By Alex Muhumuza
With one tweet yesterday, Thursday 19, Uganda’s oldest institution of higher learning, Makerere University showed it is ready to lend its name to Kampala’s propaganda campaign against Rwanda. “Earlier research by Makerere University detected coronaviruses in bats in close contact with humans in Rwanda,” a tweet sent from the university’s official account, complete with blue tick, read in part.
Makerere University – an institution that once earned worldwide respect for ground breaking research mainly in the medical field – has been suffering a long period of decline. That lamentable situation, which had become noticeable by the early Eighties, steeply accelerated with the coming of the Museveni regime.
During Museveni’s rule the name “Makerere” has become synonymous with squalid, badly-crowded lecture halls or rooms; dilapidated laboratory and other facilities; academic staff so disgruntled with poor pay that the practice of bribery for grades now is a feature, and not a bug at the university; or a student body more accomplished in the arts of rioting than writing course work.
Today signs that those running Makerere are prepared to sink the institution into even further disrepute are everywhere. That tweet – which insinuates that Rwandans are getting the coronavirus from bats – is a good case in point, one will see.
Those familiar with the activities of Kampala’s propaganda organs know that the crude attempt to whip up an anti-Rwanda scare would be something sent from the twitter accounts of websites such as Chimpreports, Spyreports, Softpower, and other tools under the control of Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, or State House.
According to observers, to see that a Tweet like Makerere’s – which also carried a link to the so-called research paper titled “Coronavirus detected in bats in close contact with humans in Rwanda” – is to wonder whether CMI now also is operating from the university.
First of all it takes no great expertise to observe that the publisher of the paper – which is displayed on Makerere’s “Coronavirus Resource Center” website – is engaged in fraudulent and dishonest activity, beginning with the sensationalist title.
To claim that one has found coronavirus in bats in itself is no breaking news, at all. The creatures are natural reservoirs of a number of coronaviruses and no one would win any awards or recognition with claims they’ve “discovered” this.
Secondly this “study” was conducted between 2010 and 2014, and published in 2019. It set out to study the SARS and other coronaviruses that are usually found in bats. The researcher did not set out to tackle the new novel coronavirus, COVID19, which has caused a global pandemic.
But with deliberate fraudulence the Makerere Twitter handle plays on words to misinform the public – by mentioning “coronavirus” without making the distinction that they aren’t talking about the COVID19 strain that’s currently ravaging the world. They then throw in the word Rwanda, and hope no one will notice the ruse, to mislead.
It has been said that good propagandists are good at couching falsehood into verifiable fact. The Makerere propagandist is stating common knowledge when he says coronaviruses can be found in bats in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Asia, and elsewhere. He or she then – knowing quite well that in the current panicked global context people will just see the word “coronavirus” but not notice that “COVID19” is not specifically mentioned – singles out Rwanda.
Right from the abstract of the paper the author claims: “bats living in close contact with people in Rwanda were tested for evidence of infection with viruses of zoonotic potential.” The informed sees that jargon-laden statements like these, when linked with the sensationalist title, will easily convince the layman reader that Rwandans are crawling with the COVID19 virus.
However by this stage the discerning reader will be asking: why is it now in the first place that the folks at Makerere are tweeting about, and giving links to this “report” when it came out last year?
Secondly even if bats in Rwanda had the deadly strain of COVID19, how would it jump from bats to humans? The so-called report says nothing about that.
Rwandans do not eat or interact with bats. Diseases and viruses in bats stay in bats – which conceal themselves in trees far away from humans all day, and only fly about at night – and do not cross to contaminate humans.
The folks tweeting the anti-Rwanda scare stories, observers will see, only are intent on weaponizing the novel coronavirus scare against Rwanda.
Further examination of facts shows theirs is mere insinuation; a CMI-like ploy to create awful publicity for Rwanda. The source of COVID19 has been well established. It has spread from Asia, to Europe to America and finally to Africa.
By lending the name “Makerere” to the anti-Rwanda misinformation campaign, those responsible prove another fact. The days when ethical, and reputational integrity mattered at this university are long gone; vanished like most good things in Uganda have in the past 34 years. Many Makerere alums have long lamented that. Corruption, fraud, even scams, anything for money, are the entrenched “values” now. The fraudulence there is akin to what emanates right from the country’s top leadership in any case, people point out.
Just a few days ago Rebecca Kadaga, the speaker of Uganda’s parliament – standing next to President Museveni, and to an Indian man called Sarfaraz Niazi as well as a few other individuals – announced “Uganda had the cure for COVID19!” Museveni then chimed in saying, “That chemical will finish this coronavirus! This epidemic will be over, but then there will be other viruses, so that chemical should be able to kill the others!”
Niazi, the supposed inventor of the chemical claimed, “It can kill all viruses.”
The public, in Uganda and beyond was astonished at first. People then saw this was another “Museveni scam” and the hilarity that ensued; the laughter against Kadaga, Museveni and the “inventor”, was long and merciless.
“This is how pathetic our country has become; how low we have sunk!” one Ugandan summed it in a tweet.