Virus has taken 300 lives, soon MPs cars will be a health risk

Wednesday March 17 2021

The very makers of the laws will virtually all buy 20-year-old junks being dumped into the country to add to the poisoning of Kampala’s air. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA


Uganda’s revolutionary leaders from the ‘Class of ’86’ like quoting a Biblical verse that chastises those who leave undone what they ought to do and then do what they ought not to.

The quote so aptly describes the conduct of most Ugandans that when it is invoked, we have no defence and just shut up.
Characteristically, we pay so much attention to problems that we have no hand in creating and instead ignore those that we cause.

The biggest health crisis we think we ever had is the coronavirus, something that we didn’t cause. We have fought it so hard that as we mark one year this week since the first Covid-19 infection was identified in Uganda, we have lost just over 300 people.

To achieve that relative level of success, we had a yearlong lockdown of which three months were almost total and a curfew that we still maintain for eight hours out of 24 hours daily. But the most biting measure is education institutions being closed for a year, keeping learners who constitute a third of the population at home.

We are yet to fathom the closure’s long-term impact, considering that baby production was not suspended — in fact it was enhanced because of lockdown idleness—  meaning that at school re-opening, we shall have three times the number of first graders than we have capacity for in terms of classrooms and teachers.

Yes, five-year-olds, six-year-olds and seven-year-olds shall all be eyeing Standard One and will somehow have to observe social distance, meaning they will require six times the space that is available.


This particular item shows you how dedicated we are to fighting the problem, and let us not even mention that in Covid Year 2020 we grew our foreign debt by about 10 percent to fight the effects of the pandemic, and we are spending heaven-knows how much to purchase vaccines, a year after we almost successfully blocked and rolled back he virus.
How about the problems we cause ourselves, do we fight them with equal vigour?

In a full year of Covid-19 in Uganda, we lost 300 people. But in the first two months of 2021, we have lost an equal number to murders (including infanticide).
Besides the people murdered directly with malice afore thought, there are the 16 women we kill indirectly everyday by failing to provide safe processes for giving birth to them, which comes to 1,000 women so far. That is 1,000 women killed in two months by denial to adequate maternal care, not to mention the babies that perish with them.
Now take the case of the ‘dust’ covering the country in the past couple of weeks.

We were just beginning to notice it when the meteorological people gave the detailed explanation of what caused it, how long it was expected to stay before going away and how to act so as not to be affected by it.

You wonder why the authorities don’t also give us the detailed information about the air that is constantly being fouled by the old cars which we import daily when they are older than the average Ugandan who is about 16 years of age!

In the three months when the four wheeled killers were not moving, the air over Kampala was ‘miraculously cleaned up, with pollution measured to below 40 percent of what it was before lockdown. You could see the cleanliness of the air with your naked eyes.

When the vehicular restriction was lifted, not only did we return to the ‘usual’ poisoning of the air, even the cycling lanes that had been meticulously painted green during lockdown in Kampala were taken over by the only polluters worse than the old cars — the boda boda motor cycles. If you want to go to an early grave, try and ride a bicycle on the bicycle lanes of Kampala.

Three months from now, each of our 500 plus recently elected members of Parliament is expected to receive $80,000 for buying a car. You think 500 of the latest low emission models of that price will populate parliament’s storied underground parking lot? Then keep dreaming — the very makers of the laws will virtually all buy 20-year-old junks being dumped into the country to add to the poisoning of Kampala’s air for a tenth of that money they will receive, and those are the money ‘extravagant’ ones.

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