The new coronavirus, which causes Covid-19, is an invisible, democratic and non-sectarian disabler and killer. It has, so far, picked out princes and paupers, doctors and doormen, managers and mailmen, prime ministers and prostitutes, the young and restless, the old and peaceful. We are in this together.
Whereas the Ugandan Diaspora, especially those living in the severely affected countries, face a serious threat to their physical and economic survival, they continue to be concerned about fellow citizens back home. Of particular interest is what the Uganda Government needs to do to boost the defenses against this disease and provide for the economically disadvantaged.
The purchasing power of many Ugandans, especially those in Kampala and the large towns, was very tenuous before the virus disrupted their lives. Now they must deal with life in this crisis. It does not demand much thinking to recognise that we have the ingredients of potential social and security upheaval.
Happily, we continue to be encouraged by the solid leadership that President Yoweri Museveni and his ministers of Health have shown in the face of this disease. While the number of identified cases remains low, the President and his team have, so far, taken good steps to try and minimise its spread. Any errors that have been made should be learning experiences. Frankly, no country seems to have been ready for the magnitude of this pandemic.
That same decisiveness should be brought to bear on the radical financial response demanded by the crisis. The government has no choice but to make immediate and deep spending cuts from most departments.
Adequate funding for healthcare, food and other basic needs of vulnerable citizens, national defence, internal security, electricity, water and sanitation, other basic infrastructure maintenance and substantial emergency reserves must be ensured. This is an unprecedented situation that cannot accommodate a business-as-usual attitude. Everyone - from the President to the least of God’s children - must make a sacrifice.
If so-called ordinary citizens are expected to accept loss of income in order to save the country, then our highly paid Cabinet ministers, Members of Parliament and heads of public organisations, must be required to give up substantial percentages of their perks during this crisis.
For example, the applicable constitutional provisions should be invoked to prorogue Parliament for a minimum of six months, enabling the country to reduce the pay and perks of MPs, and giving the legislators ample time to spend in their constituencies. In any case, social distancing does not allow crowding in the parliamentary chamber. We presume, of course, that presidential advisers who, by definition, do that job as a part-time engagement, will be happy to yield their monthly stipends to the needy citizens of Uganda for at least six months.
Fuel and other costs incurred by security teams that protect politicians would go a long way towards funding ambulance services. No publicly funded automobiles should be used by anyone for private travel or errands.
Budgets for celebrations of things like Uganda Martyr’s Day, National Heroes Day, Independence Day, NRM Liberation Day, Tarehe Sita and International Women’s Day should be scrapped. Notwithstanding the noble purposes of these celebrations, the best way to honour them is to secure, improve and maintain the health and safety of Ugandans. Ugandans may even have to consider postponing the 2021 elections and shift the money to this crisis.
Meanwhile, this is an opportunity for people whom Uganda has made extremely wealthy to give back to the citizens. President Museveni should invite those who have made millions, even billions of real US dollars during his rule, to meet him and answer one straightforward question: “How much are you putting on the table for Ugandans?” Many of them will likely embrace the opportunity to do their part, for they recognise that their safety and prosperity has been and is chained to the fate of their clients, including the Wretched-of-the Earth.
But addressing the crisis in Uganda must not be left to the government and the moneyed class alone. This is a challenge that invites all of us, regardless of our financial weight, to chip in. This is the time to share what we have with those in need. This is the time for us to fulfil our tithes to the Lord by giving directly to His people.
This appeal goes especially to the Ugandan Diaspora. We need to give back to our country that gave us the foundation upon which we have built lives and careers in distant lands. Whereas the majority of us are facing great financial and employment uncertainties at this time, we have an obligation to come to the aid of our people, not because we have the means but because we must.
One way of doing this is for people to organise and mobilises themselves according to their districts or regions of origin and raise funds to support the healthcare services in their home areas. This is what the International Community of Banyakigezi (ICOB) has decided to do.
ICOB, a non-profit organisation with its headquarters in Washington DC, is launching a major fundraising drive to enable Diaspora Banyakigyezi and friends of Kigyezi, together with our brothers and sisters in Uganda, to give back to our community. Known as “ICOB’s Covid-19 Response Fund,” it will be launched on Thursday April 2, complete with specific details for contributing to the effort inside and outside Uganda.
The purpose will be to provide personal protection equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers and oxygen and other patient treatment supplies to Kisiizi Hospital in Rukungiri District and St Francis Hospital, Mutolere in Kisoro District.
These two hospitals have the staff, skills and experience to look after very ill patients. What they lack are sufficient supplies to meet the needs of the patients and ensure the safety of the frontline workers. Kisiizi Hospital, owned by the Anglican Church of Uganda, and Mutolere Hospital, owned by the Roman Catholic Church, have a long track record of excellent service and very good and accountable management. Supporting them in their work is the least one can do at this time of crisis.
Ugandans from other regions should consider doing likewise, using well established groups that ensure transparent and accountable soliciting for support on behalf of fellow citizens.
There are many hospitals in the country that have the human resource capacity to manage very ill patients, but lack the equipment to do so. Together, we can change that.