He is leading his supporters and admirers to COVID-19 mass suicide with recklessness and irresponsibility
THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | Presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine has been hosting large rallies across the country. In all of them, tens of thousands of his supporters gather in close contact with each other and vast numbers are without masks, in total disregard for the COVID19 pandemic SOPs. In one video, which I have watched from the beginning to the end, he tells his supporters: “those with masks should wear them and those without masks it is okay”.
The world is engulfed in this COVID19 pandemic. As I write this article, it has infected over 75 million people and killed 1.7 million. Right now over 20 million people are hospitalised with COVID19 worldwide, with 107,000 in critical condition. Hospitals even in the richest countries are overwhelmed, without enough beds, medical staff, ventilators and other facilities. In poor countries, which seem to have escaped the scale of this pandemic, the situation is alarming.
In Uganda, even with our low testing, nearly 30,000 people have been infected, 228 have died. Even with these low numbers by global and African standards, our medical facilities and staff are already overwhelmed as we have very few Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds, doctors and nurses to cope with the scale and scope of the problem. We are in a crisis where we need leaders to set an example.
We have a government and a president, Yoweri Museveni that have been in power for 35 years. Bobi Wine and his acolytes claim, and in many cases correctly so, that this government (which they derogatorily call a “regime”) is characterised by massive corruption and gross incompetence; that it is dominated by selfish and greedy individuals who are in power to line their own pockets rather than serve the common good. They have been calling for a change in leadership in order to redirect the country onto the paths of selfless public service, underwritten by values of honesty, frugality, integrity and a strong commitment to the common good.
Museveni and his confederates are campaigning on the “no- change” platform i.e. to maintain the status quo or the situation as it is. It follows that the opposition and most specifically Bobi Wine and his NUP, should demonstrate that they are the pillars of a new Uganda, saviors standing on the highest hill of moral virtue. They need to demonstrate to us that they seek a real change in the conduct of public affairs by placing the vital interests of this country and its people above their individual and collective ambitions.
Yet during this campaign, Bobi Wine has demonstrated that he has one and only one value that he cherishes – getting into power whatever the cost. From the perspective of realpolitik, I agree with him. From the perspective of a change agent who wants to end the greed and selfishness that has characterised the Museveni administration, I not only part ways with Bobi Wine, but I vehemently disagree with him. Bobi Wine has exposed himself as a selfish, power-hungry politician seeking power above all else. How?
Many families have lost loved ones in this pandemic, I having lost four in one month of October. Others have their loved ones in ICUs, in HDUs (High Dependency Units) or have gone through the agony and anxiety of tending to the sick. If the virus spreads, this country has no capacity to manage its effects. It will simply decimate our people. It is therefore incumbent on our leaders to take social distancing, the wearing of masks avoidance of large gatherings and constantly sanitising not just as a strategic imperative, but most critically as a existential necessity.
President Museveni has tried his best to adhere to the SOPs, to his great political disadvantage – since we know rallies are vital in campaigns. Other presidential candidates should also lead by such an example. But Bobi Wine is leading his supporters and admirers to mass suicide. Not since the mass suicide of “Pastor” Kibwetere’s in 2000 cult members has Uganda witnessed the reckless and irresponsibility that Bobi Wine has exhibited in this campaign to the applause of his intellectual surrogates and admirers.
In my many unhappy encounters with some of my intellectual friends who are sympathetic to Bobi Wine’s cause, I have been disappointed, to say the least. Some of these are persons who have preached to me the virtues of a values-driven leadership. Yet the justification for Bobi Wine’s irresponsibility is that Museveni should not have called an election in the midst of a pandemic, that NRM candidates are violating the SOPs, and that the government has blocked their candidate from access to most radio stations across the country.
Let us unpacked these arguments, all of which are legitimate: do these impediments justify a person seeking the presidency to drive his supporters, and through them the entire country, to mass suicide? Do some of our elites see the risk these rallies are posing? Does Bobi Wine want to inherit a country of millions of sick and dying citizens? Is this the price we must pay for change from corruption and incompetence, the price of mass death to a pandemic?
I find it strange that Bobi Wine and his acolytes can justify their wanton irresponsibility by referring to the behavior of NRM candidates. If NRM candidates are violating the SOPs without police doing anything, should NUP candidates do similar? Is it not the role of NUP and other opposition politicians to hammer home how selfish NRM is, how its leaders do not care about the public good? How does behaving like NRM make NUP and others any different?
When in power, Bobi Wine and his acolytes will justify their own corruption and incompetence on grounds that Museveni and his NRM were corrupt and incompetent too. They will justify their clampdown on our freedoms and liberties on grounds that Museveni and NRM did similar. They will justify nepotism, favouritism, anarchism, chaos, etc. on similar grounds. One can tell a tree that will deliver good fruit from its seedling and we have seen who Bobi Wine is.
Here is the real crisis of Uganda’s politics: we don’t have real leaders seeking a change from our current dysfunctions. We have a cabal of opportunistic politicians seeking power in order to inherit the privileges of their predecessors. We do not have an intellectual class or civil society that stands above partisan rancor that seeks to hold all sides to account and without fear or favour.
This country is filled with partisans who have no interest to change policies and practices of the current government. They are all self-interested individuals – materially or emotionally or both – seeking to remove Museveni and his confederates so that they too can have a chance. Otherwise no sane intellectual person can defend Bobi Wine’s mass suicide rallies under any explanation.