BUWEMBO: Money’s with the doc; Out! Leave! You green-tailed cock with red feet!

Saturday October 12 2019

Being very kind hearted people, Ugandan witchdoctors don’t want to charge you heavily to treat you, just a token sum of a few shillings. But for you to recover, the ancestors require to be fed on a special cock with a green tail and red feet. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA | NMG


Last week President Yoweri Museveni directed a sharp raise of doctors’ salaries. There have been several reviews and commissions on professionals’ pay which never seem to end. But on the matter of the doctors’ pay, the president took the matter in his hands and issued a directive.

In effect, Museveni’s decree will curtail a creeping crossover by modern medics to traditional healing. Supported by the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), Uganda mainstream media recently used concealed sophisticated cameras to expose tricks used by public health workers to make money.

“There is no network,” a hospital registrar was recorded severally telling mothers seeking birth notifications required to get birth certificates for their children. When the mothers greased his fingers, the network re-appeared and his computer produced the notification.

But the worst finding was the requirement by doctors that patients buy a prescribed medicine from a specified pharmacy in the vicinity of the hospital.

The catch is that you must bring a receipt from the particular pharmacy with the pharmacist’s signature, otherwise bringing the medicine is not enough.

After all, when the doctor tells you he only trusts medicine from that particular pharmacy, in these days of counterfeits, who are you to argue.


The real witchcraft comes into play. When the signed receipt is received, the medicine is accepted by the doctor who then tosses it somewhere, anywhere, and proceeds to treat you with medicine from National Medical Stores. For all you know, the special vial you brought from the specified pharmacy could as well have contained air or water or nothing.

And that is how Ugandan witchdoctors (and presumably elsewhere) have made their wealth throughout the ages. Being very kind hearted people, they don’t want to charge you heavily to treat you, just a token sum of a few shillings. But for you to recover, the ancestors require to be fed on a special cock with a green tail and red feet.

You are directed to an old woman who is believed to be having the last such cock in the vicinity so you rush there and pay a stiff price to buy it.

As you deliver it to the witchdoctor and start entering the treatment room, the expensive green tailed cock with red feet is already being taken back to the old woman who has the last one so she can resell it to the next patient.

And the good witchdoctor ‘only’ charges you a few token coins to treat you. In case of the modern doctor, he charges you nothing once he has proof that you got the ‘right’ medicine from the right drug shop.

Now this convergence of traditional and modern medicine is at risk of being disrupted by the presidential directive.

For most government doctors will desist from playing such tricks if they get a decent pay. And the supplies from National Medical Stores are there, but the motivation to serve them to patients who need them has been lacking.

The United States government gives Uganda a yearly nearly one billion dollars ($970 million this year) in aid half of which goes to the health sector. To this add Uganda government’s budgetary allocation of about $300 million. The medicines we have, but they need to be accompanied by a green tailed cock or a black he-goat whose beard is long enough to sweep the ground.

Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. Email:[email protected]