By Stephen Lwetutte
They are designed to ambush the population and always kick in within hours of their announcement – no buts, no ifs and compliance is expected to be total. Any breaches are punishable according to the best way Ugandan security services are notorious for: frog-marching to a nearby makeshift holding spaces for beating and extorting money; failure, for whatever reason, to stop at a check point attracts a stocatto of direct gun fire at the offender resulting more often than not in fatalities, with no known investigations or their outcomes.
The latest lockdown was announced on the evening of Friday 18 June 2021 and it came into force a couple of hours later. No private or public passenger vehicle movement, passenger motorcyclists and non essential business opening was allowed for 42 days with the stated purpose of containing the COVID-19 pandemic whose cases were reported to be rapidly rising. The only exceptions allowed to the lockdown rules were medical emergencies and essential services, who were expected to identify themselves to the security forces charged with enforcing the lockdown. Without hard and fast rules regarding identification for exemption, a perfect occasion had presented itself for the corrupt underpaid security personnel to exploit and extort money on the excuse of exercising discretion in favour of whoever was happy to part with a minimum amount, and decline to do so against whomever refused to play ball.
As if the daily harsh reality of a hand-to-mouth existence for the ordinary Ugandan was not enough, they, at no notice at all, had to grapple with surviving in sudden lockdown conditions, with several mouths to feed and look after in their families. Thrown in the mix was the stringent lockdown sprung upon them, as well as the brutal security personnel marauding the roads and neighbourhoods under the guise of enforcing the lockdown. It was a field day for them to which, you would believe, they would have gleefully been looking forward: with a requisite amount in bribes, any offender would be well on their way when stopped – no questions asked. No anti COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) enforcement in sight whatsoever, except perhaps in open public areas where they put on a great public show of randomly whipping and chasing after members of the public.
This is exactly how the first lockdown failed to nip this pandemic in the bud – no real meaningful lockdown enforcement was happening in conditions of public starvation and official corruption. Like it often generally happens for the economy, funds and resources for the lockdown were all the while being sought, solicited and received by none other than our very own “Fountain of Honour”, President Museveni for a period of at least 6 months from March 2020. No meaningful assistance, however, appears to have trickled down to the deserving long-suffering ordinary Ugandan. A year later, demands for accountability for those funds and resources are gaining momentum. No satisfactory response has reportedly been offered – one thing seems to be clear, though: that the funds and resources were expended on anything but the intended purpose of feeding the locked down starving population.
As a result, large sections of the Ugandan population are likely to have been feeding poorly and malnourished for the months of the duration of and following the first lockdown, even as the pandemic continued latently to grow owing to corruption. The latest spike in COVID-19 infections and deaths are arguably a direct result the combination of unabated infections and compromised health and immunity of the population after months of first lockdown starvation of the population – there are no two ways about it, that it is the perfect recipe for disaster.
The population continues to be starved during this latest lockdown and the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. Unless the government gets its act together and feed the starving population properly, and do so quickly, we are likely to experience a far worse scenario than is anticipated. The SOPs presuppose an averagely healthy person, but may not achieve their purpose for a person whose health is weak and poor. Two weeks after the announcement of the lockdown it is still only talk about the assistance being proposed, yet there is already anecdotal evidence of some Ugandans starving to death or self-mutilating in protest.
In these circumstances, any third wave and, therefore, third lockdown inevitably being imposed in Uganda, and there is likely to be utter devastation. The Museveni government has not only failed to secure the necessary vaccines, it has also failed to feed its locked down population and to genuinely and meaningfully execute lockdown restrictions, and halt the spread of the pandemic, at a time when many previously severely affected countries are easing the COVID pandemic-related restrictions.
At the moment, the Museveni regime seems to be making up arrangements for the management of the pandemic as it goes along with neither a coherent plan nor a properly thought out exit strategy. For any seasoned Uganda observer, this is hardly surprising as this is pretty much how the country has been run for the past 35 years – the handling of the pandemic exemplifies the running of the country by this regime.
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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