Op-ed: Release Lira food vendors immediately

Mothers who vends food in Lira town ordered to climb a prison truck after they were imprisoned last month. Photo by Hudson Apunyu.


By Odongo Lango

I had a glass table that needed repair. I told a friend who is a carpenter to come and look at it. The following day, he showed up with a hammer! For him, as a carpenter, every carpentry task requires a hammer

This is exactly how the law enforcement authorities in Lira are behaving in enforcing the COVID-19 lockdown and Standard Operating Protocols (SOPs). Like a carpenter, they have only one tool in their toolkit: force, manifested by overzealous arrests and detentions.

A good workman should have variety of tools in his toolkit: spanners, screwdrivers, hammers, wrenches, etc. This enables him to customise solutions to each challenge he faces. Similarly, leadership requires a variety of strategies to meet each challenge that confronts him or her.

This ranges from dialogue to educating, negotiating, and mobilizing target population to create awareness and elicit positive response. This would be excellent enforcement strategy, rather than rely on brutal and cruel force at all times to achieve compliance. 

The leadership and authorities in Lira Municipality showed lack of imagination and understanding of the government directives on Covid-19 and the lockdown, when they arrested and summarily imprisoned dozens of poor women vending fruits within the municipality. 

Recall that in the first week of the lockdown in March, the army commander, Gen David Muhoozi apologised to a group of women fruit sellers who were brutally beaten by LDUs in Kampala.

Since that time, fruit vendors in the capital city have been conducting their business without any molestations. More importantly, food sales have not been prohibited, except that the SOPs have to be adhered to; for instance, keeping social distance.

So, I was shocked to see pictures of poor fruit vendors in Lira Town being rounded up, hurriedly arraigned in court and sent to prison. Some with babies on their backs. I think this was a cruel travesty of justice.

 Families are under enormous difficulties in this lockdown. I find it very callous for the authorities to choose this course of action. 

I appeal to the Lira District authorities to immediately release these women without any precondition. In addition, these women should be provided with posho and beans that have been donated by the public, to the District Task Force, including by Jimmy Akena, the Lira Municipality Member of Parliament.

In my view, these women have done no wrong; selling food is not prohibited; instead the law enforcement authorities are the ones acting outside the law. Recently, the Jinja RDC, Eric Sakwa, was arrested and charged with manslaughter over the allegedly brutal beating and eventual death of a trader in the outskirts of Jinja town.

Since then, he has been interdicted and removed from office. Similarly, people in positions of authority involved in arbitrary arrests and inflicting cruel suffering on the wanainchi in Lira must suffer similar fate. Heads must roll. Wrong actions must have consequences.

The author is a columnist and a human right activist

Previous How Dr Richard Nam's legal pursuit could cripple Mzee Yosam Odur's reign
Next Men behind former Jinja RDC Eric Sakwa’s downfall