My salute to John Pombe Magufuli

President John Pombe Magufuli

President John Pombe Magufuli

Now that the world is slowly quietly opening up, ironically, before a vaccine or cure for Covid-19 has been found, we will surely look at each other with a little embarrassment.

We will ask, what was all this noise and pandemonium about? Oh, we have been some ignorant freaks! Yes, the flu has not gone away, and we now seem ready to live with it. And when the dust finally settles down – or even in its continuity – we will sit back and ask, why did we lockdown in the first place?

But above all, we will be dealing with a rather debilitating aftermath, more disturbing than whatever havoc Covid-19 would have wrecked onto us. With a good sense of things, we will cry and howl that we unnecessarily brought this onto ourselves. Recovery will take a painful longer stretch, that will leave many – especially ordinary folks – bruised to destruction.

Then enter John Pombe Magufuli (Dipl. Sci, BSc. PhD-chemistry, University of Dar es Salaam). But let me start with the mess and wannabe-ism in Kampala before sending my salaams to comrade Magufuli. On day 43 of the lockdown, LDUs in their characteristic green overalls and gumboots, majestically knocked at my door.

They were laden with two small sacks, one of the sought-after maize flour, and another of beans. The urgency with which they knocked, and the airs with which they carried themselves was as if they were delivering a cure for Covid-19. The knock was too loud and too forceful.

I did not pick offense with any of this – for these were mere messengers – but I was in rage at this government. I have been like this for some time hissing and cursing every time I see President Museveni telling stories and jokes on TV in the coveted prime time.

Oh boy, if I were him, I would fire all my handlers! Why would they let him embarrass himself in these proportions. Besides the incoherence and illogical reasoning in his stores - which, minister Amelia Kyambadde recently ridiculed mild as lacking in common sense - why would Museveni’s handlers set up his government for a thing they knew they could not afford? But I digress.

I live seven miles away from Kampala Constitution Square. My dingy abode is the same distance away from the seat of government (State House, Parliament, etc.). But the power-blessed centralised and militarised food taskforce took 43 days to get to my neighbourhood.

As you read this, there are hundreds of thousands of homes in Kampala that the God-blessed taskforce is yet to reach. There have been flashes of food riots across Kampala pointing to an actually dire situation. More painful is the rubbish-quality of the beans and maize flour.

The debate was on the floor of parliament, and opposition MP, Semujju Ibrahim Nganda actually carried samples to the floor! By the time a poor and hungry man, the wretched “poor and vulnerable” [sic] complains about quality of anything, it must be really bad. But besides the food chaos, the lockdown in Uganda has been defined by parliamentary-executive money laundering: Shs 10bn, Shs 304bn, Shs 900bn – then another Shs 40m.

While legislators and the executive profiteer from the pandemic, the wananchi have been harassed and brutalised by curfew and lockdown enforcers. Some actually lost their lives, with Jinja market vendor, Evelyn Namulondo as the most recent victim.

If the mess and pain in Kampala — relief food delivery, unnecessary loss of lives of expectant mothers and market vendors, money laundering in parliament - could teach us anything, it is that President Magufuli was right in not locking down his country.

This is not Albert Camus’ plague where people would be collapsing on streets hours after contracting the disease. Maybe we had watched too much of Hollywood’s Walking Dead instalment, that we imagined blood sucking zombies walking the streets, and jumping onto necks infecting everybody they came across.

Well, sadly, the impression of apocalypse created painted a plague- like future and the entire world stopped thinking. President Magufuli didn’t fall for this. Instead, he has had to brave hateful propaganda, and scorn from across.

Right now, he must be laughing at the world as it opens with neither vaccine nor cure. While Uganda has lost more people in Covid-19 lockdown-related deaths (maternal mortality, suicide, domestic violence), the country is likely to lose more in the aftermaths of the lockdown.

With an anticipated rise in job cuts, undelivered food supplies, ordinary folks are slumping further into poverty, which will make them extremely vulnerable to starvation, and disease.

And most African governments do not have supplementary budgets to cushion small businesses from collapse. Sadly, the politicians will emerge from this epidemic more privileged than before.

To paraphrase Okot p’ Bitek, the wananchi will continue turning their aching bones on the now muddier earth on which they slept before the epidemic.


The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd