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Friday, 19 June 2020 19:49

Leadership in Crisis ~ Lessons learned From Uganda.


File Photo: Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni.

                                          Leadership in COVID-19 crisis management in Uganda   

                                                               By Daphne Balinda Ketter, Sociologist


In every country, during a pandemic of the sort, the citizens look to their leaders for decisive action and hope they will be protected. President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda rose to the occasion and is the “man of the hour”. He immediately acknowledged the problem and appealed to the citizens to be calm and obey the law. He was timeous and strict in the enforcement of the lockdown. In crisis management an effective leader is expected to make a timely decision of the correct path, assessment of available resources to undertake the monumental task of protecting and reassuring the public, while persuading them to follow through on government decisions – even when measures such as social distancing – with its knockdown effect on employment – come at great personal cost.

With the knowledge that a wrong move could erode trust and unleash unrest that exacerbates the existing danger Uganda’s president, His Excellency President Yoweri Museveni rose to the occasion with the appropriate response that has, in retrospect, saved many lives and kept the nation state of Uganda from bearing the brunt of the Covid-19 crisis. He used his war strategic experience and treated the COVID-19 pandemic as a foreign enemy, with wisdom and not anger as he stated in one of his speeches of May 2020. The President advised the population to fight the pandemic using prevention (masks and handwashing), alongside what he alluded to as the oldest method “of confronting disease” which is to strengthen the immune system by good nutrition and physical exercise.

As per the constitution goals, the State did institute an effective machinery for dealing with the potential disaster arising out of COVID-19 pandemic with serious disruption of the normal life. Article 99 of the Constitution of Uganda states the duties and the powers of the president not only to uphold the constitution, exercise executive authority but to promote the welfare of the citizens and protect the territorial integrity of Uganda”. In addition, he has the power to declare a state of emergency suspending all laws or enacting a state of martial law. A study of the presidential speeches addressing the nation, regarding the Covid-19 and the follow up execution of what the president proposed indicates that President Museveni did not make arbitrary decisions. Perhaps the president relied on his years of experience to decipher the problem alongside the expert consultation of the medical doctors to determine the best cause of action, and then execute well-thought out strategies. It appears to me that conscious thought went into exactly how much the president believed he could rely on individual co-operation through persuasion, and at what level it was necessary to cross over into more rigid command and control. That notwithstanding, there must have been many scoffers and mockers and naysayers, but a good leader understands that leadership is not a popularity contest and therefore, one cannot aim at pleasing everyone. The president made an executive decision to declare a state of emergency and the nation is safer for it.

More than half of those identified as having been infected with COVID-19 in Uganda have recovered. There haven’t been any deaths reported. The President of Uganda declared a lockdown, in March 2020 which is now at level 3, to curb movement and spread of the virus, especially across borders. Most of the cases identified were spread by truck drivers. It should be noted that although there was a fear and outcry that the medical facilities in the country wouldn’t be able to handle the pandemic, the strategic leadership in this crisis has been commendable. 

It appears that since the status of available technology and infrastructure of the medical facilities in Uganda weren’t offering consolation, the doctors and healthcare givers gave what they had, and that was to manage the crisis with Vitamin C and patient specific diseases like diabetes, heart conditions, etc. A doctor was quoted to have stated “Our success is due to our ability to maintain the patients on their normal drugs. What we have done is that, if patients are hypertensive, we treat hypertension. We treat diseases they may have been carrying like ulcers, diabetes, and all forms of diseases. And I think, that was part of our success.”

Uganda has a long history of managing pandemics, from malaria, HIV/AIDS and Ebola. Anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine is one of those medicines one buys over the counter and many keep in stock due to the regular onset of malaria. It is this “hydroxychloroquine” that identified patients were treated with, under strict monitoring. “We are examining every other organ in the body once we receive a patient. We are following patients very closely and attend to them even if there is any injury. And we keep monitoring the activities of the virus is in the body,” said one doctor.

Due to past experiences of HIV crisis in Uganda, the President did not discourage the individual efforts of the people to seek immune boosters from nature. In fact, he encouraged healthy eating habits and exercise routines, modelling the workouts for the citizens to follow.

However, that was the half of it. Like all other nations around the world, he is now faced with rebuilding the nation. What he has in his favor, is the fact that under his leadership, Uganda has been resilient against poverty through encouraging the informal sector. According to the World Bank brief from 2016 Poverty Assessment, “Uganda has reduced monetary poverty at a very rapid rate. The proportion of the Ugandan population living below the national poverty line declined from 31.1% in 2006 to 19.7% in 2013. By the same token, Uganda has the best record, among Sub-Saharan African countries, in the reduction of its population living on $1.90 PPP per day or less, from 53.2% in 2006 to 34.6% in 2013.”

President Museveni used his visionary skills to assess the situation and wrote two guiding documents on the “real economy” and the “vulnerable economy”. In this case, he used his knowledge of the real economy which meets the basic human needs of food, clothing, shelter, medicine, security, physical infrastructure like hospitals, schools, churches, transport, utilities, communication systems. The president intends to lead the population into investing more into the facets that build the real economy (agriculture, industry, ICT and some of the professional services such as engineering, medical, legal). It is important to note that during the lockdown, these facilities and services were not overly restricted but monitored for a sustainable economy of “survival and prosperity”. The global pandemic has brought a lot of activity and industries to a halt, highlighting what matters most for survival. In contrast, the president enlightened the population of the “vulnerable economy” comprising of sectors like tourism, entertainment, bars, night-clubs, cruises on ocean liners, theatregoing, import-business for luxuries (carpets, perfumes, wines, spirits, wigs). These services and goods are for luxury and not essential because they only feed leisure and pleasure. He advocates for the “real economy” as the rock to build on, the sure foundation of survival, growth and development instead of the “vulnerable economy” which is a foundation of sand that cannot be sustained in crises. Bravo to great leadership.

However, political upheavals, civil unrest and poor decision can drive a vulnerable nation underground. Now, as the world reels under Covid-19 and looks to start rebuilding the economies, Uganda's populace has the distinct advantage over many nations. It has the advantage of having a man at the helm who will ensure that her domestic economic management remains on the right track. A leader who will project compassion and an understanding of how the situation is for those concerned, and to project the hope that together we can manage the crisis, even though we do not know everything about the present situation. President Museveni has not only spoken, he has listened. When the people expressed concerns over their dire circumstances, he came out and provided measures that eased their immediate problems while keeping an eye on the big picture. That is leadership in crisis management!

Disclaimer:The views and opinions expressed in this Oped are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent official policy or position of Fullview.