Uganda. Coronavirus. Food emergency and Museveni's failed promises

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Fulvio Beltrami

Fulvio Beltrami
Originario del Nord Italia, sposato con un'africana, da dieci anni vivo in Africa, prima a Nairobi ora a Kampala. Ho lavorato nell’ambito degli aiuti umanitari in vari paesi dell'Africa e dell'Asia.
Da qualche anno ho deciso di condividere la mia conoscenza della Regione dei Grandi Laghi (Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, ed Est del Congo RDC) scrivendo articoli sulla regione pubblicati in vari siti web di informazione, come Dillinger, FaiNotizia, African Voices. Dal 2007 ho iniziato la mia carriera professionale come reporter per l’Africa Orientale e Occidentale per L’Indro.
Le fonti delle notizie sono accuratamente scelte tra i mass media regionali, fonti dirette e testimonianze. Un'accurata ricerca dei contesti storici, culturali, sociali e politici è alla base di ogni articolo.

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Frammenti Africani

Apr 25

Uganda. Coronavirus. Food emergency and Museveni's failed promises

Despite the fact that the containment measures taken by the President have prevented the spread of the Covid19 infection, the lockdown is creating serious food security problems for the most vulnerable population. Museveni risks a popular uprising if it will prolong confinement beyond May 05, 2020

di Fulvio Beltrami

uganda, coronavirus, lockdown, museveni, food security

Patrik Kanyunga 25/04/2020

According to various WHO experts, the President of Uganda: Yoweri Gaguta Museveni has so far managed very well the containment of the contagion from Covid19. After reporting the first cases of contagion imported by Ugandans returning from Dubai, the Ministry of Health in concert with the Presidency on on April 14 decreed the prolonged lockdown until next May 5. The second lockdwon period saw the tightening of prevention measures and bans. For example, the movement of all vehicles with the exception of ambulances and vehicles of the fire brigade, police and army was prohibited, after finding that many private individuals had transformed their cars into taxis to make up for the lack of public transport prohibited during the first confinement. The days and times of exit permits to buy food have also been significantly reduced.

The lockdown is working both for the increased awareness of the population of the health risks deriving from the pandemic and the well-known territorial control capacity of the Ugandan law enforcement agencies who, although respectful of the Constitution, have always shown that they have a "heavy hand". The second lockdown accentuate social difficulties in respecting it. At least 50% of the workforce lives by precarious jobs and commercial activities related to the informal sector of the economy.

Small and medium-sized traders were in precarious financial situations before the pandemic, obviously worsened by the forced closure of their businesses. Even if this closure is temporary, it is estimated that 40% of traders will not be able to restart operations in the post Coronavirus, while another 40% will only succeed thanks to a heavy debt with banks which in the medium term could compromise their businesses.

The absence of daily earnings compromises the food security of many Ugandan families. To remove the specter of hunger and the risk of popular revolts, President Museveni has promised a constant distribution of basic food throughout the country. A distribution that was supposed to start on March 30 but that is struggling to be put into practice.

The main reason for this appalling delay lies in the presidential decision to ban NGOs, companies or individuals to organize food distributions. The task is reserved exclusively to the government through the army. A food distribution taskforce has been created. The decision to ban distribution to non-governmental entities was made to avoid gatherings, as occurred in Kenya, which would exponentially increase the risk of contagion. The ban is absolute. Any non-governmental entity caught distributing food is subject to immediate arrest.

A problem exists. The state has no storage silos and food reserves in the country. This forced the government to ask for donations from companies, NGOs and individuals that are collected by the army for distribution. The donations are resulting not enough, forcing the President to admit the problem on April 19 during a message to the nation. After failing to import salt from Kenya, he suggested that the most vulnerable population can eat "without salt".

Another reason for the difficulty of securing food for the vulnerable population lies in commercial agreements with private individuals who have opened the door to commercial speculation. Following the myth of the free market, once again Museveni has privileged the ambiguous relationship between entrepreneurs and the State over the collaboration with NGOs and civil society. This relationship with businessman has always been at the root of several failures of previous anti-poverty programs such as the financial loan scheme to start small commercial or manufacturing businesses called Entandikwa or the Bonna Bagagawale micro business development program.

The latest failure factor is corruption within the political world and the army. There is the suspect that significant quantities of food may disappear for distribution to the families of politicians, parliamentarians, police officers and the army. At present, the government and the armed forces are able to ensure only 15% of the planned food distributions. The situation is also becoming explosive for workers and the middle class because, unlike Rwanda, the Ugandan government has failed to impose control over food prices that in less than two months have increased by 30%.

As noted in various countries around the world, the Coronavirus pandemic in Uganda is also being exploited to promote political agendas that have nothing to do with the government's duty to protect the health of its population. Museveni and his National Resistance Movement - NRM party (in power since 1987) are taking advantage of the risk of contagion, the lockdown and prevention measures relating to the ban on gathering and respect for social distance to prevent political opposition activities. The main leaders: Colonel Kizza Bezige and the Pop Star Boby Wine, run the risk of seeing even more limited the chances of political meetings with the excuse of limiting the risk of contagion. Most tuch is Boby Wine who, exploiting his popularity as a Reggae singer, is normally using concerts to convey his political campaign.

Considering the approach of 2021 presidentials it can be expected that respect for social distance and the ban on gathering will remain in force even after the end of the health emergency invoking the risk of a return of the pandemic. Risk feared by the WHO itself on the basis of the return of the virus registered in China, Singapore and South Korea. In the "controlled democracy" created by the Great Old M7 (popular nickname of Museveni) the opposition has always been hindered in organizing demonstrations and election campaigns. Now the opposition containment would be justified for reasons of public health protection.

The 2021 elections represent a crucial appointment for Museveni, after his refusal to withdraw from the national political scene, which materialized with the revocation of the President's age limits sanctioned by the Constitution. Even though the long run to power is still discreetly popular, it is alienating support for the Great Old Man. Ugandan society is eager for a generational change that is effectively blocked. In the last three presidential and administrative elections there has been a progressive drop in consensus even though Museveni and his party remain above the 51% threshold.

The forecasts for the 2021 presidential elections speak of a collapse of consensus that could drop to 49% or 48%. Museveni, however, remains the favorite candidate because of a divided opposition therefore unable to win. The Coronavirus weapon of fear could increase Museveni's chances of returning an overwhelming victory over the other candidates.

Museveni has been implementing a series of maneuvers since 2019 to ensure victory without excessive recourse to electoral fraud. In October 2019, it implemented a crackdown on the national media. Appealing to journalists to "be patriots" the Great Old Man has launched between them an invitation to apply self-censorship and moderation on critical articles during election period. In December 2019, the Electoral Commission decided to exclude 19-year-old citizens from the vote by raising the age for voting rights to 21 years. A maneuver made possible by Article 61 (2) of the Constitution which entrusts the discretion of the Head of State, to determine the minimum age limit for voting. How can we fail to notice that there is a greater consensus among the younger members of the opposition?

The presidential elections of 2021 represent a crucial date for President Museveni, who intends to win them to cement the legitimacy of his power succession project. The election results of 2021 will determine who will be President in 2026. Museveni must absolutely report the victory in the next presidential elections in order to complete the famous "Muhoozi Project". A project always denied by the government which foresees the succession to the presidency of Lieutenant General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, Museveni's eldest son "explains journalist Philip Matogo in a recent article published in the opposition newspaper The Daily Monitor.

The current management of the Covid pandemic19 is a crucial factor in increasing or decreasing the popularity of Museveni. On the one hand, it is undeniable that the measures adopted have effectively prevented the spread of the virus in Uganda. The contagion percentage with respect to the total national population is 0.0000015%. Unfortunately, the inability to live up to the promise of free food distributions risks damaging the popularity of the Great Old Man. Due to the worsening economic situation of many families who risk seeing their food security seriously compromised, discontent is increasing among the population.

According to the moods registered in the last weeks if Museveni on May 5 decides to extend the lockdown, he runs the risk of a mass popular uprising that is difficult to contain. The population sees no reason to remain closed

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