By Dr Mesharch Katusiimeh
Hon Jane Ruth Aceng, Uganda’s Minister of Health is in the spotlight this time for wrong reasons. Several posts showed her in a gathering of people without a face mask and nearly all the people she was interacting with, did not have face masks on. It is the same day Hon Ibrahim Semujju, MP of Kira Municipality was violently arrested while meeting FDC leaders in his area, even wearing a mask. Popularly referred to as Mama Corona, she has been always been singled out as she leads the fight against COVID-19 in Uganda. Her attempt to clear the air didn’t satisfy her critics. To her critics, for her to address crowds in total disregard of the COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) is inexcusable.
Yes. She is the Minister of Health and should lead by example but she is a human being who can err. I was only disappointed that she didn’t apologize but chose to shift the blame to local resident’s excitement when they saw her which I think is not truthful.
What am i trying to communicate? At the moment a good number of Ugandans think the country is free from COVID-19. The daily updates on COVID-19 by the Ministry of Health are no longer taken seriously. Government officials themselves are not bothered that much with COVID-19. Should we take it that by her total disregard of the SOPs, Minister Ruth Aceng now thinks Uganda is COVID-19 free and we no longer need to be cautious?
My travels of late including in the country side reveal many things as regards to the implementation of COVID-19 presidential directives. Local village elites and the less privileged now consider the pandemic as the big man’s disease. Others think that COVID-19 is a scam by government to squander public funds. In reality government has tried to be very aggressive educating people to make them aware that it is about their health, more than anything else. But the way things are right now, the attitude has completely changed. And it is not just the rural people. The elites in towns no longer take the COVID-19 presidential directives seriously. Saloons are operating normally and the bodaboda industry is busy operating including carrying passengers. The teachers have started assembling school going children in private rooms to teach them in total disregard of SOPs. I have attended burials where politicians including full cabinet ministers address mourners (in excess of 300 people) in total disregard of presidential directives on COVID-19. The Resident District Commissioners, police officers and other government officials probably realizing that COVID-19 is not a big threat no longer put on masks or observe social distancing when addressing people. They go to bars and restaurants to enjoy themselves in disregard of the curfew time. Saunas and gyms operate and their main customers are police officers, government politicians and other top ranking government public servants in total disregard of presidential directives.
This is the state of the nation at the moment. In fact the cost of enforcing COVID-19 presidential directives has caused death of so many Ugandans to the extent that people wonder what the government is up to. We thank God, no one has died of COVID-19 related illness. This is probably the reason the RDCs, police and others responsible for enforcement have completely relaxed.
Enter the political season and Ugandans are of the view that the education of the children and religious worship places are being sacrificed for no good reason. To most Ugandans, schools and religious worship places are closed not as an essential component of a general effort to contain the virus but as a grand plan by government to make a case for a scientific election that could benefit them as incumbents. Going by what is already happening this will not be a scientific election as government would want as to believe. Minister Ruth Aceng has announced she will contest as MP to represent Lira Municipality meaning she will concentrate more on winning a political office than containing the deadly pandemic. In fact the whole government including the Head of State will be busy in the politicking mode and no time to provide political leadership in the fight against COVID-19. What I have observed with Dr Ruth Aceng pictures that are circulating on social media and also other candidates on the ground that I have witnessed already, has demonstrated that scientific campaigns will just be in theory except may be at the presidential level where the security operatives will easily monitor.
We are in the era of mistrust unlike in the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic when all Ugandans including surprisingly opposition politicians trusted and supported government initiatives to manage the pandemic. Now complacency on the part of government politicians and top technocrats has set in. The popular perception that there is unstated political motivation in the closure of schools and places of religious worship is worrying. The government of the Republic of Uganda must walk with its people in every step. Otherwise we are headed for uncharted waters. Practically, the economy is already open in unorganized circumstances. With the low rates of COVID-19 in the country, government may be sidelining their allies – places of worship and schools that are probably more organized and with high levels of public trust to help the country in sensitizing masses and ensuring SOPs are adhered to.
The writer is the Dean Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences & Associate Professor (Governance) at Kabale University. He can be contacted on email firstname.lastname@example.org Tel 0772620852 Twitter @Rwebiita