Cometh the Hour, Cometh the man: Museveni and Minister Aceng

Saturday, April 4, 2020

In times of a major global crisis as the current COVID-19, especially for poor countries like Uganda, it is when the test, and taste of leadership comes to the fore. In Uganda’s case, we have gone through crises of catastrophic proportions, but emerged from them looking almost unscathed because of able leadership. In our recent very tragic history, of the Holy Spirit (Lakwena), LRA, UPA, ADF wars and Karimojong cattle rustlers President Yoweri Museveni has undoubtedly been the man providing that leadership calmly and firmly.

And so, it is perhaps satisfying, to borrow from one of the old and most popular English adage, “Cometh the hour, cometh the man,” President Museveni, health Minister Ruth Aceng, and the frontline team against COVID-19 in Uganda, comprising health, immigration and customs officials without whose utmost dedication and expertise, Uganda could have by now been brought to its knees. And as well, Prime Minister, Ruhakana Rugunda, who is leading the National Task Force, and convening multiple meetings daily including Sundays to map out scenarios to subdue and hopefully quickly eliminate COVID-19 from Uganda.

Many other, would-be leaders, have specialized in grumbling, unhelpful criticisms, and sometimes, as Kizza Besigye’s ‘people’s government’ tried to do early this week, cause some distractions, mostly for nuisance value. Besigye’s group, announced to the public, that they had set-up their own parallel medical and ambulance network to mobilise, test and transfer suspected COVID-19 patients to medical facilities. Meanwhile, another group of charlatans, led by a tiny band of opposition MPs created a political hoax that they were distributing relief food to vulnerable groups claiming government had abandoned the ‘people’. 

An amateur music video, and few sachets of salt around Kampala was all, ‘people power’ political journeymen could muster. If these groups are really genuine, outside politicking, I challenge them to send their contributions through the national task force, and demand representation. Someone, linked to them, could help tell Besigye, Okello Oduman, Mohammed Nsereko, Luttamaguzi, Robert Kyagulanyi and his sidekick Joel Ssenyonyi, that at this time, Ugandans don’t need their sideshows because COVID-19 kills, and kills massively. Those on social media and used spreading misinformation by conjuring up fake and false news seem unbothered with the danger they are creating.

During the violent changes of 1966, 1971, 1979, 1985 and 1986, when people felt vulnerable, unprotected and couldn’t cope with the fast-paced urban life, they simply traveled back to their rural origins by whatever means available to them at the earliest or critical moment. Today, because of stability, security and peace of the last thirty-four years in most parts of Uganda, it appears that many Ugandans had lowered their guards to the extent that even the most basic precautionary measures for life skill is almost absent. Most continue to live by the day as a mode.

Beside the odious task of selecting the most appropriate measures to take, leaders also face the monumental problem of reassuring and persuading the public to follow through government decisions, even when measures like decongestion, curfew, and social distancing bring with them massive know-on effect, often at personal costs. For leaders, “the hour” is now, with Covid-19 outbreak threatening large scale devastation of social, economic and politic fabric unless swift, concerted and well-thought-out actions are taken. It is necessary to keep emphasizing that all these measures for the good of everyone in Uganda. 

As the fallouts from COVID-19 begin to unfold, the full extent of social despair hasn’t taken long to emerge forcing government to consider distribution of basic food relief comprising posho, beans and salt in the Kampala metropolitan area. If not handled well, the control of public movement by the public, and distribution of food, could erode trust in government and perhaps unleash unrest that may exacerbates the present dangers of COVID-19.

From a prevention point of view, government through the health ministry had much earlier prepared the necessary infrastructure, procedures and teams to handle COVID-19 related cases, taking advantage of similar epidemics like HIV/AIDS, Marburg and Ebola especially on surveillance and tracing possible victims. When it came to taking action, President Museveni judged that government could rely on individual co-operation through persuasion, and when need arose, he imposed non-negotiable drastic measures banning public and private transport, and imposed night curfew that is tightly being enforced by the security services.

President Museveni, supported by other government officials especially the health ministry, continue to craft good and positive narratives aimed at prevention and spread of COVID-19, clarifying the problems, pathways and uniting Ugandans to attain the consensus that is essential to enforce most of the measures. And so far, Ugandans haven’t panicked, although they take COVID-19 very seriously. Government has been very open about the evolving nature of COVID-19, avoiding a paternalistic approach as if cuddling babies being shielded from harm. 

President Museveni is treating the public as adults that should appreciate the long-term efforts and project the uncertainties that COVID-19 poses. Without that openness, the public could quickly detect deception which erode the credibility and trust in government policy measures.