Uganda: Prominent Scholar Stella Nyanzi Leads Protest as COVID-19 “Starvation” Escalates

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Dr. Nyanzi being arrested during the food protest. Image: NTV
 
 
A group of women in Uganda led by a prominent scholar were arrested when they took to the streets Monday to protest spreading hunger and starvation arising from the regime harsh COVID-19 related lockdowns.
 
The group wants the government to ease the harsh lockdown imposed March 31, and adjust the curfew time from 7pm to 9pm in addition to distributing free masks to all Ugandans.
 
Under the banner of Women's Protests Working Group, the activists were arrested by police as they repeatedly yelled “I want  food, I want food.” Stella Nyanzi, a prominent scholar formerly at Makerere University was arrested, with others during the protest to demand for food.
 
Dr. Nyanzi, a relentless critic of the dictatorship, was only recently released from prison in February after serving an 18-month term. Initially she had been charged with the insane alleged crime of “annoying” Uganda’s life-president, Gen. Yoweri Museveni. She was later convicted of cyber "harassment" and "offensive" communication. In one earlier posting on social media she’d compared Museveni, the country’s military ruler of 34 years now who is anywhere from 75 to 80, to a pair of tired buttocks.
 
Critics of the harsh COVID-19 restrictions—a woman who ventured out last week trying to get food was shot and killed while others have been arrested—say the regime is fixated on impressing the international comunity by announcing relatively low COVID-19 infection rates at any cost, even if it means causing starvation, since no one is reporting those statistics, certainly not the Ugandan Ministry of Health or the World Health Organization (WHO). There are now some calls to include starvation deaths as part of the COVID-19 related fatalities.
 
The protestors say the regime has ignored the plight of starving ordinary Ugandans since the elite are well-taken care of. They claim more people may have died from hunger than directly from COVID-19 infection. Another prominent activist arrested alongside Dr. Nyanzi was Andrew Mukasa, a.k.a. Bajjo, and others.
 
Fred Enanga, the police spokesperson said he was on the field and could not comment on the arrests. He referred this reporter to his assistants. Repeated calls to Kampala Metropolitan police went unanswered.
 
"I am marching today through Kampala city with my empty sauce pans and my hungry children in protest against the HUNGER PANDEMIC," Dr. Nyanzi had posted on her Facebook page before joining the protest Monday.
 
She said the activists would deliver a petition to Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, the country’s prime minister, a medical doctor, who heads the COVID-19 Task Force. “We're going on lunch date with Dr Ruhakana Rugunda. We hope he will fill our empty sauce pans and cooking pots with good things,” Dr. Nyanzi wrote.
 
She also wrote, in part, “While Uganda has allegedly registered no COVID-19 death so far, high-handed enforcement of the measures has already claimed more than 890 women and their babies, who either died in labour after failing to access transport to [the] health facilities or after being shot by security forces fo ‘violating’ these measures," Dr. Nyanzi’s posting, which also formed the petition the activists had intended to deliver, read.
 
"Hunger and anger have spiked countrywide causing frightening levels of domestic violence and suicide, whereby women are major victims. As women workers, we demand to return to work,” read the petition.
 
"Whereas all teachers, boda-boda [moped-taxi] riders, taxi drivers, informal workers and petty traders cannot afford the privilege of ‘working from home’, many of them are now nursing wounds, count losses or otherwise in detention, having been bettered, obstructed, arrested and remanded for ‘violating’ these measures in their desperate search for survival," read the petition.
 
They further explained: "To add insult to injury, many have been excluded from the distribution of food relief by a hastily assembled military outfit. Churches, mosques, and other civil society institutions that have closer ties and network within their communities were unfairly denied a chance to help their communities in this time of need."
 
"We note that the anti-Covid measures have created an apartheid and occasioned avoidable suffering upon many vulnerable Ugandans especially women and low income earners who scrounge a livelihood in closed spaces, rental markets and other ordinary chores," Dr. Nyanzi added.
 
Elaborating on the alleged apartheid-like COVID-19 enforcement, he partitioners wrote, "We also note with concern that while many other Ugandans are locked outside of the country, a few privileged citizens and their wives, children and distant relatives have been given special permission to return to Uganda while the airport and borders are legally closed.”
 
There have been media reports that the country’s notoriously corrupt foreign affairs minister, Sam Kutesa--in 2018 a U.S. federal court convicted a Chinese national of bribing Kutesa and Gen. Museveni $1 million which they split--wrote a letter to Ethiopian Airlines authorizing them to ignore the country’s ban on incoming passenger flights, to ferry the family of a business tycoon named Ben Kavuya from the U.S.
 
The petitioners further wrote: "Many other Ugandans especially students and traders who were caught off guard by the pandemic while abroad cannot return home despite the pain they are going through daily, including racial discrimination and harassment."
 
Rather than have a selected discriminatory process, all Ugandans trapped overseas must be repatriated, the group demands.
 
Other demands include:
 
—Give all Ugandans food now. Immediately declare all religious and political party leaders across the divide "essential workers" and include them in the design and implementation of solutions for COVID-19 control, including the distribution of nutritive food to all in need and [those] have not yet received it.
 
—Lift the lockdown and adjust the curfew to start from 0900pm instead of 07:00 pm and distribute  free masks for all so that they have more options to earn an honest livelihood while observing social distancing and other reasonable rules.
 
—Pardon and immediately release all political prisoners and the 7000 persons [number not independently verified] currently in detention for "violating" COVID-19 containment measures and related “crimes” and  reunite families now.
 
 

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