A look at Dr Aceng’s orientation week in politics

Tuesday July 14 2020


By Nicholas Sengoba

She is (or is it has been) the poster-girl of Uganda’s effort against Covid-19. With Uganda having no deaths due to the Covid-19 pandemic and very few asymptomatic cases, which heal in record time, some impressionable people and praise singers suggested that the title of ‘Mother of the Nation’ be bestowed on her.
These calls died when the lockdown started to bite with many people being forced out of their jobs or being sent on forced leave with pay cuts.

Health Minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, cool, calm and collected, appears in an advert on TV teaching how to use a facemask prperly.

Always wash your hands with soap and clean water before touching it. Keep it on the face whenever you are in public. If you remove it, keep it in a safe clean place, etc.

Dr Aceng also does the Tonsemberera’ (don’t come near me) campaign to emphasise social distancing. Severally, she advises people to wash their hands, keep away from crowds and stay at home to be safe.

A week after declaring her intention to stand for the Lira District Woman MP seat on the NRM ticket, social media is awash with pictures and footage showing her in crowds of people without masks on their faces. Her own mask is lying on a table.

Later, she picks it up, does not wear it and she is not seen to wash her hands either. In a video clip, she is seen walking, singing and dancing in a crowd of tree-branch-waving women.


President Museveni has made it clear that any politician who causes assemblies that lead to people crowding, is risking spreading coronavirus. They will be charged with committing “attempted murder.”

Mr Francis Butebi Zaake, the MP for Mityana Municipality, was nearly killed in police custody for allegedly gathering people while distributing food items to hungry constituents.

I am not one of those who will condemn Dr Aceng for preaching water and drinking wine or I laugh at her for dying in her own safety campaign movie. Neither will I go the route of chastising highly schooled people who forget what they learnt in the classroom and go native in the opposite direction, when push comes to shove.
Our politics has that side to it. If you want to succeed, you may have to do things in which you have no belief most of the times. This includes doing wrong things. I know of many NRM politicians who despise the party leadership, but continue to tow the line because they still have to pay school fees for their young families.

I am more interested by the way Aceng has been baptised by fire. She has been taught that we have deluded and lied to ourselves over the last four months of ‘fighting Covid-19’ using social distancing.

Our society is mainly rural (and we carry this mentality when we come to cities and towns.) Rural societies are mainly communal. Mixing is part of life. You never erect fences in the villages, only hedges without gates if you must.

You use the same water well, borrow and lend each other salt, look after each other’s children, transport each other to hospital and lookout for your neighbour’s security. Covid-19 has not stopped that.

Social distancing is virtually impossible and is frowned upon. It may signal the end of one’s membership and respect in a particular community.

Aceng will not get votes if she does not go and meet the people where they are and rub shoulders with them. Covid-19 or no Covid-19, she will have to shake their hands to show that she is one of them.

She will not cover her face as she asks them to vote for her for that will give and appearance of arrogance. They must see her face clearly to remember it on the ballot paper because many of them may not be literate.

The NRM MPs who voted in favour of a scientific election know that they already have face and name recognition. This means that the rookies competing against them will have a hard time breaking onto the market. Aceng has to go round that.

And if Aceng succeeds she will have to learn that the electorate are not exactly interested in great legislators on the floor of Parliament.

They are at peace with the one who gets the beef and comes and shares it with them. That one must be present and not social distanced when it comes to contributing to burials, weddings, hospitals and school dues.

Now what is left to see is if Aceng’s adverts on social distancing and the use of facemasks will continue on TV.

It will also be interesting to see Aceng in the same room with Museveni as he addresses the nation on preventing Covid-19. The part where he prefers ‘attempted murder’ charges on those who pull crowds when politicking will be the most intriguing.

Twitter: @nsengoba