Ministry of Trade PS Geraldine Ssali in Anti-Corruption court dock Ministry of Trade PS Geraldine Ssali in dock at the Anti-Corruption

The truth about Oulanyah’s poor health finally came out

Author, Musaazi Namiti. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • It is surprising that a VIP can fall ill and people around him/her try to hide the truth.   

In July 2021, Speaker Jacob Oulanyah, who had not been seen in public for nearly two months, came out to dismiss claims that he had been ill. He said he had been on a private visit to his family abroad.

MPs who inquired about the Speakers’ long absence from Parliament were told by his deputy, Anita Among, that: “There is a Speaker in this House — there is no vacuum.”

But rumours had been circulating that Mr Oulanyah had gone abroad for treatment for an undisclosed illness. Some alleged it was Covid-19.

There is an age-old tradition among VIPs to hide or lie about their poor health and illness. Their minions also lie for them.

In March 2019, former Speaker Rebecca Kadaga fell seriously ill and was rushed to Nakasero Hospital. A statement from her office, which was a risible attempt at hiding the truth, said she had been hospitalised over “fatigue-related illness” and “jet lag”.

It must have been unprecedented jet lag for a Ugandan VIP — because Ms Kadaga’s so-called fatigue-induced illness saw her flown to Nairobi for specialised treatment. 

In June 2020, Burundi’s former President Pierre Nkurunziza died from an illness that was widely thought to be Covid-19. Before his death, his wife had been rushed to a Nairobi hospital with Covid-19 symptoms. Yet the Burundian authorities said he had succumbed to a heart attack.

And in Tanzania, as John Pombe Magufuli lay dying, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa categorically dismissed reports of the president’s illness and hospitalisation. Sometimes you cannot choose but admire the honesty of politicians.

Tanzanians who were saying Magufuli was seriously ill and dying had it on good authority, of course. They were being informed by Americans who nearly always know what is going on in corridors of power around the world — thanks to their effective intelligence.

Magufuli had not been seen in church, which he attended on a weekly basis. His attendances were the subject of live television coverage. He had also not attended the East African Community Heads of State Summit, which was held virtually. These were red flags.

Lying about and hiding poor health among VIPs is probably more pronounced in Africa where you have leaders who have overstayed their welcome and have become hugely unpopular. Some of these leaders are not presidents, but they help keep presidents in power.

Because the presidents and their sidekicks are clinging to power, they know that news of their serious illness will be received with jubilation, so they try their best to keep it under wraps.

But what they manage to achieve is hard to see. The truth eventually comes out. We now know — thanks to this newspaper — that Mr Oulanyah was flown out of the country in a critical condition.

VIPs seem to be under the illusion that illness is for ordinary people, yet we all know it is for everyone and sometimes, sadly, it ends in death.

 It is, therefore, surprising that a VIP can fall seriously ill and people around him/her try to hide the truth.

Get well soon Speaker Oulanyah!

Mr Namiti is a journalist and former Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk

@kazbuk