Protecting the Deity Called Neoliberalism from Shame: Uganda’s 2020 Covid-19 Lockdown and Violations of the Right to Health

Kizito Michael George


The Covid-19 pandemic struck Uganda like a storm. On 18 March 2020, President Museveni ordered the closure of schools and suspended religious gatherings, public rallies and cultural meetings with effect from 20 March. This was aimed at safeguarding the right to health in general, and the right to life in particular, of all Ugandans. By 30 June 2020, Uganda had not registered a single Covid-19 death and had had less than 1 000 infections. The Covid-19 pandemic, however, created great panic among the leadership of Uganda’s neoliberal regime. For three decades, the Ugandan state has deliberately underfunded the health sector, using the neoliberal logic that the market will address the challenges of the health sector. The state has treated economic and social rights as mere aspirations and not as genuine human entitlements. Museveni’s regime has rejected pleas from civil society organisations to allocate 15% of the budget to the health sector, as per the Abuja Declaration. The New Public Management philosophy of neoliberalism advocates for public hospitals and health facilities to be run like private-sector enterprises that employ fewer personnel in order to cut the costs of salaries and wage expenses. This article argues that the Ugandan state violated the right to health of Ugandans during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown. It contends that the ruthless enforcement of the lockdown in Uganda in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic aimed to protect the neoliberal state from embarrassment occasioned by the prioritisation of markets over people’s social and economic rights.

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