Connect with us

General

Happy days are back again but alas, no one will sponsor us

Published

on

Loading...


By FREDRICK GOLOOBA-MUTEBI
More by this Author

We are back to that period when it is an exciting but also a bad time to be an opposition party leader in Uganda.

In less than 24 months, we shall be deciding who will lead us for another five years. For leaders of political parties who understand their role to include running for president, it is time to flex political muscle.

There are several reasons why this is a good period. First, as preparations for the campaigns intensify, party leaders become a focus of attention for numerous watchers. There is much interest in what they intend to do about running, how they intend to do it, and who with.

For those with a special liking for hogging the limelight, this is the time to gain maximum exposure on television and in other media for their political agenda. For party leaders who are considered to be influential, this period offers great opportunities for making deals with others seeking to build alliances. The scope for playing hard-to-get in order to raise one’s bargaining power is huge.

For leaders of small parties that, truth be told, are insignificant electorally, there is the prospect of piggybacking on bigger rivals in the name of opposition unity.

Already, opposition leaders and their advisors and analysts are spending time in meetings, laying out strategies they believe will this time help them defeat President Yoweri Museveni. Inter-party alliances are being mooted or have already been forged, and joint candidacies for the presidency and parliament are being mooted.

Alliances and joint candidates are now seen as “the only way” to oust Museveni, not least because in the past, divisions and rivalries among opposition politicians and their political parties have been seen as enabling Museveni to win.

Official data from the Independent Electoral Commission may show that Museveni usually gathers more votes than all of them combined, but that is not a discussion we should be getting into right now. Museveni’s opponents rarely want to hear it. Nor do members of the public who believe that the said data do not even begin to tell the story of what actually happens on polling day in terms of counting the ballots.

One effect of not wanting to go into the details is that a single story, not necessarily false but also not complete, has been built around electoral outcomes and what opposition parties must do to change things.

The single story is simply that the one thing that explains Museveni’s victories is playing with numbers. According to the narrative, so extensive is the rigging that, to defeat him, opposition parties must focus on protecting their votes so that they are not stolen.

There is rigging, of course. But there are other explanations, too. And this is where we come to why this period is such a bad time to be an opposition leader in Uganda.

Loading...

All the talk about the need to forge alliances, sponsor joint candidates and protect their votes against theft disregards major hurdles that, together with rigging, explain why Museveni keeps winning.

For one thing, opposition parties are universally cash-strapped. Legislation pertaining to party financing not only bars opposition parties from raising money from external sources, it also ensures that the ruling party takes the lion’s share of the money the state is obliged to give to parties for their political activities.

Nervousness among potential local financiers about being found out and the possible repercussions further limits the ability of opposition parties to raise money.

And so does the unwillingness of ordinary Ugandans to give money to political parties.

Without money, the ability of opposition parties to take their message or messages directly to potential voters is severely limited. So is their capacity to recruit local agents to protect their votes. Very few local agents, including those of the ruling party, are willing to serve as unpaid volunteers and, as a result, are usually easy to compromise.

Enter partisan public servants. Everywhere across the country, they seem to feel obliged to promote the interests of the ruling party and go out of their way to do so without even being asked.

Which is why opposition activities are routinely blocked or disrupted by various categories of local public officials acting in unison as if responding to manipulation by invisible puppeteers.

Unable to hold public events to rally their supporters, opposition parties stand no chance against a ruling party whose agents are free to roam where they want, when they want.

Easily the biggest weapon in the hands of the ruling party and its leadership are the advantages of incumbency.

Nothing illustrates this better than their ability to deploy public financial resources in ways that are designed to secure them support.

There is no other reason why, all of a sudden, we learn of massive allocations of financial resources to special programmes for youth, women, army veterans, and politically troublesome regions, as well as longstanding debts owed to cultural institutions.

Against all this, emphasis on “protecting votes” can only guarantee continued unhappiness for the opposition.

Frederick Golooba-Mutebi is a Kampala- and Kigali-based researcher and writer on politics and public affairs. E-mail: [email protected]

Comments

comments

Loading...
Continue Reading

General

What doctors are learning about Covid-19 ‘on the fly’

Published

on

Loading...
AFP

By AFP
More by this Author

Doctor Daniel Brenner has had a busy week in the emergency department of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, seeing dozens of presumed Covid-19 patients.

As Maryland and other parts of the United States brace for the kind of surges seen in New York and Louisiana, AFP spoke to the fourth-year resident to gain insight into what medical professionals are learning about the disease in real time.

Maryland has thus far seen two dozen deaths and around 2,000 cases – capacity is not yet stretched, but could soon be.

With hundreds of cases now coming in, Brenner said it becomes “very tricky to tease out who needs to be in the hospital, the people who are at high risk for developing severe symptoms and needing supplemental oxygen” versus those who can recover from home.

Advertisement

Making the right call is crucial, but the problem is compounded by a lack of data to help rationalise choices.

“Is it older people? Is it people with medical conditions?” asked Brenner, adding that doctors were desperately trying to keep up with the latest medical literature as it gets published to stay better informed.

Different physicians have different views, “and there’s really no consensus across the country or the medical community which approach is right yet because this disease has only been studied for two months,” he said.
“We’re all trying to learn it on the fly.”

The most significant complication for coronavirus patients is Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) in which the lungs stiffen and become inflamed and the body is starved of oxygen.

Doctors have found placing patients on the stomach in the “prone” position helps prevents fluid from building up in the relatively more healthy area in the back of the lung, said Brenner.

The technique is commonly used on preterm babies requiring ventilators, but for adults it is labour intensive and requires constant monitoring to make sure the breathing tube isn’t displaced.

Covid-19 patients also seem to require higher levels of air pressure on their ventilators than people who have developed ARDS by other means, added Brenner.

While hospitals in overwhelmed regions such as New York are in dire lack of personal protective gear, such shortages have not yet hit other parts of USA.

But the virus is forcing medical staff to change the way they work.

In the US, assisted breathing machines called Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAPs) and Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAPs) are not being used out of concern that they “might make a giant field of virus” by spraying droplets out of the patient’s mouth and nose under pressure, said Brenner.

Loading...

Ventilators, which place tubes down a patient’s air passage, do not have the same problem because the exhaled air is sealed.

But this creates its own issues – BiPAP was typically used for heart failure patients in the emergency room, but now these patients must go on ventilators.

This is a more invasive procedure which requires making them unconscious and giving them drugs to temporarily paralyse the body.

In addition to coronavirus cases “we also have everybody else who’s critically ill who still has to come to the hospital – so your heart attacks, your strokes, people who have been hit by a car, those people are still coming,” said Brenner.

Their care has to be managed in the context of the virus – meaning that if a patient comes in with a heart attack and has a cough, they are considered a suspected Covid-19 case. If they are unconscious, they are also presumed positive.

That means donning protective gear even when a heart patient experiences cardiac arrest – and losing precious time when every second can mean the difference between life and death.

“We all do this because we want to help people, so instinct is ‘The patient is in trouble, I have to go in right now, I don’t have time to deal with protective equipment,’ but we keep telling everyone and keep reminding ourselves that if we get infected we can’t help anyone else.”

Morale remains high among the medical staff, said Brenner, 36, even as “people are wrapping their heads around the magnitude of this a little bit” and turning to each other for support.

Some staff have been infected at the hospital, but thankfully there have not yet been any serious cases.

One thing that helps, he says, is support from the community in the form of meals sent by local businesses and individuals.

“Sometimes taking a moment and eating a sandwich can make you a much better doctor,” he said.

“And so that’s been a really nice thing that was kind of unanticipated, that the community has been so supportive and so kind.”

Comments

comments

Loading...
Continue Reading

General

After a long day of lock-down, how ‘essential’ is a drink? – Nairobi News

Published

on

Loading...

Some countries have banned alcohol, others say liquor shops are essential services, and one top official even suggested a tipple after another long day trapped at home can be a necessary restorative.

The debate around alcohol and the coronavirus pandemic touches on issues of health, the economy, worker safety — and whether for some a glass of wine may indeed help cope with the stress of seeing their lives upended in the space of weeks.

Police in South Africa are brutally enforcing a ban on all alcohol sales during the shutdown.

But in North America and much of Europe, alcohol stores remain open, and busy — often protected under the same regulations that allow business such as supermarkets or pharmacies to operate.
In Canada — where legal cannabis stores have also stayed open — Quebec’s premier Francois Legault justified the decision to keep alcohol sales flowing, a move welcomed by consumers but criticized by a trade union concerned for shop workers.

“To reduce the stress, you have to do some exercise, so have a walk — but sometimes a glass of wine may help,” he said.

Unlike much of the world Canadians are not under official lockdown, but they have been urged to stay home and practice social distancing — and that has been enough to send alcool sales soaring.

“Everyone feels like it is Friday or Saturday all the time,” said Catherine Paradis, an analyst at the Canadian Center on Addictions and Substance Use.

Consumers are hitting stores like “in the weeks before Christmas” as well as buying at peak levels online, according to a spokesman for the Societe des alcools du Quebec (SAQ) — a government corporation which last year reported net earnings of CAN$1.146 billion.

Nationwide, Paradis notes that closing stores selling alcohol would cut off a significant source of government revenue — estimated at about 411 Can dollars ($288) annually per person.

– Sauna, then vodka? –

On the other side of the border, New York, the epicenter of the epidemic in the United States, has also placed wine and spirits stores on the list of “essential” businesses.

The New York State Liquor Stores Association confirms that sales have increased significantly.

Loading...

“In a way, we are helping the economy,” president Stefan Kalogridis told AFP.

Experts also note that for people who are addicted, the side effects of abrupt alcohol withdrawal can include tremors, insomnia and nausea.

This “could have serious complications, especially if the person is confined to their home, it is very, very dangerous,” says Anne-Elizabeth Lapointe, director of the Addiction Prevention Center in Montreal.

But even for the majority of moderate alcohol consumers, closing liquor stores could lead to increased anxiety and stress.

Since the start of the epidemic, alcohol has served other purposes too.

In France, where wine merchants remain open, Pernod Ricard and Bacardi were also among the first beverage giants to convert part of their production into alcohol-based hand sanitizer gel.

In Poland meanwhile, almost half a million liters of contraband vodka and illegally-produced pure alcohol have been used as a disinfectant instead of being destroyed.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has even recommended drinking a 100-ml glass of vodka after going to the sauna — as a spurious miracle remedy for coronavirus.

At the other end of the spectrum Hong Kong executive Carrie Lam has banned all restaurants and bars from serving alcohol — arguing that easy access could harm social distancing.

“Sometimes people get a bit intimate when they are drunk, and this will raise the risk of infection,” she said.

A perhaps more serious risk linked to excessive alcohol consumption, points out addiction specialist Paradis, is domestic violence under the lockdown and mounting stress.

To limit the risk, Greenland has temporarily banned sales in its capital Nuuk.

Comments

comments

Loading...
Continue Reading

General

Kenya: Treasury Suspends All Due Payments Over COVID-19

Published

on

Loading...

The government has suspended all payments owed to various individuals and entities until further notice, as it marshals resources to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The announcement comes as the infected cases hit 81 Wednesday.

Controller of Budget (CoB) Margaret Nyakango said in an internal memo to her staff that only salaries of government employees will be processed.

“This is to inform you that the National Treasury and Planning has put on hold all commitments, payments and claims as the country assesses the resource requirements for Covid-19 interventions,” said Dr Nyakango in the memo dated March 31.

She noted that: as you are aware, Covid-19 has come with requirements not initially anticipated in the budgets. For that reason, after establishing the costs, our budgets will be reorganised through a supplementary budget in line with the PFM Act. My internal memo was done in the spirit of informing staff of the goings-on, a promise that I made to them earlier.”

The move comes after the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK) urged the government and the counties to revise downwards their overall development and recurrent budgets for the remaining three months (April-June) of the 2019/20 financial year, to free up any unspent budgeted amounts to combat Covid-19.

FUNDING CAMPAIGN

ICPAK chairperson Rose Mwaura also advised the National Treasury to defer payment of Sh18.34 billion in pending bills due by the counties and Sh370 million owed by government ministries, departments and agencies for mid-March for a period of three months.

“The institute acknowledges that the cost of the proposed Covid-19 stimulus and incentive package will be steep. However, the cost of inaction might be more severe,” said Ms Mwaura.

The country recorded 22 new Covid-19 cases, the largest number announced since the first case on March 13.

With no indication of a reduction in the number of Covid-19 cases recorded per day, the surging numbers put the government in a difficult spot over how it will raise money.

The pandemic has hit hard the global economy with all the world countries announcing travel restrictions that have seen major airlines grounded.

Dr Nyakango’s move will hit hard various entities that were waiting to be paid to cushion themselves from the vagaries of the disease, including the county governments that are expected to ramp up their preparedness against the pandemic.

UHURU’S DIRECTIVE

Contractors and suppliers will have to wait longer to get paid.

Article 228 (4) of the constitution gives the Controller of Budget the powers to oversee the implementation of the budgets of the national and county governments.

Loading...

This includes authorising withdrawals from public funds: the Equalisation Fund, Consolidated Fund and the Revenue Fund.

The Constitution provides that money shall not be withdrawn from the Equalisation Fund, Consolidated Fund and the Revenue Fund without the approval of the Controller of Budget.

The Consolidated Fund contains money raised or received by or on behalf of the national government.

The government can only withdraw from this fund to finance its operations as provided for in the budget through the Appropriation Act.

A day before Dr Nyakango’s announcement, President Uhuru Kenyatta had directed the National Treasury to set up an emergency response fund to augment the country’s preparedness against the global pandemic.