With the opposition in disarray and government suffering malfunction, Dr Kizza Besigye has stepped in to save Ugandans from the covid 19 pandemic.
Besigye is the messiah Ugandans suffering the brunt of a second lockdown have been waiting for. But his re-emergency is likely to be interpreted by Bobi Wine and the National Unity Platform as a ploy to dispossess them of their rightful position, the defacto main opposition group.
But ever since elections were concluded, Ugandans that feel oppressed and those that disagree with policies of President Yoweri Museveni and his ruling National Resistance Movement party (NRM) have lacked acceptable leadership, a void Dr Besigye is now occupying.
Also the re-emergence of Besigye is expected to be interpreted by Mr Museveni and the NRM as a move to set ground for the 2026 presidential contest.
For two weeks now, the four time presidential loser, Dr Col. (rtd) Warren Kizza Besigye, has been trotting from one media house to another re-awakening Ugandans to demand accountability of the covid 19 resources abused by government.
According to Besigye government borrowed about six trillion shillings between March and December last year to manage the pandemic without a proper plan that would have provided for specific deliverables like the increase of medical personnel, increase of beds and procurement of medical equipment.
The former leader of the Forum for Democratic Change is also preaching to Ugandans to “take charge of their own health” in the face of broken healthcare system.
When covid 19 invaded Uganda in March last year and the country was locked down, Besigye’s expertise as a physician came in handy as he emphasized the standard operating procedures and basic healthcare prevention measures. He even invented the popular ‘Besigye concoction’ that is a mixture of garlic, lemon, ginger and red pepper in warm water to be drank regularly as an immunity booster.
Besigye was one of the few leaders that demanded government to declare a state of emergency and suspend the general elections. His pleas were ignored as was the covid 19 standard operating procedures that include putting on masks, regular washing hands and social distancing.
According to Besigye this resulted into the country reaching stage four—community infections—of the pandemic by September last year.
Having avoided an active role in the last general elections, Besigye has become more useful than Robert Ssentamu Kyagulunyi a.k.a Bobi Wine’s “People Power, Our Power” slogan that has since faded in the face of a pandemic.
Behind Besigye’s newfound evangelism, however, is the revelation of a revolution. Besigye is appealing to Ugandans to defy the latest lockdown measures as directed by President Museveni.
Mr Museveni, a week ago ordered all businesses to close except for factories, food markets, agriculture, banks, medical facilities, media, security, utilities (water and electricity services, telecoms etc) and retail shops in the outskirts of the city and upcountry.
He also shut down transport except trucks carrying cargo, tourist vehicles and those carrying patients and dead bodies. The popular boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) were directed to only carry cargo and patients and have to stop moving by 17 hours.
He reduced staff numbers in government offices from 30 to 10 percent. He suspended schooling indefinitely.
Mr Museveni argued that his decision to lockdown the country again was to reduce the country’s covid 19 positivity rate from 17 percent to below five percent.
But Besigye says another lockdown without a clear plan on the management of the pandemic should be defied.
“Our people leave on hand to mouth. Our people are starving. we should devise a plan. The next program is to focus on what we can do for ourselves. We have to devise common solutions to get ourselves out of this mess,” said Besigye in a live broadcast via facebook and twitter on June 23.
Besigye has offered two options—to defy the government’s lockdown so that people find what to eat and those that are fearful of defiance to trek to their villages.
The opposition leader says he will mobilize his colleagues of similar thinking to craft an agreeable offensive strategy against the second lockdown.
“As people of Uganda we must have our own plan. This is the time. It’s urgent we meet through these platforms and agree on what to do. Let’s have a conversation. This is not power dynamics. I am glad there are no elections (now). Those who wanted offices got them. Let’s focus on a common good,” Besigye appealed.
Besigye’s defiance calls come at a time when most government departments are dysfunctional, parliament has shut down and the executive is grappling with the decision on how to feed millions of Ugandans that leave on hand to mouth.
Parliament, a key institution that must approve funding for covid 19 and monitor the lockdown measures, was ordered to shut down beginning on June 28 after more than 200 MPs and Parliament staff have tested positive for Covid-19 in the last three weeks.
Unconfirmed reports indicate that the Parliament Speaker Rt Hon Jacob Oulanyah was flown out of the country on Tuesday very ill although Parliament spokesman claims the Speaker went to United Kingdom to visit his son.
Seventeen ministers also missed the swearing-in ceremony recently largely because they got in contact with people who tested positive for Covid-19. Some ministers admitted that some people close to them had tested positive and were in self-isolation for 14 days as the rules require.
Meanwhile, some government officials and the elite are busy smuggling and stocking oxygen in their homes after hospitals run short of oxygen and bed capacity.
Vaccines and other crucial drugs are also being stolen while hospitals continue to hike patient charges to abnormal rates (between 1 to 10 million shillings a day).
This has left many Ugandans worried about their own livelihoods. Most have turned to looking for herbs for their survival. But they are unsure about what to eat.
Therefore, Besigye’s call for defiance will find prepared souls. Already, majority of young city dwellers have been walking to their work places in defiance of the 42-day lockdown that started on June 18.
“Healthcare is a common good that requires common management. That is why it is annoying to hear people say politics should be out of covid. Politics is management of a common good. Healthcare is a common good. All of us should be involved in discussing the management or plan of the common good,” said Besigye.
Dr Besigye is reinventing himself while positioning health as a common good, which he says should be tackled politically just as Steve Biko did for Black South Africans.
Biko, a former medical student at the University of Natal, agitated for Black Consciousness as a way of liberating the mind of Black South Africans.
While appearing on NBS TV’s Morning Breeze show last week, Dr Besigye said the government doesn’t have the capacity to combat Covid-19.
He advised that “personal responsibility” is the first and last line of defence.
This means that non-state actors (Ugandan citizens) will be substituting the work of the government.
As a consequence, individuated societal responsibilities will supersede governmental prerogatives; thereby shrinking the significance of the State in favour of a citizenry taking control of its destiny to secure its own future.
Besigye has called for calm amongst the public as endless panic will lure them to make serious regrettable mistakes.
“The first advice I would give to anybody who is in trouble of the kind is not to panic, because panic increases your chances of making very serious mistake. I think Ugandans should remain calm. This is something that is manageable,” Besigye emphasized.
Reports by the ministry of Health indicate increasing cases of Covid-19 in the wake of its second wave. Latest figures show that Uganda has 74,260 covid 19 cases out of which 752 people have died.
A desperate population holding onto life in the wake of Covid 19, Ugandans have resorted to all measures to survive as health care facilities fail to cope with the rising cases.
This has led to fear and panic within the population with some adopting untested herbal concoctions to try to beat Covid-19.
Besigye said: “They only need to have information to use to get out of the problem. It is a fact that anybody can contract this disease and eventually everybody will get Covid-19. What is important is how once you get it, your ability to deal with it.”
Besigye advised those with the signs of Covid-19 to limit movement and interactions with the rest of the public and minimise their physical interactions alongside doing whatever it takes to increase their body immunity.
For the aged, Besigye advised them to embrace Covid-19 vaccination and should isolate themselves from large groups of people. He said getting enough sleep and doing physical exercises helps build body immunity.
Besigye said steaming is a trustable and reliable measure to reduce on the severity of the pandemic alongside side mixing salt solution in hot water to help in relieving throat pain.
The mismanagement of covid 19 has led to the virus permeating slowly in all corners of the population and has evolved mutating into more deadly elusive variants that easily spread and are more aggressive.
Besigye’s expert advice
Take a lot of citrus fruits, fluids and elderly more vitamin supplements and minerals that have zinc. With a sour throat, cough and breathing complications probably because of secondary bacterial infection then take antibiotics as prescribed by a physician. You still don’t need to be admitted in hospital. Get a pulse oximeter, if you can, to monitor oxygen in your body. If oxygen is falling below 95 then try getting more oxygen in consultation with a health worker. Upto 80% of those who get symptoms are mild to moderate symptoms. Those are challenges that can be managed at home. The sour throat can be helped by steam treatment. Boil water bend and inhale the steam. It can be plain hot water. Breathe in through the mouth and exale in the nose then breathe in through the nose and exhale through the mouth. It improves circulation. It is a good remedy. Just like gargling warm salt water is good for an inflamed throat. This can help clear phlegm that’s hanging on the back of your throat. It may even kill germs and soothe your sore throat.
Isolate yourself if you have symptoms. Don’t panic because it is something you can overcome. 20% of those that get serious disease 15% will have severe disease, and may need oxygen support (fast moving oxygen. One may take five litres of oxygen per minute) and other supportive treatment. 15% may not need to get into ICUs. Even those on oxygen shouldn’t worry. It is the 5% those with comorbidities and elderly that may need to go into ICUs cause of organ failures. The earlier they get to hospital the better.
Two things to focus on are—avoid infection. It is riskier to get infected because of the weak healthcare system. Unless you must do not mix with others. If you mix with others put on a mask, washing hands and keeping a safe distance. Work hard so that your body is fit to fight the virus. Exercising till you sweat is very important. Get enough sleep (atleast 8hrs) so that the body is cleansed—cleaning up all bad elements. Avoid stress because it aggressively offends our immunity. Remain clam even in the storm of challenges. Then eat things that build your immunity.
“With these we shall overcome this,” concludes Dr Besigye, who used to be President Museveni’s personal doctor.
Reshaping political terrain
The re-emergence of Dr Besigye to take up a front seat in Uganda’s politics during the pandemic against Mr Museveni whom he calls a “dictator” is bound to shake up the NRM establishment.
Besigye could also decide to return into elective politics because of the vacuum left by Bobi Wine, who has failed to take up responsibility as the leader of opposition.
In an interview with Uganda’s Daily Monitor paper in 2013 Besigye promised that he would not run again for president but would use other means “to dismantle the dictatorship”.
A year later he was still insistent that he would not run, telling Uganda’s Observer newspaper that it is impossible to win an election that is being controlled by Mr Museveni.
But in 2015, he changed his mind and in 2016 he once again contested against President Museveni.
Besigye’s return should therefore force Museveni to abandon his bragrant demeanour and begin to take Covid 19 seriously or else his seat is once again under threat.