In his addresses to the nation, President Museveni has often described the fight against COVID-19 as war, a matter of life and death. This statement has been sort of a mantra that has influenced government’s approach towards containing the virus while responding decisively to eliminate any lingering threats that might give room to the spread of the virus.
The government has been praised for moving in early to contain the spread of the virus with the current total of confirmed cases standing at only 56 (as a new case was recorded yesterday) and recoveries at 38.
Despite the plaudits that the containment of the virus may attract, the fight against COVID-19 in Uganda has resuscitated the old and all too familiar face of terrible appetites.
If you have lived in Uganda long enough, you will by now have known that nothing can shock you. From nerve provoking headlines about MPs being given 20 million Uganda shillings to help in the fight against COVID-19, to OPM officials arrested for inflating relief food prices.
Everyday seems to bring with it the same old story that we have grown so accustomed to. The weary public seems to be numbed against such shocks. Only a week ago, government officials were discovered storing food and other essential items supplied by the private sector to help in the fight against COVID-19 in their homes.
Now there is news reeling around about a racket selling movement stickers to members of the public on the black market, which is the sole responsibility that had been given to Ministry of Works and Transport (to issue the said stickers aimed at allowing essential workers use their private cars during the lockdown).
It is claimed that some of the movement stickers are sold by government officials working in the said Ministry with each sticker going for a fee between shs. 200,000 and shs. 500,000. The security has quickly moved in to crackdown on the vice. Despite all this intermittent avarice, the private sector continues to show tremendous leadership in the fight against COVID-19.
Following the announcement of lockdown measures, a wave of enthusiasm towards philanthropy has swept the entire business community. Whether owing to the realisation that the state cannot afford social protection schemes or for their own enlightened self-interest, the private sector has made enormous contribution in the fight against the virus.
These contributions have been made to the National Task Force on COVID-19 through which government has been able to supply food to the targeted group of city dwellers who live hand to mouth and have lost their streams of income as a result of the lockdown.
However, it still remains perplexing that a country like Uganda which is widely considered to lack the resources to fight COVID-19 and is depending on private sector benevolence and external donations, can allocate to its Members of Parliament, a hefty sum of 20 million shillings when a large section of Ugandans is facing tough economic times.
To a remarkable contrast, other neighbouring countries like Kenya and Rwanda have cut allowances and salaries of top government officials to contribute in the fight against the crisis.
As the private sector sacrifices and makes philanthropic efforts in the fight against COVID-19, unscrupulous government officials are busy pillaging the country. The virus has exposed the avarice of government officials at the time when the public needs them to suspend their terrible appetites and be more conscientious of the wider public.
As the President has said time and again, this is war. And there is nothing as disgraceful as a war profiteer when people’s livelihoods continue to hang in balance.