Uganda is yet to fully appreciate the extent of the exposure that citizens have been put to, but this could happen within a week or two after a number of officials, who claimed to love their kin more than the rest of us, used their position and power to bypass all forms of screening at the point of entry, Entebbe International Airport.
It is alleged that some four ministers, a general in the army and others not specified personally went to or sent officers with clear instructions to retrieve their children and relatives from the airport, some of whom were returning from ‘Category One’ countries such as South Korea, South Africa, the United States of America, Germany, Italy, China and the United Arab Emirates, through Dubai.
A number of legislators also ignored the quarantine requirement and instead went on to interact with unsuspecting people in banks and parliament.
Thankfully, these legislators were ejected. But who knows what harm they have already caused to their families and colleagues? Such actions are selfish and very irresponsible, especially from those who should be leading by example.
It is also documented that some officials at the points of entry solicited and took bribes or negligently turned a blind eye when travelers from especially
‘Category One’ countries entered Uganda. These travelers were required to take one of two options – self-quarantine for 14 days or be co-opted under institutional quarantine, also for 14 days at a designated area, in this case an inn in Entebbe.
It is alleged that some airport officials were paid off and left some travelers to freely enter Uganda without subjecting them to quarantine just because they did not show the obvious signs of the illness.
Other travelers were let through after promising to self-quarantine, only for those same people to be traced back to shopping malls and heavily populated cities such as Masaka, and others on road trips to Zombo as was the case for the foreign nationals who should have been under self-quarantine in Naguru.
These sorts of selfish behaviour by a few could cost Uganda dearly in the not-so-distant future. The President all but locked down the country in an effort to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Let us not forget that the countries currently grappling with Covid-19 infections initially took lightly the warnings they received from the responsible officials. Those that have so far contained the spread took drastic measures right from the start, efforts that these so-called highly-placed Ugandans are flouting.
Corruption is not just the diversion of public resources for the enrichment of a few individuals over the society for whom those resources were meant; it is also the abuse of office, selective application of the law and the strongman mentality that has greatly eroded the societal fabric.
For a lapse in judgement such as this, it would be fitting if the president seriously took action against all the officials who have put the rest of society at risk. It is not enough to kick them out of cabinet meetings while charging others with committing offences under Section 171 of the Penal Code Act (Cap 120) as amended.
An example should be made of these people. Otherwise, how else are we, common folk, going to appreciate the gravitas of the matter at hand if those handpicked by the president cannot follow simple instructions?
In Nigeria, the chief of staff of President Muhammadu Buhari returned from a foreign trip recently. Instead of taking the self-quarantine as had been advised, he freely mixed with whoever he wished.
A week later, he tested positive for Covid-19!
Certainly, his family and close associates are now at risk as well. As we make this call to action, the country demands that attention is paid to the most vulnerable in our society. While urgent measures need to be taken, they must be well-thought-through and not harm low-income earners and those whose very survival could easily be threatened by badly administered lockdowns.
The government should immediately formulate and engage teams that include non-government actors capable of collaborating on this extraordinary challenge. Covid-19 is beatable if we all play our part without some selected few being above the law!