Seattle protests: The truth was ‘poisoned’

Morris Komakech

What you need to know:

The general and popular position of most Ugandans in the diaspora and at home is unified on this matter – get our public healthcare system fixed.

The unbearable loss of former Speaker of Parliament, Jacob Oulanyah has revealed that as Ugandans, we may be standing together but we are still far apart from each other.

Oulanyah’s death should have brought convergence to the debate about our failing healthcare system. Unfortunately, you find those who celebrated Oulanyah’s death with songs, poems, lies, and apophasis. There were those also preoccupied with lacing basic truth of situations that unfolded while the late Speaker was hospitalised.

 The first truth that got poisoned was the demonstration in Seattle, Washington State, USA. Speaker Oulanyah was hospitalised in Seattle where irate Ugandans with their diaspora friends organised a demonstration.

The obscurantists claimed that these demonstrators were Baganda, specifically from the National Unity Platform and were inspired purely by tribal sentiments against the person of Oulanyah on the accounts that he is an Acholi. 

The authoritative truth is that the demonstration was about a national issue that concerns all Ugandans – the failure of the national healthcare system.

 The demonstration was even poorly organised because it was on a short notice. The organisers were Ugandans, some were DP and NRM-O members, while others wore People Power’s red beret. The demonstration had non-Ugandans, mostly those empathetic to the cause for equal access to healthcare. The demonstration was precisely about a persisting practice in which resourced government officials who should fix the decaying healthcare services at home flee abroad for treatment at a hefty cost to taxpayers. Moreover, some die from there.

 Ironically, most taxpayers do not have those opportunities to be flown abroad for treatment. As such, the demonstrators delivered a strong statement that flying MPs and government officials abroad for treatment is unethical, indifferent, and unfair. It is even worse when such practices deny the end-of-life patients a dignified death in the company of family and friends. This is a priceless reminder of the relevance of that demonstration.

 The demonstration, therefore, was not about the person of Speaker Oulanyah or his Acholiness. It was about the objectionable practice that his unfortunate situation symbolized and made so visible.

 For the avoidance of doubt, the general and popular position of most Ugandans in the diaspora and at home is unified on this matter – get our public healthcare system fixed.  The glaring facts are that the well-designed public healthcare system in Uganda is under-resourced, poorly managed, and littered with corrupt tendencies.

If MPs and Ministers do not trust the healthcare system they preside over and have neglected, who should trust it? Why should they take our tax money to secure treatment abroad for themselves?

 It is even daunting that the neglect of our healthcare system is driven by the preference for a market economy.

For the last few decades, indisposed Ugandans reluctantly go to government hospitals because it is a place people go to die. In fact, most Ugandans know that when they go to a government hospital, they will die there due to negligence, corruption, lackadaisical professional attitude, and lack of appropriate, timely, competent, and professional care.

 Recently, the Health ministry complained of a lack of money to employ and sustain qualified professionals, specialty experts, in our healthcare systems. This is unacceptable given that most Ugandans still live under $1.9 a day and the private sector healthcare costs are unaffordable leading to calamitous out-of-pocket expenditures that drive families deeper into poverty.

  In the minds of the demonstrators, they wished Oulanyah well and wished him to recover completely. The demonstrators preferred a living Oulanyah who would return home to convey the outrage of diaspora Ugandans on the state of our healthcare system. Maybe then, Oulanyah, as a speaker, could rethink of improving our healthcare system. Unfortunately, Oulanyah’s death denied us a great champion for a competent healthcare system at home.

 In honour of his life, his death should cement for us an opportunity for a national dialogue for a better national healthcare system so no government officials will have to be flown abroad for treatment.