If Uganda survives the coronavirus attack, we shall at least have learnt one important lesson, that impunity is not good for anybody, including those who exercise it.
Before the first case was confirmed in the country, we had spent weeks thanking God for keeping Uganda free of the deadly virus.
To the government’s credit, the ministry of Health put in place enough measures to protect the population from the pandemic. The ministry of Transport joined in and put serious procedures at Entebbe International Airport to scrutinise persons entering from countries of different risk categories.
What they could not control, however, is the impunity which has simply become a way of life for Ugandans who think they are very important.
When the risk levels intensified in certain countries, the airport instituted stop-and-quarantine measures for arrivals from such countries. But the arrogant impunity overrode the measures.
So-called VIPs rode roughshod over the officials at the airport and blatantly broke the quarantine for themselves or their arriving friends and relatives coming in from high risk countries.
The risky arrivals including the infected ones made their way into the then hitherto corona free society and the rest as they say, is history.
But how did we get here? The ordinary citizens are now pointing at the big and the rich blaming them for bringing in the virus. But we are forgetting to point at ourselves.
For we have seen this country growing over the years from humility to impunity and did nothing to stop it. Bad people on their own cannot mess up a country; it takes enough good people not trying to stop them to make it possible. So we are all guilty for the desecration of our nation.
Impunity and blatant abuse of process had been wiped out of Uganda’s public life in 1986 when the victorious NRA guerilla army led by Yoweri Museveni took power.
They led the country in a year-long process of writing a people’s constitution that was enacted in 1995 (ironically we are celebrating the silver jubilee this year under the rule of our own law, by reaping the bitter fruit of abusing the law).
But over time some people started behaving like they are above the law and the number of such started growing. Actions that were considered impossible in the 1990s are now daily occurrences.
We have, for example, the misconduct on the roads by every other so-called VIPs.
Ordinarily, only the presidential motorcade, ambulances and fire engines should have right of way. But today ministers’ cars are led by heavily armed lead cars with sirens to chase the public off the roads.
Habitual impunity has turned some of these people into lunatics because even on a Sunday morning on empty roads, some of these convoys drive on the wrong side of the road. And we did nothing to resist this creeping lunacy.
There is this singer of no distinction whatsoever because he cannot rank among the best 100 Ugandan musicians since independence. But he has been driving a car without number plates in broad daylight in the capital city. His claim to fame? He supports the ruling party.
When the NRA took power 34 years ago, they found a near-anarchy atmosphere with hundreds of cars on the roads having no number plates except scribbling’s of their Japanese town of origin like Nagoya.
The NRA stamped out the Nagoya era, but it has returned to the streets in recent years. Now a person can drive a numberless car for months in the city knowing that even the Inspector General of Police will not challenge him. “Do you know me?” such people ask when an ‘ignorant’ policeman tries to call them to order.
Some soldiers guarding a VIP the other day beat up a uniformed woman traffic police officer in Kampala for ‘not knowing’ their boss. She tried to stop them from making a wrong turn, and she ended up in hospital instead.
Health and immigration control officers at Entebbe seemed to have forgotten that in Uganda there is a growing population of so-called untouchables, and tried to make them comply with a quarantine.
The poor officers thought that the lives of 42 million Ugandans mattered to the ‘untouchables’. They tried to challenge them and were overruled.
So here we are, but we don’t know if we shall be for long. For corona is harvesting us for what they did and what we failed to do.
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:[email protected]