Dr Oledo disqualified himself from leadership of Uganda’s doctors

What you need to know:

  • To be sure, leaders of the UMA, most of whom did not participate in Oledo’s dramatics, should send a clear message to Ugandans assuring them that this bizarre episode will be retired with the current president of the organisation.

Dear Tingasiga:

The current president of the Uganda Medical Association (UMA) has brought great shame and embarrassment to the profession of medicine. While speaking at the Patriotism for Youth and Investment Symposium at Kololo Independence Grounds on Saturday, December 3, Dr Samuel Odongo Oledo, the leader of UMA, invited a group of white-coated young men and women to drop to their knees and offer immense gratitude to President Yoweri Museveni. 

In a dramatic display of his skills as a royal court dancer, Oledo dropped to his knees, followed by his colleagues, and proceeded to literary pray to the president.  “Ffena ffena, mbasaba, tukirire wansi, ku maviivi, tweyanze omukulembeze w’egwanga,” Oledo said in very fluent Luganda. “Mujje tukirire wansi tw’eyanze omukulembeze w’eggwanga, Katonda gwe yakuwa ..... gwe yatuwa. Your Excellence (sic), w’ebale otuyimusizza, naye katukamalirize nga tukusaba ku maviivi gaffe!  Your excellence (sic), ffe tuassessinze, nga abasawo, nti osobola. Tuassessinze nti amanyi ogalina. Tuassessinze nti buli kimu eky’etagisa okirina. Your Excellency, tuyambe nga abiri mu mukaaga okomewo, otutwale mu maaso (inaudible), Uganda etuuke ku ntikko Mukama gy’atusuubira okubeera!”

The English translation, which does not do justice to the language, is: “I plead with all of us to get down on our knees to offer our immense gratitude to the leader of the country. Let us go down on our knees to offer our adoration to the leader of our country, whom God gave to us.  Your Excellency, thank you for lifting us to a higher level. However, let us end, with a plea on our knees! Your Excellency, as doctors, we have assessed that you are able, that you have the energy, and that you have everything that is necessary. Your Excellency, help us in 2026 and continue as president, and lead us forward (inaudible), so that Uganda may get to the top where the Lord wishes us to be.”

As Oledo chanted this sycophantic prayer, his colleagues held up their hands, pressed together in prayerful style, with some bowing their heads, in humble supplication before the president. It was a spectacular display of complete surrender of personal dignity, self-worth, professionalism, and the rights of citizenship. Not even roadside beggars seeking alms drop to their knees and engage in worship of fellow man.  Dr Oledo is a passionate partisan activist of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM). He has seized the opportunity as leader of Uganda’s doctors’ association to advance his personal interests. All of which is fine and within his rights. What is wrong is that Dr Oledo appears to be unable to separate his partisan politics from his professionalism. He seems to have forgotten that the members of UMA that he supposedly leads and represents belong to different political parties and groups.

Oledo probably knows this, but it does not matter to him. He is probably taking advantage of his current role in the UMA to serve a personal agenda for promotion, say, to a government consultant surgeon, or any patronage post from which he can join the feast of the privileged who suck the blood out of the country’s treasury. That such patronage has a direct impact on the healthcare of Ugandans is immaterial to people with a limitless need for personal gain.  I am conflicted about Oledo’s colleagues in supplication. Were they victims of manipulation or were they willing participants? One understands the risks that accompany refusal to kneel and bow before the president. People who are mentally captive to the ruler find it hard to believe that he is a mortal being like them. Fear makes people endure humiliation. However, it is also possible that they genuinely agreed with Oledo’s views and supplicative prayer.

Whatever their motive was, they fell far short of the minimum standards of behaviour expected of their professions. To that end, they too brought shame to the profession of medicine and its allied disciplines. They desecrated an organisation whose motto, “Service with Honour,” is incompatible with the dishonourable display of beggary that Oledo led with impressive eloquence.

I am happy to report that many members of UMA are equally disappointed and embarrassed by Oledo’s behaviour. Efforts are already underway to engineer his removal from leadership of an association that was started in 1964 and sustained for many years by men and women who understood the purpose, rules and dignity that defined the profession of medicine. One thinks of distinguished doctors like Alexander Mwa Odonga, Stephen Bbosa, Ivan Kadama, AK Kibaya, Latimer Musoke, Ivan Majugo, Norman Kanyarutoke, Sebastian Kyalwazi, George Ebine, Justin Gesa, Vincent Emiru, Frederick Bulwa, Francis Miiro, Samwiri Kajubi, Eriya Babumba, Sebastiano Kyewalyanga, David Kiremerwa, George Sembeguya, Barnaba Kununka, Bwogi Kanyerezi, Charles Sezi, and very many others, all of them deceased, who never thought themselves to be inferior to the colonial governors, and postcolonial presidents and other politicians with whom they served our country.

I think of doctors like Josephine Namboze, Raphael Owor, Paul D’Arbela, Peter Sebuwufu, George Kirya, Charles Olweny, Ezra Nkwasiibwe, Marcelino Andrew Otim, and Yusufu Mpairwe, all of whom we are blessed to have with us, who must be deeply troubled by the evident capture of an organisation they nurtured and protected through extremely challenging times. These are people who understood that their professional abilities were a result of hard work and investment. They negotiated with the government as a right, not as a favour for which to kneel before anyone but God. When they hit a dead end because of threats to their persons, their dignity, or their pockets, several of them chose to leave Uganda, while others started private practice.  I have an urge to apologise to them, and to the people of Uganda who continue to struggle for access to quality healthcare that citizens once took for granted. To be sure, leaders of the UMA, most of whom did not participate in Oledo’s dramatics, should send a clear message to Ugandans assuring them that this bizarre episode will be retired with the current president of the organisation. Soon.

The UMA faces a fate that has befallen professional and community organisations that were perceived to be independent. It needs to be quickly restored to an organisation that is the trusted voice for all Ugandans, in their search for healthcare that is at least as good as it was 50 years ago. It should pursue an independent agenda to serve, support and strengthen physicians and allied professionals, through whom Ugandans can access quality, state of the art healthcare.  It must remain scrupulously political, but non-partisan. To do otherwise will be suicidal.

Muniini K. Mulera is Ugandan-Canadian social and political observer. [email protected]

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