By Stephen Lwetutte
Tables have a way of turning, and do so unexpectedly. I bet Goliath didn’t think much of David until it was too late after the tables had turned and the Israelites were hot on the heels of the Philistines. Likewise, after what seems like a lifetime of lording it over Ugandans, the thieving Museveni cabal has grown in confidence, arrogance and impunity in the knowledge that it can get away with pretty much anything.
These days, it is not unusual to hear the well-connected regime elite openly insinuate in political discourse how some of the hitherto powerful political classes were now doomed for ever to be relegated to the dustbin of history or peripheries of political power. A sense entitlement for them to lead the country has clearly crept in. There are too many grievances bottled up over the past 35 years that will need solving in fullness of time, hopefully amicably.
To many countries, the COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a health emergency whose management is underpinned and mitigated by institutional maturity and efficiency. In Museveni’s Ugandan, the pandemic has been aggravated by the absence of functioning independent institutions, the incompetence of the hand-picked and well-connected members of the cabal, the collapse of the national economy and the kleptocracy of the regime.
The idea that COVID-19 numbers officially remained low for a while in Uganda was not thanks to anything that the regime did or strategically undertook, but was down to a combination of sheer luck and perhaps undercounting. Indeed, the currently conceded exponential growth in the numbers of infections and deaths speaks to the earlier latent prevalence of the pandemic which unsurprisingly has been mismanaged by the regime.
Interestingly, no similar spikes are observed, even in neighbouring Tanzania which famously did not lockdown during the first wave when Uganda did. We now know that the allocated funds and resources from state coffers and aid donors to mitigate the lockdown were turned into a financial bonanza for the regime operatives, while the locked down citizens were either starving to death in their homes, being harassed or killed under the guise of enforcing the lockdown or both. Arguably, more people died of brutality by the regime security services than from COVID-19.
On Friday 18 June 2021, President Museveni was at it yet again – in what is a perfect microcosm of incompetence, abuse and arrogance, the visibly aged and tired tyrant announced the strictest yet lockdown for 42 days without any meaningful budgetary allocation to support the people, most of whom lead a hand to mouth existence, beyond directing the Prime Minister to manage the situation the best way she could. It is an open secret that the regime has bankrupted the country and there aren’t nearly enough resources to feed a fraction of the population.
In an attempt to assuage the grave concerns and disquiet about the lack of tangible assistance to the population during the fresh lockdown, the Prime Minister has announced some cash awards for “the vulnerable” – the modalities of how that is going to work are still moot. Suffice it to say that just about everyone, except the regime members and supporters, is vulnerable, yet the regime is not capable of performing that financial feat of providing all the vulnerable people with the bare minimum of financial assistance for them to get through the lockdown.
Pushed to the wall, the people of Uganda are more than likely to make demands for the variation and modification of the lockdown restrictions. These will no doubt stray into more demands of a general political and economic nature, which demands have been on the opposition agenda for a while now.
The overwhelmingly youthful Ugandan population now views the Museveni regime as a bunch of senile, out-of-touch and irrelevant individuals out to enrich themselves and their families and incapable of running the country. The cavalier attitude by the Museveni regime towards the locked down population is sufficient to bear out that view.
While the regime sees itself as invincible just as Goliath in that biblical story did, a seemingly underrated challenge galvanised by the COVID-19 pandemic is on the horizon. Bold demands are going to be made, questions, with no satisfactory answers, are going to be asked, amplifying the opposition long-standing concerns, only now in sharp focus in the context of the COVID-19 crisis – talk of support emerging from unexpected quarters, and before you know, the tables are turning or turned and the Philistines are on the defensive.
The writer is a Multilingual Human Rights Practitioner, formerly at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London for over 20 years and now Legal and Human Rights Consultant.
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