Guest Pots I By Olara Otunnu:- I recently wrote an open letter to President Museveni , concerning Uganda ‘s response to coronavirus ( Sunday Monitor , 24 May ) . In New Vision of 30 May, John Nagenda ( Presidential Adviser on the Media ) provided a rejoinder .
It is very striking that , in his response , John studiously avoided addressing any of the specific issues I raised , concerning coronavirus . Instead , he unleashed a fury of abuse , choice epithets and falsehoods , under the heading “ Replying to Ivorian Olara “. My teachers ( and John’s ) at Budo , would have severely marked him down , for ‘padding’ !
In my open letter , I make it clear that the measures imposed by Mr Museveni were appropriate and necessary . They conform to WHO advisory and interventions by other countries . I also pay special tribute to our unsung heroes , the medical and scientific personnel .
Uganda’s response to coronavirus
In fighting coronavirus, the effectiveness of a country’s response turns especially on the timing and robustness of response measures. Everywhere, early intervention is key. In Uganda, despite well-known risks and early warnings , government was very slow to act in several areas of major vulnerability .
Late interventions in the following four areas have been particularly costly for Uganda : imposing strict control and surveillance at land borders ; robust monitoring and testing of cross-border truck drivers ; focus on Dubai as a massive international crossroads and the biggest hub for Ugandan travelers and traders ; and randomised testing across communities .
Although Mr Museveni has promulgated many measures , he has remained silent on some of the most consequential issues . These include : relief for families in great distress ; a serious stimulus package , whose beneficiaries must include small-scale farmers and informal business operators ; a special fund for immediate support for medical service and medical staff ; overhauling of 2020/21 budget , including reallocation of the massive “classified” secret expenditures ; submitting presidential promulgations to scrutiny by Parliament ; and providing a coherent roadmap , instead of ad hoc interventions .
I ask John : Which of the issues raised above “drips with malicious poison from every pore . . . “ ?
Since writing the open letter , the situation has got worse . The incidence of infections is climbing rapidly . We now have community transmission and infection of medical personnel . The situation at key border posts and the issue of truck drivers are spiraling out of control ; this underscores the imperative for collective EAC intervention . Some regional referral hospitals have already been overwhelmed by caseloads . The distribution of relief food and public transport are in shambles ; now add to this , the proposed distribution of village TV sets . Plans for reopening of schools and distribution of masks are on shaky and shifting grounds . Systematic randomised community testing is yet to commence . Crucially , presidential leadership remains highly partisan and belligerent .
I do not wish to rain on John’s parade ! But Ugandans need to discuss these issues seriously , without being obnoxious , where we may disagree .
I called out Mr Museveni for his very offensive and incendiary edict , stating that any independent distribution of food relief to starving Ugandans is “attempted murder “ . This has already provided license to some security elements to commit atrocities with impunity . I urge Mr Museveni to apologise to the country for this pronouncement and the torture of Francis Zaake . I ask John : What is your stance on “attempted murder” and the savaging of Zaake ?
A larger context
John refers to “others whose names start with “O” as Otunnu “ . I cannot decipher this coded message . Who exactly are “the others” in Uganda ? In another big leap , John declares : “ Let Olara Otunnu , and his types , fail in their pathetic attempts to keep Ugandans apart “ ! Where is this outburst coming from ? Can John kindly point to a single line in my letter which would remotely support this gratuitous falsehood? So , “the gross impudence” of raising pertinent questions about government response to coronavirus , amounts to “keeping Ugandans apart “ ! I get it . This is precisely the mentality and logic that lead inexorably to the doctrine of “attempted murder “ .
There is a larger context to all this . In the Museveni era , John has exalted in promoting ethnic and regional bigotry and discrimination . He is one of the NRM cadres who developed and inculcated the sectarian division of Ugandans into : “us” and “them” ; “those people” and “our people” ; “northerners” and “southerners” ; “ Baganda” and “Westerners” ; etc. Sadly , this is the lens through which John views Uganda and Ugandans .
Our sectarian leaders the critics and escape scrutiny . This is what John is doing , when he declares ostentatiously , “Let others who thrive on tribalism perish “ . Honestly , John should address this admonition to himself , first and foremost .
John’s elliptical reference to “Ivorian” and “Ivory Coast” may have been lost on many readers . This is actually John’s triumphalist return to the scene of his previous crimes . John was one of the hatchet men who conducted a vicious campaign of persecution , disinformation and smear against me , throughout my sojourn abroad . ( During this particular sojourn (1986-2007) , I served as professor at American University in Paris , President of the International Peace Institute in New York , and Under-Secretary General of the United Nations ) .
For over twenty years , the Museveni regime rendered me a stateless person , by denying me Ugandan passport . The regime then fabricated the story that I had renounced my Ugandan citizenship ! John peddled this and other lies, repeating them ad nauseum . I would be proud to be the citizen of any African country . But this was about my Ugandan citizenship , my birthright .
Incidentally , this explains why , on my return to Uganda in 2007 , there was a long standoff at Entebbe airport . I had flown into the country without a passport .
Given his particular background and admirable talents , I feel very sad about John’s chosen path . As for the hatchet job on me over the years , I forgive John . The chief reason for doing so is very autobiographical . John is the son of the legendary William Nagenda of Namutamba , who was a pioneer and leading light of the East Africa Revival ( together with Simeoni Nsibambi, Blasio Kigozi , Yosia Kinuka , Joe Church , etc ) .
My own father , Yusto , became a leader in that movement . William and Yusto were close revival brethren . “ Nagenda “ remains a greatly revered and beloved name in my family . So , at a very personal , emotional level , John is family .