KIZZA BESIGYE: Fight against COVID-19 is being dangerously mismanaged

Dr. Kizza Besigye
By :
Col (Rtd.) Dr. Kizza Besigye

Let me from the outset emphasise that the “STAY HOME” approach to fighting COVID19 is correct and should have been undertaken much earlier and in a clearer way. I called for this on 24th March.

However, in order to “stay home”, in Uganda (and much of Africa), where many people live “hand-to-mouth”, it’s imperative that social support (esp. food, water, power &care for the sick) is rolled out at the same time.

Not doing that would amount to ordering people’s death, engendering insecurity and social unrest. That’s why our people are now faced with a DOUBLE COVID19!

I think that Mr Museveni is mismanaging his political embarrassment. He thinks that people trying to fill the gaping holes in what would be State (public) deliverables, are undermining his power. Yet, it’s clear that he’s running a bankrupt and dysfunctional State.

It’s in crises like the present one, when the National Reserves (managed by the Central Bank) would be called upon to support people’s survival and wellbeing. It’d appear that this reserve is now insignificant, having been raided in the past for very undeserving reasons.

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When it was suggested that those saving with NSSF, be allowed to access a portion of their savings to help them out during the crisis, there was a very negative response. Among other (insubstantial) reasons, NSSF, informed us that 80% of workers’ savings had been turned over to government thru treasury bonds! The money isn’t in the economy supporting production, it’s been “consumed”! I understand that savings of the Security institutions have been similarly devoured.

The country’s borrowing (domestic and external) had already attracted great concern, even, including that of the “Government” Ministry of Finance!

So, COVID-19, found the “Government” between the proverbial rock and the hard place.

The Healthcare system is grossly dysfunctional, largely due to severe and chronic underfunding, systemic corruption, bad governance. This cannot be changed overnight.

We’ve a demoralised, poorly facilitated and poorly equipped healthcare work force. Private health facilities have attracted a large number of health workers leaving a dysfunctional skeleton in government facilities.

Most medical (specialist) equipment and facilities in Uganda are owned and managed by private actors. These include radiological facilities and laboratories.

Whoever has been in Uganda, even in passing, will know that there’s very little trust (and social capital) for “Government” and it’s institutions among the great majority of people.

The Prime Minister’s office, which heads the “Government” COVID19 Task Force, is notorious for massive corruption scandals, the latest of which involved Donor’s money for refugees!

It’s therefore, not likely that ordinary people will turn over their resources to the “Government” to manage during this crisis.

Uganda’s economic and healthcare challenges cannot be separated from the NRM politics of the last 35 years.

However, the COVID19 pandemic, which threatens the survival of all of us, calls for urgent mobilisation of all energy and resources our country can muster to confront it. It shouldn’t be a time for an exclusionist and “partisan” stance.

It was disturbing to hear Mr Museveni say that if traders continue hiking prices, he would bring NRM cadres to sell food stuffs in order to bring prices down!

If there are citizen initiatives to help reduce people’s socioeconomic challenges, “Government” should only, proactively, facilitate them to do whatever they’re doing better.

Following the banning of public transport, the People’s Government launched such a citizen initiative to offer transport for Health Emergencies.

People offered Ambulances and private vehicles for the purpose. We trained and equipped drivers for the task- taking people to health facilities. We fundraised money for fuel and other inputs.

After only one day of service, in which the offered service worked very well, Mr Museveni attacked and ridiculed the service and ordered police to stop it!

In order not to risk volunteers’ vehicles and safety of our drivers, we halted the service today. Throughout the day, there have been non-stop calls for help by people with serious emergencies, especially, women in labour. Our call centres have recorded all these cases.

There are some political leaders who tried to distribute food to some desperate urban dwellers, whose sources of income had affected by the pandemic. Police confiscated the food and some people were arrested.

These could have been given guidelines on how to safely distribute the food. Instead, Mr Museveni called them “shameless opportunists” or “enemies of Uganda”, who should be charged with a capital offence of attempted murder!
Surely, Ugandans know who leads in shamelessly giving political handouts (on cameras) using taxpayers’ money.

Regrettably, therefore, despite the national challenge posed by COVID19, there can’t be a coherent rallying of all citizens in the fight.

We continue to salute all healthcare workers doing their best on the frontline against COVID19, in very challenging circumstances. We shall continue praying for you and supporting you in all ways possible.

We shall have to creatively work with our people to survive, in spite of the hostile environment and rude obstacles put in our way. By the Grace of God, we shall overcome the DOUBLE COVID19!

The views expressed in this article [Opinion] are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Africa Tembelea’s editorial stance.

Dr. Besigye, is a former president of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC)

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