Last week, the biggest news headline in Uganda was that someone had died of Covid-19. A foreigner landing in the country would wonder what was so special about it. Well, it was the first Covid-19 death to be registered in Uganda, that was the big deal.
Well, we could not continue without registering death forever, and now we have to start coping with death in this Covid-19 business.
After dealing with the pandemic under nearly four months of lockdown, our people started relaxing. It would indeed be foolhardy to imagine that this death will be the last. You just need to pass through Kampala during the day these days to see the reckless disregard for the guidelines that we used to observe so religiously in the beginning. Our time bomb is yet to explode.
But when death happens it has happened, and is irreversible. So we need to find ways of dealing with Covid-19 death. We may have to consider our time-tested coping mechanism of laughter that has come handy over the ages.
Even death itself has been handled with a wry sense of humour in Uganda. And now with social media, the death humour spreads rather quickly. When a death is so unexpected, say a strong, seemingly invincible young man dies suddenly, the humour goes into overdrive.
In 2017, the face of the Uganda Police, a very high-ranking, charismatic 43-year-old assistant Inspector General Felix Kaweesi was killed in a rain of bullets fired at close range by daring assassins. The country was numbed for days. The humour machine then set in, with people having their photos taken as they lay in the position Kaweesi died in. They created brief hilarious skits of conversations the deceased could be holding with other national luminaries especially men in uniform - who had died before him.
The following year as the Bobi Wine sensational political career was up on its meteoric start, his driver called Yasin Kawuma was shot dead by security forces as he sat quietly waiting for his boss in the car. It was a strange killing because while the security officers on duty at the spot were known to their commander and a trainee forensic technician could easily match the killer bullets to the guns that were on the scene, nobody was prosecuted for the murder. So the people resorted to humour.
Digital artists started recreating the crime scene, and one image was of an impossibly big stone that had allegedly been thrown at the president’s car thus provoking the guards to fire at the stone thrower — as the official explanation for the shooting in the upcountry town of Arua went.
Away from State-related deaths, there were several demises of artistes at the time, most notable being of a young rising star known as Mowzey Radio. The jokes of poor Mowzey arriving in the hereafter to the reception by other artistes who died before him were cruelly hilarious.
Now with Covid-19, the Ugandan humous has already been at work, and only needs to be revved up as we enter the death phase. And the jokes have not spared President Yoweri Museveni, who likes to call the majority of the citizens ‘bazzukulu’ (grandchildren) who also call him ‘jajja’ (grandpa).
At the start of the pandemic, Museveni could address the nation on TV two or even more times a week to spell out guidelines. And he did a very good job of it. Then his addresses started becoming less frequent and by July had virtually died out.
Now there was a little matter of face masks which he had declared would a must for whoever stepped out of their home, or else they would be liable to arrest. He announced that the government would provide at least one mask of acceptable standards to everybody aged six years and above.
Billions of shillings were disbursed, qualified manufacturers given the job and a deadline was set when the masks would have reached everywhere, after which the arrests for non-compliance would start. Our humorous government was expected to charge such persons with “attempted murder” by spreading a killer disease.
Few, if any of the 45 million Ugandans believed that more than half of the masks would be supplied. None believed that they would be delivered in time. They know their government. Now when they missed the president who hadn’t addressed them for a while, messages started appearing on social media urging ‘jajja’ to come out of hiding, that they already forgave him over the undelivered masks. President Museveni must have smiled ruefully, realising that the incompetent and/or corrupt public servants had let him down again.
Now that Covid-19 victims have started dying, let us brace for the hard jokes. There is no knowing when they will start and what form they will take. When they come, you will know from the gasps and grimaces coming out of Kampala. Then after a couple of days we shall be fine. Won’t we?