By Odongo Patrick Lango
Oyam—31, May 2020: Minakulu sub-county in Oyam district was a frequent victim of Lord’s Resistance Army [LRA] attacks during the war in Northern Uganda.
Somehow, despite all this, over 80% of the sub-county’s population were not displaced into the Internally Displaced Peoples’ [IDP] camps. The people simply refused to go into camps.
The first LRA attack came two years after the National Resistance Army [NRA] took over on August 1, 1988. The LRA launched a huge dawn-raid on the 22nd NRA Brigade at Minakulu Trading Centre. After over 4 hours of pitched gunfire, the LRA were defeated and repulsed with a bloody nose. As they were retreating, they burnt houses, killed civilians, and conducted a scorched-earth revenge on the civilian population.
From 1988 until 2006, the people of Minakulu played a cat-and-mouse game with the rebels. We learnt how to dodge and evade the rebels. On sighting or rumours of rebel movements, you don’t dilly dally trying to salvage or carry properties. You simply run!
This was unlike people from Otuke and Alebtong districts — we call them Okide which is a little derogatory — who would want to carry household items on their heads when rumours of rebels come. That slowed them down and made them easy prey for the LRA.
One of the strategies we developed in Minakulu was using a few brave people who would spy on the rebels. The rest of the people would lay low in encampment shelters in the bush locally named “Alup” similar to the “mama ingia pole” of the Local Defense Units [LDUs].
After around 9:00 am each morning, the spies would return with a report whether or not it’s a go. Using this approach, we successfully danced around the LRA without breaking our way of life.
Why do I tell this story?
We have lived with what President Donald Trump calls, “The Invisible Enemy” close to 4 months now. President Museveni, being a tested guerrilla fighter, decided to evade the enemy by declaring a countrywide lockdown.
A recent countrywide survey has showed that this lockdown was a spectacular success. There were no evidence of community infections with COVID-19. During the 4 months, we have studied the enemy.
It turns out that this enemy has a major weakness: it is asymptomatic to over 80% of infected persons — being infected does not make you sick — so it’s a misnomer to call infected persons under quarantine “patients”.
Furthermore, this “invisible enemy” is generating more noise than heat. Our population structure is quite different from Western Europe and America. We’re a young population. Young people can ward off coronavirus without untoward symptoms.
The invisible enemy is also teaching us other important lessons about the link between infectious diseases, transmission and socioeconomic factors. It turns out, corona has revealed that your occupation and income levels is a crucial factor in acquisition of infectious diseases.
I am cautiously optimistic. Lessons from Sweden and Vietnam is teaching.. But we need to strengthen our surveillance system, our capacity to manage and respond to novel threats and ensure that we have a functioning ambulance system.
Incidentally, your next meeting can be held by ZOOM and saving 99% in costs.
Let’s not lose the lessons from the corona pandemic!
The author is an ardent NRM cadre from Minakulu, Oyam district