Just as February 6, 1981, is remembered in the history of Uganda, as the day on which you launched the liberation war, so will, March 18, 2020. However, unlike the 1981-86 war, where you were fighting against a visible enemy, this time around, the exchange is with an invisible enemy, described as “Corona Virus”.
Your Excellency, it was on March 18, 2020, when you officially launched the “war” against this virus in Uganda, even though, the country was free of the virus by then. Since then, you have officially addressed the public 14 times about issues related to this virus, and, we appreciate. While addressing the nation about the same, on March 30, 2020, you announced a 14 days’ total lockdown, and this was still extended by 21 days, in the state of the nation address, that followed.
Your Excellency, I wish to assure you that from the onset, I have supported each and every measure put forward to counter the spreading of the virus, but this time around, with due respect, I beg to differ on the issue of face masks. Your Excellency, allow me quote the words of Osmo Wiio, a renowned Finish expert in organizational communication, as his remarks, will enable me relay my points clearly. Based on his years of teaching and writing about organizational communication, Osmo Wiio, developed six (6) laws of communication.
However, emphasis in this write-up shall be put on the first law, which states, “Communication usually fails, except by chance. If we begin communicating with this assumption in mind, the outcomes might be better than, if we communicated with the opposite assumption, that communication usually succeeds”. This law comprises four (4) corollaries, but, allow me place emphasis on only two.
First, “If you are satisfied that your communication is bound to succeed, it is then, bound to fail. To be content with your own communication, usually means you designed the communication process according to your taste, and did not consider the receiver. The entire message should be designed for the receiver, and not the sender”. Secondly, “If a message can be understood in different ways, then, it will be understood in just that way, which does the most harm. In case, the message is not understood, the maximum damage will then, result. Again nature, is against the sender; misprints, misunderstandings, and noise, among other communication barriers, all have a multiplier effect, instead of cancelling out each other”.
Your Excellency, against this background, don’t you think, based on your 14th state of the nation about Corona Virus, on May 18, 2020, there are issues that require your clarification, upon receipt of this brief, specifically in relation to face masks? First and foremost, Your Excellency, since we are all supposed to use face masks produced by Nyanza Textiles Limited (NyTiL), don’t you think, it would be worthwhile for you to address the nation, once again, until such a time, when the masks, in question, are readily available? Could we be following the common adage, “Do what I say, but not what I do?” Among the many things donated to the CoViD-19 Task Force in Uganda, include masks; Your Excellency, should we, therefore, say that all these masks are not fit for use by the populace? Just recently, while watching news on TV, I saw the Kamuswagga, issuing out a number of goodies, including face masks to the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) of Rakai District, for his pages. Your Excellency, must we, therefore, say the Kamuswagga has a case to answer? Prior to that, one of your senior ministers, a person with whom you started the 1981-86 liberation war, General Elly Tumwine, issued out hundreds and hundreds of face masks to a number of people, including journalists; Your Excellency, don’t you think, since we are STRICTLY supposed to wear masks produced by an already identified producer, then, General Tumwine should be ready to appear before General Gutti’s court, for issuing out masks contrary to the ones already recommend by the President and his cabinet and/health team? On May 15, 2020, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, the Minister of Health, in the company of the experts in her Ministry, including, professors, addressed the nation about the state of CoViD-19 in Uganda; emphasis was put on the wearing of face masks, than anything else. Speaker after speaker, provided the public with elaborate Information concerning masks, ranging from the benefits enjoyed by wearing the masks, to the ideal type of mask, that one should put on. My question, Your Excellency, should we assume the Minister and her team, misled us that day, aware of the fact that these are your top-notch advisers, in as far as, combatting the virus, is concerned? How could the Minister and her team advise us to put on different brands of masks, and then, within a blink, convince you that the Nyanza-based masks are the best, when it comes to fighting the spreading of the virus? These are people giving us the details of the masks to be worn, on May 15, 2020, and you cannot imagine, over the weekend, the weekend, they are advising the President otherwise.
Your Excellency, with all due respect, I find this ridiculous, and I humbly wish to request you to please clarify on this matter. A number of pharmacies (if not, all), have invested heavily in these masks; I am reliably informed that the cost of a face mask in a pharmacy ranges between Ugx. 5,000/- and Ugx. 35,000/-. Your Excellency, don’t you think all these pharmacies need to have their licenses revoked, and the proprietors/operators be brought to book, for stocking masks contrary to the ones recommend by government? Don’t you think it is worthwhile for whoever has a mask contrary to the one recommend by government, to have it burnt? Supposing one is found wearing a mask contrary to the one recommended by government, should they expect to be sent to Luzira, Kitaarya, Kirinya, or Kiggo? Your Excellency, I can guarantee with certainty if this issue is not clarified, then, there is no doubt, many people, will definitely be caught on the opposite side of the law. If wearing a face mask, contrary to the one manufactured by Nyanza has become a crime in Uganda, then, let it be made to clear, so that whoever falls victim, has no room for excuse. Perhaps, the public needs to hear from the Health Minister, while gazetting the law on masks, did they specify the type of mask that we are to put on? If not, then, which law is the Police going to base on, to prosecute those people not wearing the Nyanza-based masks? Your Excellency, since we all have to wait for the Nyanza masks, perhaps till, June 2, 2020, don’t you think it is worthwhile to lockdown the country completely, until such a time when those masks have reached each and every intended beneficiary? Your Excellency, do you think it was right to condition the opening of both public and private transport, to the acquisition of a particular type of mask, yet we already have businesses, including government business fully operational, with individuals, there using different brands of masks? Your Excellency, now that government is going to issue out masks free of charge, what is the fate of those business people (majority of whom are small-scale producers), who have followed the instructions issued by the Health Ministry on how an ideal masks should appear like, and manufactured the same, for business? Does it, therefore, mean that putting buying a mask on open market has now become a criminal offense in the Pearl of Africa? Your Excellency, you will realize that while market vendors were directed to remain in the markets, regardless of whether some have personal cars, or not, the professionals were issued with stickers to ease their movement to and fro home. Personally, this thing did not augur on well with me, because I am up to now still asking myself the empirical study that our scientists conducted to conclude that, while market vendors can transport the virus to and fro, their workplaces, the rest of the workers, including ministers cannot, ahead of advising to direct the former to stay put, at their workplaces. Your Excellency, I still see the same thing happening again with face masks. While it is okay for some people to work with any face mask, others can only start operating, only and after when government has issued them with its free masks. What research methodology was followed by the health team to conclude that all business-related activities “lifted” on May 18, 2020, should only start operating on acquisition of free masks from government, while the rest of the businesses, that remained operational during the lockdown, and even those that were earlier lifted, are operating with masks not issued by government, ahead of advising you about the same? Aware of the fact that government is going to issue out only one mask, per person, aged 6 years and above, what happens to a person who shall lose their mask, thereafter? You talked of the issue of people borrowing masks, Your Excellency, do you think by issuing out free masks this can be combatted? I am a teacher, and I can assure you for the years I have taught, I have seen students in school sharing items, including underpants. I strongly believe, the issue of ensuring that these masks are not shared, most especially amongst children aged 7-12, calls for more and more sensitization about the same, than anything else. In fact, I personally believe that since these masks will be similar in brand, chances of using another’s are high, as compared to a situation were masks obtained from the open market. Your Excellency, before zeroing down on the Jinja-made masks, did your team inform you that the factory operates with machines, and with machines anything can happen? Of course, I am not saying that the machines will break down, but I am, simply saying what if they break down? Your Excellency, we are into the 6th week of serving food, but the two districts of Kampala and Wakiso, that were earmarked to benefit from this food, are yet to be covered, yet the aid only goes out to a few individuals that government described as “vulnerable”. My question, Your Excellency, is, “What criteria are going to be used to ensure that these face masks reach the target group in the shortest period possible, preferably, in less than two days? Is the L.C.1 Chairperson and his/her team going to distribute these masks house-to-house, or we shall have to assemble, say, in the nearby playground so as to obtain these masks? Either way, Your Excellency, don’t you think there will be a high risk of spreading the virus? Your Excellency, if Ugandans (of course, those that are shrewd) can forge money, are you convinced beyond doubt that they will not produce masks similar to the ones government has already recommended? Tune in any radio station of your choice, and you will hear banks and telecom companies strongly advising their clients and the public at large, to guard their Personal Identification Numbers (PINs), against fraudsters. Your Excellency, unless you are going to have each one of us followed by a personal security genuine security officer, these masks shall be forged as soon as they hit the “market”. I have heard the CoViD-19 Task Force in charge of mobilising resources calling up all salary earners to voluntarily contribute a sum of Ugx. 10,000/-, each for two months, towards their pool, of course, in an effort to get rid of the virus within our country. Your Excellency, don’t you think a person who can generously contribute Ugx. 20,000/-, in a period of 60 days, moreover, in this trying moment, can afford to buy themselves a genuine mask? How sure are we that NyTiL is going to have all the required masks produced within the specified period? Your Excellency, don’t think it would be worthwhile to divert part of the money meant to procure masks, on the purchase of more food? Truth be told, Your Excellency, the public outcry for food is overwhelming. People, countrywide are crying for food. The ministers and Members of Parliament can testify on this. I do not know of anyone within my inner circle who obtained a free mosquito net at the time when government was issuing out these nets. The reason is very simple, Your Excellency, all these people had/have the capacity of acquiring their own mosquito net. This is the reason, I humbly request you to, instead of issuing out face masks to people who can afford to even board a plane, if the means were available to go to Europe, purposely to bring their own face masks, to divert the money meant for the same, on procuring more food for our people, because many indeed need food relief. Your Excellency, after donating 50% of your salary until such a time when either we shall find the vaccine, or find better ways of mitigating against the virus, do you still need a free face mask, offered to you by the taxpayer? Your Excellency, what is the fate of a person who wraps a piece of cloth, and not a mask, around their mouth and nose? If, for instance, I placed a hankie around my mouth and nose, shall I be liable to prosecution? In my opinion, Your Excellency, I strongly believe we should let people who can afford to procure themselves masks, go ahead and do so. The government masks should be issued out to the vulnerable groups still, just as it is for food. However, all those masks that have been produced, and they are demonstrating people’s political sentiments, should be totally banned from the market. I don’t think the best solution is for Police to arrest, detain, and align the offenders in the courts of law, but initially they (Police) can caution the offender, confiscate the mask, and only allow him/her to continue with their journey after getting the appropriate mask. However, should the offender prove to be a problem to the law enforcement team, then, their the law can be left to take its course. Your Excellency, I want to assure that as Ugandans, we are fully willing and ready to take on whatever directive you put across, in as far as addressing the problem of Corona Virus in Uganda is concerned. Undoubtedly, if as our commander-in-chief, you have directed that we put on STRICTLY the Jinja-made masks, we shall have no option, but to, to definitely, oblige. What we all what is to join you, as our commander, in the celebrations, upon defeating the enemy. I am reliably informed, Your Excellency, that people who are asthmatic are among those exempted from putting on these masks; what criteria will be followed in identifying these people? Must they move with their medical forms, whenever they are moving out of home? I have equally seen people putting on masks locally made from plastic cuttings, while others are using leaves, such as banana leaves, as masks. I want to believe these people are simply jocking, and for these are the people that need to be seriously cautioned. Your Excellency, together with your team, I wish to thank you for steering us this far, in as far as fighting this invisible enemy-Corona Virus, is concerned. There is no doubt, the struggle still continues. But rest assured, we are in this struggle together, till the very end. It is within this spirit, that having declared the rest of the masks, save for medical masks, unfit, in as far as fighting against this virus is concerned, on May 18, 2020, let us have all of them banned, and burned, as we wait for the free masks that are to be issued to us by government. I pray you find time to clarify on the issues raised in this correspondence. Thank you! Jonathan Kivumbi, Educationist, 0770880185/0702303190. For God and My Country!