BY RICHARD MBAYO
It was on the 31 of December 2019 when China and the World Health Organisation (WHO) publicly declared the outbreak of COVID-19 and where it started as disease, went to Italy as a global pandemic, and arrived in Uganda has become a business venture for the country’s political elite.
Much has been said, discussed on COVID-19 ranging from the publications, WHO declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic on 11th March when the disease had spread over the world.
Uganda reported her first case of COVID-19 on the 19th of March which was strange because many countries, the first case were foreign cases but it was unique for Uganda whose first case was a Ugandan businessman who had traveled to Dubai for a Business transaction.
The Ugandan government issued guidelines which included lockdown of the country, closure of national borders, Entebbe International Airport, banning of public transportation, public gatherings, and later on curfew was implemented.
COVID-19 arrived in Pearl of Africa as Business Venture for political elites whereby the executive arm of government presented a request for a supplementary budget on the flow of parliament and in April, enormously Parliament approved the supplementary budget of shs.284 billion which was aimed at fighting COVID-19, the share of the budget was allocated to Security 77.4bn, Local government 36.1bn, ministry of Health received shs.109.1bn, a 59b Shillings was allocated to the office of the Prime Minister as COVID-19 food relief to support 1.6 poor urban residents and 2bn to KCCA.
As it has been the case for the ruling NRM party MPs and Ministers and President himself dominated the media whereby he has been given free reception any time of the day, the President could inform the public about his press conferences while opposition leaders are shrinking from their homes and it is illegal for Opposition MPs to supply food to his/her constituents as it was witnessed withalleged torture of Hon. Francis Zaake of Mityana Municipalitywho was one of the culprits as he was arrested for defying the presidential directive while NRM MPs and Ministers remaineduntouchableas they were free to distribute food and other resources.
The 59b shillings COVID-19 food relief funds which were meant for purchasing food for the poor urban residents in Kampala Metropolitan Area( Kampala, Wakiso, and Mukono) landed in the hands of corrupt officials in the OPM which later led to the arrest of four top government officials in April by Anti-Corruption Committee led by Edith Nakalema from the State House for inflating food prices, purchase of expired milk, beans and posho which was substandard, raised questions onhow bidding for a contract to supply food which was given to Aponye left many Ugandans wondering how and when did the OPM call for bidding and what was the procedure of selecting the best bidder who won the contract of supplying COVID-19 Food Relief?
This later led to the President’s call for public support and many Companies, International donors and individuals responded to the President’s call by donating items which included over 100 empty jerricans by Coco-cola which went viral as the public questioned company’s donations, followed by 1bn donation by Pepsi and so on.
The shs.10bn cash bonanza shared among Parliamentarians led to an exchange of fire among the country’s arms of government where the Executive (President) publicly blamed and criticized Parliament for sharing money in a critical time and later Judiciary forced all MPs to vomit 20M Ug Shillings by returning it to National Treasury or donating to District COVID Taskforces. This shs.10b ended the honeymoon between Parliament and Executive as the head of Legislature called upon the general public to ask for accountability not only from Parliament but even Executive.
The shs.40M handshake which was dished to 317 NRM MPs who passed the motion for honoring President Museveni for his tactics and measures on COVID-19 left a lot to be desired among the public because it was the same president who blamed the parliament for sharing 20M, he later rewarded his NRM MPs with 40M which was controversialwhen the local masses needed support, the political elites were enjoying life.
Many Ugandan artistes and musicians stormed studios and recorded COVID songs which helped in creating awareness among the masses about the global pandemic. However, the most outstanding songs were Corona Distance by Bebe Cool and Coronavirus Alert by HE Bobi Wine and Nubian Li and the later song went viral globally as it was quoted by Guardian the UK’s leading media and Al Jazeera reported howUgandan Popstar Bobi Wineused music tosensitize Masses to Sanitize.
The government move that required all Ministers to test for COVID-19 and go into isolation is being viewed by many Ugandans as Politically Motivated move by the government to shy away from its responsibilities for extending support tovulnerable citizensespecially with food relief as the country eased lockdown measures.
In a nutshell, therefore, the COVID-19 which started in China as a disease, went to Italy as a global pandemic as it installed fear among the people across the globe, while Uganda’s politicians welcomed it as an opportunity to loot from the needy as it has been the case as the masses are still wonderinghow the government spent billions of shillings on invisible locusts, COVID-19 has fertilized the ground for the Executive to dominate the media, making promises like free masks to citizens and the latest to give 2 television sets to each village to help village children access Education. In the meantime with the country’s general election due to 2021, opposition leaders have limited access to the public and media.
- Richard Mbayo is a Graduate Student at Silk Road School, Renmin University of China. He previously worked at Africell Uganda Limited and served as a Volunteer at Compassion International. Mbayo holds Bachelors’ Degree in Development Studies from Kyambogo University.