When a road accident happened near Lyantonde town recently, a helicopter arrived just in time to evacuate the injured to hospital in Kampala.
Apparently, one of the people travelling in a Land Cruiser that smashed a tractor was a former high-ranking official in the ministry of Defence and Veterans Affairs.
After cabinet minister Simon Lokodo collapsed while on duty in Kalangala district last week, a helicopter was again at hand to evacuate him to Kampala for treatment.
No one can begrudge these two officials because the main reason d’etre for any government is to guard its people’s lives and property. In fact, a government that fails that test loses the justification for its continued existence.
However, this principle works best when it’s equitable. According to several reports, after he was knocked by a runaway boda boda in Nakawa on Thursday last week, veteran journalist and former intelligence operative Teddy Ssezi Cheeye was carried to a nearby petrol station where he stayed for at least an hour waiting for an ambulance. By the time he was taken to hospital, it was too late to save his life.
Yet despite serving time in prison, Cheeye was not an ordinary Ugandan, having been a prominent journalist and a former director in the Internal Security Organisation (ISO).
Therefore, if privileges like those extended to the helicopter evacuees were more widely shared by the country’s elite, Cheeye would have benefited through a quickly dispatched military or police ambulance.
Still, it wouldn’t have rendered the system any fairer if he had been granted VIP treatment like his two former colleagues in government. The vast majority of Ugandans have never – and might never – experienced the government actively come to their rescue in their hour of need.
Civilised countries are those with governments that do these things for their people regardless of social status.
The same amount of effort that goes into evacuating ministers and other high-ranking officials when in trouble should be extended to ordinary people when they get accidents or suffer other emergencies.
It’s understandable that helicopters can’t be available for everyone but, surely, ambulances should be a basic service in any serious country.