These are not normal times and it is in such times that we learn about the character of a people and nations. The pandemic has been both a boon and hindrance in various ways. A boon in that the lockdown has enabled us to re-examine our values, and a hindrance in that we cannot get on with the lives that we are used to. Either you see your glass as half full or half empty.
I have reflected on life and recognized the futility of a lot that we hold dear. Considering the number of people who have so far died, we must be grateful that it has not gotten worse. There are lots of lessons for you and me. Here are some of mine.
Our President is a great commander in times of crisis The way he has managed to help manage the pandemic deserves a huge hurrah. This is the second time I have seen him take charge and save us from ourselves. The first time was during the HIV/AIDS crisis. Our response, which he and other heroes master-minded saved very many lives. He has shown leadership here. Mr. Museveni thrives in crises and he seems to be enjoying to hog the limelight. You can’t blame him as a politician. Never miss an opportunity to make political capital. He has managed to shut out every competitor for his throne and even threaten them with ‘treason’.
My second thought was about the brutality of the security forces. They are always one hair’s breadth away from meting violence on the population. The way in which they attacked and violated the rights of our people should remind one that the absence of war does not mean peace. To understand the proclivity of the armed forces to violence, I have always deferred to A. B. Kasozi’s “The Social Origins of Violence in Uganda, 1964-1985”. Kasozi argued that the major causes of violence in Uganda were social inequality and the failure to develop legitimate conflict resolution mechanisms. The use of vigilante groups as opposed to a well-equipped and disciplined civil police were according to him one of the domain and patterns of conflict in our society.
My third and thought was about how cowed and terrified the middle class has become. Because we have gotten fat and comfortable, we have developed fear of those who control the instruments of violence. Not many called out the security forces for their brutality, especially, since it was not meted upon them.
A fourth thought that kept on troubling me was the state and capacity of our healthcare system to deal with the pandemic if it materialized the way it has done in Europe and the US. The ‘Economist’, March 26, 2020 reported (rather snidely I guess) that we had more Ministers than ICU beds! I could not verify this one but considering that “covidiots” like me would never merit a movement permit, how could I merit an ICU bed in case of a nationwide emergency? In pandemics, the poor are always the hardest hit. We have America to prove it, so we need not belabor this one.
Fifth in my idle mind was what had happened to our tycoons and celebs? The ones who throw money in night clubs and fill up media reports with their “Kardashian’ lifestyles. Some of the so called wealthiest local Ugandans were conspicuously silent. It was mostly left to the Indians and Chinese to save us. Maybe we haven’t come a long way since 1972, but that’s a topic for another day.
I also thought about the real heroes. The health workers, the care givers, the cleaners and garbage collectors and others, who through all this rose early to risk life and limb to serve mother Uganda. These were the ones with a true sense of purpose and struggled every day to get to their posts and serve. We salute them.
Samuel Sejjaaka is Country Team Leader at Mat Abacus Business School. Twitter @samuelsejjaaka