SARAH BIREETE: To Avert Further Spread of COVID19, Declare a State of Emergency

Ms. Sarah Bireete
By :
Sarah Bireete

Uganda is faced with a spike in community infections amidst elections; Kampala being the hot spot.

At least 70 countries and territories across the globe have decided to postpone national and subnational elections due to COVID-19, out of which at least 28 countries and territories have decided to postpone national elections and referendums. However, 55 countries and territories have decided to hold national or subnational elections despite concerns related to COVID-19 of which at least 38 have held national elections or referendums. And at least, 20 countries and territories have held elections that were initially postponed due to concerns related to COVID-19 of which at least 12 have held national elections or referendums.

It’s important to note that elections are defined by freedom of movement, assembly and expression. once these freedoms are non existent, then countries have no business organizing and conducting elections.

Uganda is conveniently using lockdowns under the draconian Public Health Act while dodging what would have been the ideal situation of managing COVID19 pandemic using the Constitution. Lockdowns take away people’s rights of movement, assembly and expression and they are similar to a situation of a state of emergency.

We should have managed COVID19 pandemic using the constitution instead of the draconian public health act. The reasons for hiding behind the pubic health act are known – regime wanted to avoid broader scrutiny and official checks and balances in the management of the pandemic.

If Uganda needs another lockdown to prevent further spread of COVID19, then this should be done the right way – using article 110 of the Constitution. This would then enable the right institutions to assess whether elections are increasing the risks of community spread of COVID19 and have them postponed. Elections cannot and should not be a do or die exercise.

The other aspect that needs serious consideration is the survival means of the people during lockdown. Ugandans survive on their own with the majority feeding from hand to mouth in the informal sector. We have previously witnessed increasing suicide rates caused by threats of hunger and starvation due to loss of livelihood during COVID19 pandemic.

When people are threatened with hunger and starvation, COVID19 pandemic is a lesser threat that would worry them. It’s also important for the decision makers to further note that as much as COVID19 is a health problem, it also causes an immediate economic crisis for citizens. And when people have no means of survival, they don’t care whether they can die or not. This is the more reason we need to shift management of COVID19 to parliament under the Constitution and not the Public Health Act.

Bireete is the Executive Director of Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG)

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