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Continued lockdown only benefitting the rich – Human Rights Advocates

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Continued lockdown only benefitting the rich – Human Rights Advocates
Sarah Bireete

The emergence of the Coronavirus Disease in 2019 led to lockdowns across the world and in effect putting a great deal of stress among different people.

In Uganda, the pandemic, and subsequent total lockdowns by the government aimed at curbing the spread of the virus for over two years has been termed as a crisis that only seems to affect the poor.

According to Sarah Bireete, the Executive Director at Center for Constitutional Governance, only the rich, or well-placed Ugandans have benefited or are still benefiting from Covid 19 and the lockdown.

“Covid 19 is the crisis of the poor. During the lockdown, people driving were never stopped. Those on foot, walking were always arrested. The implementation of curfew benefitted only the rich while the poor were suppressed. In fact, bars and shops of the rich in upscale suburbs remain open while women selling food by the roadside remain poor because they are not allowed to work,” she said during a virtual town hall meeting to discuss the impact of the media on covering Covid-19 related stories.

Other panelists on the meeting themed ‘Covid and the media: Have they given us all we must know about the Pandemic?’ included lawyer Simon Ssenyonga and Investigative Journalist Sonia Elijah.

“The lockdown was never about Covid-19. There is a hidden agenda that even when schools have been closed for close to 77 weeks, those of the rich or international schools are fully open,” Bireete said, arguing that at the moment it is still hard to advocate for the reopening of the education sector.

“We do not influence policy but we have been talking. I know for sure that there are some Members of Parliament who are being intimidated for speaking about the reopening of schools. They are asked, why are you witch-hunting the First Lady?”

Bireete, a human rights activist applauded the media for sensitizing the populace about prevention of Covid-19 during the first lockdown but condemned some for being overly sensational.

“Some of the stats published daily gave us a scare. The skyrocketing treatment costs, the exorbitant charges for oxygen and lack of hospital beds led many of us into self-prescription which was never a good thing.”

On the other hand, Ssenyonga said some media houses did not do a good job in debunking some of the myths advanced by the Ministry of Health.

“I have been banned from appearing on some talk shows with some media owners labeling us antivaxers, alarmists and controversial because of our stand on Covid-19. Government is using some media houses to fight our narrative which is natural immunity,” Ssenyonga said.

He added that government borrowed money from the Africa Development Bank as a stimulus package for poor Ugandans but this was channeled into other ventures.

“A Parliamentary probe into how this money ended up in the hands of some individuals has never been published,” he said.

Elijah also blamed the media for not offering enough information on vaccines and medication.

“Things like known side effects have been suppressed in mainstream media but all of the sudden, we get articles on sudden deaths during sleep but with unexplained reasons. We don’t have articles on dangers of vaccines on pregnant women,” she said.

Bireete said blame cannot be thrown on media houses because they are ‘just whistleblowers’ but they have missed a balance in the failure to report Covid-19 related corruption.