By Professor Oweyegha-Afunaduula Fred Charles
It is true. Initially, President Tibuhaburwa Museveni was skeptical about holding elections during the Covid 19 pandemic. He said it was madness to hold elections during the pandemic. That was when the pandemic was just beginning to rear its dirty head in our midst.
At that time he was providing the necessary leadership in mobilising funds to contain the disease and making Ugandans aware of what to do at an individual level to survive it.
In a bizarre twist of conviction, however, the President became the greatest believer in elections going ahead despite growing wisdom that elections should be postponed to contain the spread of Covid 19 and avoid many Ugandans falling victim to the disease.
Since what the President of Uganda speaks can become law, when he announced that elections could go ahead, the Electoral Commission strategised to execute them after consultation with the President.
They called those elections scientific elections, saying they would be conducted on Television and Radio Stations to avoid people being exposed to the disease. However, they ignored the fact that virtually all television stations and Radio stations belong to NRMO stalwarts or sympathisers of NRMO.
Accordingly, there is no way people in the Opposition would easily get fair exposure to airwaves to interact with the electorate. They would be segregated via the airwaves.
Once the two institutions -Electoral Commission and Presidency -concurred, it became clear that the country would not escape being plunged into an electoral mood and activity despite the real threat of Covid 19.
The next thing to happen was for the Ministry of Health (MOH) to come up with Guidelines for politicians and all of us to adhere to while campaigning -washing hands, wearing masks and sanitising hands, things and everywhere where the disease could easily be spread.
Initially there was a countrywide lockdown, which in most cases continues to obtain with slight modifications. Bars, most schools and entertainment places have remained in a lockdown several months since it was slammed. Many businesses have collapsed.
Successive relaxations of restrictions saw buses, taxis and buses begin to operate but with numbers of passengers reduced to ensure social distance. It has not been effective.
For weddings, burials and political gatherings a figure of 70 was initially slammed as the one which could constitute an audience for a politician, and others, assembling people to achieve their ends. Later the figure was raised to 200.
The first people to violate the numerical prescriptions were NRMO politicians and/ministers. Even the Minister of Health herself violated the prescriptions. It became evident that with partisan political interests taking the upper hand it would be difficult to enforce MOH guidelines across the board.
Indeed, with the passage of time, it transpired as if MOH guidelines were erected for the Opposition to suffer the full brunt of those guidelines. Security organs took it upon themselves to enforce the guide lines in respect of the Opposition without control by the Electoral Commission.
Zealously they have shot people at the rallies of Opposition leaders dead or teargassed them not those of politicians of the ruling Party, including President Tibuhaburwa Museveni who doubles as Chairman of NRMO.
This has been interpreted as oppression, repression and suppression reminiscent of what obtained in the defunct Apartheid South Africa, with laws being applied segregatively: those in the Oposition must follow them to the letter, those in the ruling party need not be bothered.
For example, of all the Presidential Candidates it is NUP’s Kyagulanyi and FDC’s Amuriat who have suffered most, sometimes escaping death by bullets by mere lack. It is as if offering oneself to serve as President is taking a risk.
There are indications that Covid 19 is becoming more virulent and more dangerous, with many Ugandans falling victim.
It is unlikely we shall have another lockdown before the elections. However, no one will doubt that electioneering has become a major conduit for spreading the disease.
In Europe and elsewhere new lockdowns are being slammed onto the people and businesses to contain the spread of Covid 19 just as vaccines are being rolled out.
For Uganda urban people have been told not to travel to rural areas for Christmas to help prevent transfer of the disease to these areas, which are still relatively free of the disease. It is now as if we have two countries in one -the urban and the rural.
However, electioneering is moving like a snake, and none of those involved is strictly adhering to the MOH guidelines. This contradicts the restrictions on urban-rural interactions. Politicians are free to move but not other Ugandans. Again this segregation is unnecessarily.
My view is that if we are serious about containing Covid 19, there should be political intervention on electioneering. If we did not postpone electioneering when it was most timely, we can still postpone electioneering now when the Covid 19 situation is getting out of hand.
Why go on with elections that are not intended to change the status quo but simply provide the surest means of spreading Covid 19?
Right now the most effective strategy of containing Covid 19 is postponing the useless elections.
Useful elections are those, which are not organized to rubberstamp a military regime by giving the impression that democracy is at work when it is not. At the end of such elections, we shall be counting more and more of our sick and dead from Covid 19, and most likely from the gun, but worse off in terms of democratic achievement and leadership renewal. Think about it.
The sick or dead could be you or me. Already so many politicians have succumbed to the disease. The latest is Second Prime Minister Mzee Kirunda Kivejinja. The solution is still in the hands of our topmost decision makers.
Professor Oweyegha-Afunaduula Fred Charles is a former Makerere Don and an environmentalist