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Aceng unmasked


‘Mama Corona’ exposed as a lie

Kampala, Uganda | MUBATSI ASINJA HABATI | Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, Uganda’s Minister of Health, has got her baptism of fire into elective politics.

After appearing to be holding a rally without wearing a face mask and in total disregard for physical distancing; all of which violate the Covid-19 control guidelines she has been throwing at Ugandans, Aceng has been flayed.

It is election campaign time and Aceng is not the only politician or government minister meeting constituents. And they will continue campaigning publicly despite the Electoral Commission declaring so-called “scientific” campaign on radio, TV, and online only because of COVID-19.

Minister of Finance for Investment and Privatization, Ms Evelyn Anite, Minister of State for Kampala Capital City, Hon. Benny Namugwanya, and Minister of East African Affairs, Kahinda Otafiire, have been mentioned.

But Dr. Aceng appears to be singled out because she is a novice. The claim is correct that she has been at the forefront of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic and has been rallying Ugandans to practice physical distancing and wearing face masks as a way of controlling the spread of the pandemic.

And many people have come to associate Uganda’s Covid-19 guidelines with Dr. Aceng so it was shocking to see her flout her own guidelines yet she expects the public to obey.

But as Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a political science lecturer at Makerere University, pointed out in an interview with The Independent, Aceng is following the rule book politicians and aspiring politicians have used historically.

“Aceng’s throwing the health guidelines aside is testimony that scientific elections are not applicable. Voters have to see you smiling. They have to see your lips talking so they can connect with you. She was warming up to the voters. A prospective candidate must impress her potential voters and warm to them and not appear cold to them. She was connecting and identifying with the voters so she put aside the face mask.”

He adds that “elections are about winning hearts and minds of potential voters. You cannot avoid physical identification with people and win elections.”

According to many commentators, Dr. Aceng’s political immaturity was on show when she posted a denial on her social media accounts and appeared on national television. Aceng had built a façade of integrity. While many would not blame her for campaigning, many now despise her for lying.

On July 12, she denied she had been holding a political rally when she was pictured surrounded by people at a gathering that flouted the social distancing rules.

“I would like to reiterate that I was not holding a political rally. I was launching the distribution of face masks in Aromo sub-county and training people on how to properly use the masks on Friday 10 July.”

“However, at the time, village health teams (VHTs) and other youth were also being oriented on the processes for distribution of the long lasting mosquito net distribution nearby. They got excited when they heard about face masks, and specifically the minister for health whom they call “Mama Corona” and rushed to see me.”

“They were difficult to control as seen in the picture as many wanted to take pictures and also get masks from me. I took time to educate these youth on the same as well as on the face masks.”

She said the group left very knowledgeable people appreciating the importance of facemasks and social distancing.

“As the Minister who is at the helm of the corona response and an aspiring woman MP of Lira District, I am cognizant of the rules and guidelines that we as government have put in place. I continue to appeal to you all to wear your masks, maintain social distance and wash your hands with soap regularly to prevent COVID-19,” she said on July 12.

But the political fuse had already been lit. Not even Judith Nabakooba, the minister of ICT and National Guidance’s swift response could calm down Ugandans on social media.

“As the government, we regret the incident, because we know very well the guidelines that have repeatedly been announced over and over again, and we expected that each and everyone would follow the guidelines,” Nabakooba said. “We shouldn’t use Dr. Aceng to abandon observance of the guidelines or incite others into doing so.”

Government double-standards

Opposition politicians led by Forum for Democratic Change party spokesperson, Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, said Aceng has shown that the government’s COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are empty talk and immediately demanded that the government lift the lockdown and open all the businesses that are still closed.

Addressing journalists at the FDC party headquarters in Najjanankumbi on July 13, Ssemujju said the SoPs issued earlier by Aceng are no longer valid because she flouted them herself.

Ssemujju said the government was double-faced on COVID-19; using its SOPs to block opposition leaders conducting party activities in preparation for the forthcoming election on grounds that they were flouting the guidelines while letting ruling party MPs, ministers and the president to hold functions freely.

At the function, Aceng is seen without a mask on and crowds around are not showing any social distancing. Although there were policemen, she and the crowd were not restrained or arrested.

Dr. Aceng’s meeting the crowd in Lira has been described as early campaigning.

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