For two weeks, the Ugandan Ministry of Health has warned that there is a drastic increase in infections and deaths from COVID-19. A total of 2,362 people have been infected since the beginning of the crisis last March. The metropolitan area of Kampala is considered the epicenter of the pandemic with 540 cases. Deaths in the last month would have increased from 8 to 20. Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng blame Ugandans for not following the guidelines of preventive hygiene rules: use of face masks, social distance, washing hands with disinfectant gel, etc.
According to medical experts, COVID-19 infections and deaths are likely to increase rapidly due to public laxity, poor government communication strategy, and distrust of official COVID-19 information. Health officials are warning that if the upward trend seen in recent weeks continues, more stringent measures will be needed until a Lockdown2 is reached.
On August 18, the Ministry of Works and Transport (under the control not of a civilian expert but of a military: General Katumba Wamala) warned taxi drivers and motorcyclists (called Boda Boda) of an imminent forced blockade of their activities unless do not comply more with government guidelines for containing the pandemic.
Officials from the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) reported that the most recent positive tests for COVID-19 have been traced to taxi and boda bodas users. In their opinion, it is possible that the number of infected people is greater, as the sick cannot be easily traced and quarantined. Even those whose contacts are found refuse to cooperate with the medical officer of the Covid-19 task force.
The guidelines included the constant use of hand sanitizers on public transport, wearing face masks, maintaining a safe distance while carrying 50% of passengers, and keeping passenger records. According to the police, these guidelines are not followed. Let’s analyze the feasibility of these guidelines by Boda Boda moto taxis.
Wearing a mask and having the passenger wear it is feasible and necessary. Keeping a safe distance on board sounds like a joke. A Boda Boda driver does not own the vehicle and has to pay a fairly expensive rent per month. He can earn anywhere from $ 2 to $ 5 per day. The purchase of gel disinfectants becomes impossible also because the government has not been able to control the prices of these solutions that have skyrocketed. Keeping passenger records goes against the general concept of privacy. The majority of Ugandans do not see the reason for giving their personal details to a taxi, boda boda or minibus driver, much less the place and the reason for his move.
There are also inconsistencies on the contagion data. The Ministry of Health declares a total of 2,362 cases of contagion to the national media. The same ministry reports a total of 2,166 cases to the WHO. It is not possible to understand the reasons for the macroscopic difference (+ 196 cases). To say that the capital Kampala is the national epicenter of the pandemic is correct. The recorded cases represent 23% of the infections at national level while the total inhabitants of the capital represent 4% of the total national population.
However, if we take into consideration the total number of infections in Kampala (540) and compare it to the total population of the city (1.507 million inhabitants), the percentage of infection is 0.00036%. At the national level, only 0.006% of the population has so far been infected by Covid19. The mortality rate of the total number of infected people is among the lowest in Africa: 0.85%. At the continental level, the mortality rate is 3.47% while the percentage of infected people on the total population in Africa is 0.31%.
Surely there are various cases of asymptomatic infections that are not registered and probably also a percentage of deaths that escapes as the patient may not have the possibility to access hospital facilities. In any case, the percentage of infections and deaths that escapes the Ministry of Health may not be so considerable to proclaim a lockdown2. Taking into consideration the continental averages in Uganda there should be 128,612 cases of contagion (corresponding to 0.31% of the national population) and 4,462 deaths (corresponding to the continental rate of 3.47% mortality on the infected).
These simple calculations show that there is a certain amount of alarmism among health authorities that is difficult to justify. Let us remember that Uganda acted immediately in containing the pandemic to the first 10 registered cases imposing a total lockdown since last March. This excellent management prevented the spread of the virus. Regional observers suspect that the threat of the lockdown2 is politically motivated and linked to the upcoming presidential elections where Yoweri Kaguta Museveni will stand in the hope of obtaining yet another presidential term.
The previous elections, regardless of the victories obtained, show a decline in popularity of Museveni and his party: the NRM (National Resistance Movement). In the 2016 election, Museveni managed to get 59.9% of the votes. A net decline compared to the previous elections: 2011, 68.38% of the preferences. 2001, 69.33% of preferences. The results of the 2016 elections are slightly higher than those of 2006 where Museveni capitalized 59.26% of the votes. In the elections to the parliamentary seat in the Hoima district, the NRM suffered an electoral collapse. The opposition increased the votes but failed to win
There are clear signs that the Ugandan population is beginning to be intolerant of the eternal presence of this president, albeit aware that Uganda’s long period of stability, peace and socio-economic development is due to Museveni. There has been no political change in power for 33 years. Furthermore, Museveni’s age makes him anachronistic. Often falls asleep during the sessions of Parliament.
Although credit must be given to the fact that the government managed to contain the pandemic, the social cost that the population has paid is enormous. Hundreds of thousands of temporary workers are now unemployed. About 30% of small traders fail to reopen their businesses after the long lockdown. The rest is sunk in debt. The National Planing Authority in its study of the impact of the Coronavirus on the Ugandan economy, heralds a nightmare post-pandemic situation. Tourism has collapsed. The nascent industry stops due to a lack of raw materials. Unemployment increased by 22%. Poverty and food insecurity doubled. The fledgling civil aviation industry (with the creation of the national company Uganda Air) practically collapsed and with serious difficulties of recovery in the near future. Huge and unexpected increase in health care costs and drastic decrease in tax revenues.
During the health crisis, Museveni made a series of very serious mistakes that have damaged his reputation. It has actually created a serious food emergency as it has not provided (except on an exceptional basis) to support low-income families (which represent about 58% of the population). He promised an instant spray against Coronavirus invented by the American Safraz K. Niaz that was to be produced by the company Day International and solve the problem. An invention that turned out to be a hoax.
He delayed the end of the lockdown as he was financially involved in a Chinese factory that produced face masks for the country by attempting to ban face masks not made by this company. Finally, he promised a vaccine against the virus created by the Uganda Virus Research Institute in partnership with Imperial College London. In reality, the Ugandan vaccine is far from being administered to the population. The experimental phase on human volunteers will begin in December and there are no guarantees that it will work against the Coronavirus. Only guarantees that the secondary effects are not harmful to the health of the volunteers. Obviously they could not miss the usual thefts dictated by the now rampant corruption. Opposition leader Kizza Besyge has publicly accused Museveni government of stealing a substantial percentage of the financial aid received from the international community to deal with the pandemic.
The voting forecasts of March 2020 indicated a percentage of preferences oscillating between 49 and 48%. Data that confirmed the decline in popularity but sufficient to bring a landslide victory over the opposition candidates: Kizza Besyge and Bobi Wine, divided and therefore unable to win. Now, according to various experts, these percentages could have drastically dropped to 44% of preferences. A percentage that seriously jeopardizes Museveni new presidential term and would be a clear signal that the Ugandan electorate is willing to punish him both for his long stay in power and for the disastrous social and economic consequences that have arisen from the management of the pandemic containment.
For these reasons it is suspected that Museveni intends to declare the Lockdown2 to postpone the elections to a date to be defined (as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed did in Ethiopia) or to hold elections with internet voting, whose data manipulation would be very easy to implement. These suspicions can be well founded as it is obvious the Old M7’s willingness to stay in power.
But returning to a lockdown like the one imposed in March is practically impossible due to the economic and social backlash that could backfire on the President during the electoral period. Ordering the lockdown2 is a suicidal operation on the economy and well-being of citizens who need to move from home to work every day to earn a living.
A first serious warning comes from the powerful KACITA (Kampala City Traders Association) which has protested against any future government plans to restore the Covid-19 blockade, stating that Ugandans can now live with the pandemic. Thadeus Musoke Keno, the general secretary of KACITA, said yesterday that the previous blockade destroyed the livelihoods and businesses of the merchants, adding that the restoration would be tragic, unreasonable and disastrous.
“Merchants have just taken out more loans to meet their banking and rental obligations. Taking them to another bloc without providing a solution is a serious threat not only to the business community but to the entire country, “Musoke added, blaming the government for not having mitigated interest rates and the penalties that banks are imposing on operators who acquired loans before the blockade.
The intervention of the KACITA sounded like a real declaration of war on the President as they found echo and support among the middle class, workers, peasants, young people, the precarious workeers and among jobless. The challenge launched by the Kampala traders was so serious that it forced the government to backtrack and publish contradictory statements in the hope of calming the population exasperated by 33 years of continued power, 4 months of nightmare lockdown and the disastrous consequences that will have to deal with in the post-pandemic period.
Health Minister Dr. Ruth Jane Aceng rejected reports of another blockade, saying the government had not discussed it. “There has been no cabinet meeting. The toilet is at rest. Those are rumors and they are baseless. What we have told the population is that they must adhere to the guidelines. I’ll keep making the calls if they don’t respect them. When they get sick and are dying, they will remember what I told them, ”said Dr. Aceng.
Even the Minister of Information Judith Nabakooba has declared to NTV-Uganda that the government is not interested in imposing a lockdown2 because it would affect the lives of citizens. The remarks came two days after Kampala Minister Betty Amongi issued an ultimatum to Kampala residents to comply with the SOPs recommendations, otherwise recommendations proposing a blockade would have been forwarded to President Yoweri Museveni.
It seems the Old M7 realized it was playing with fire. Now he has to think about other strategies to win the election. Covid19 does not seem to have particularly affected Uganda but could be the key element for the end of 33 years of undisputed power. Could the pandemic be able to give Ugandans the aspired and longed-for political alternation?
Meanwhile, encouraging news comes from WHO. For the first time, there is a 5% reduction in new cases of contagion worldwide and a 12% reduction in deaths. In Africa, new cases of contagion compared to last week have decreased by 8% and deaths by 12%. Be careful though. This is not to say that the virus is gone. Prevention measures are still recommended and it is wise and responsible to adopt them.
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