved ones have died, taken by the pandemic that is Covid-19. Rarely does a member of a dysfunctional family want the enemy brother or sister dead. Blood is still thick. We quarrel and make up. Somehow. Someday. So, anything that attacks our children, parents, spouses, siblings is to be feared and fought.
But here we are. The coronavirus has gone after the things we cherish across the world in one fell swoop.
Even where Covid-19 has not directly killed someone, it has caused tears. On Thursday, April 16, Uncle Ezera (read Ezra), my father’s younger brother, passed on. It was a construction-related accident that took his life. He died deep in the hills of Rukiga (Kabale). Deep in those hills he was buried. A vast majority of us who needed to be there were not. A lonely send-off for a grand old man. Covid-19 has its stories.
Beyond the tender and personal, one can’t avoid the grotesque in official Uganda. The ruling elite and its cronies can never let a crisis go to waste — there is no kavuyo from which they cannot eat.
See how our parliamentarians just can’t help themselves. They have decided that while the country is under lock and key, this is the best time to award each MP Shs20 million to go out and monitor anti-Covid-19 measures being implemented by the health and security experts. As one critic pointed out, why on earth are MPs running around in circumstances of extreme social distancing? They will catch and spread the virus to us all.
Why can’t you (dis)honourable people sit at home with your families for once and spare the rest of us the rubbish? You do not have to be busybodies all the time. You are already eating money through all manner of transparently shady schemes — sitting allowances, gratuity.
Now is, therefore, the time to allocate that Shs10 billion not to your pampered selves but to the buying of equipment to protect health workers. This is not the time to posture about oversight.
You are a disgrace.
No matter, stay safe. Wash your hands often. Don’t touch your soft body parts fwaa. Else you die.
Bernard Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.