Whereas world leaders are calling for solidarity in fighting COVID -19 pandemic because everybody is at risk the leaders of two illegal political groupings in Rwanda, namely Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza and Bernard Ntaganda representing DALFA Umurinzi and PS Imberakuri breakaway faction respectively through a joint press release issued on June, 1 called the government to remove COVID-19 containment measures, indicating that the pandemic has been contained and no longer poses risk to the citizens.
Their assessment contrasts that of World Health Organization (WHO) assessment which shows that the pandemic is still a world public health problem and that its containment measures should remain in place.
Ingabire and Ntaganda have gone further to mobilize the population to oppose the containment measures following the suspension of reopening of transportation between Provinces and commercial motorcyclists that was expected to resume on 1 June 20.
Their press release was reactionary considering the fact that the announcement from Prime Minister’s Office clearly indicated that a cabinet meeting was slated on June, 2 to review COVID-19 measures.
On May, 31, Rwanda registered 11 new cases of COVID-19, the highest number in a space of two weeks. Among them, 5 were registered in Rusizi District, Western Province. These were the first cases to be reported among the population because previous cases were truck drivers arriving from neighboring countries. The government therefore found it wise to first study this new trend. “After reassessment, transportation between Provinces and the City of Kigali, as well as passenger motor services, will remain closed until further notice in the interest of public health. Further Covid-19 measures will be announced by the Cabinet on Tuesday 2 June,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.
In what looked as defiance, on 1 June, Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza and Bernard Ntaganda on behalf of their unregistered political groupings, issued a joint press release asking the government to remove COVID-19 containment measures immediately because they violate human rights and the constitution. “We the leaders in opposition operating in Rwanda want lockdown measures to be completely lifted because they violate basic rights of Rwandans especially the right to free movement of people to any place without hindrances, right to work for a living, right to pray, right to wedding and right to entertainment”, the press release reads in part.
The above statement makes one wonder whether Ntaganda and Ingabire really understands the risks of removing containment measures especially at this time when the virus is spreading in other districts. This political rhetoric is unwelcome and cannot be taken lightly because it has direct impact on the population especially the poor who were mostly affected by lockdown.
Ingabire and Ntaganda should be reminded that this is not the right time for political mobilization. One commentator in Kigali who preferred not to mention his name had this to say: “These guys really don’t love Rwandans”. How can you release such misguided press release mobilizing the population to ignore lockdown measures at a time when new COVID-19 cases are being registered in the country side?” he wondered.
Indeed, their press release was invalidated by a cabinet decision of June, 2 allowing Moto taxi service to resume and public and private transport between provinces except in Rusizi and Rubavu districts where new COVID-19 cases were registered. This is logical because the Ministry of Health wants first to understand the gravity of the pandemic in the two districts before reopening them. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the next cabinet meeting decides to allow transport to resume in the two districts depending on the assessment of the Ministry of Health.
Rwanda’s public health response to COVID-19 has been robust and rapid, thanks to visionary leadership of President Paul Kagame. By January 20, screening for high temperatures exercise began at Kigali International Airport and land borders. In March, a national task team on COVID-19 was put in place and on 6 March guidelines were issued on social distancing and hand washing or hand sanitizer were installed ot the entrance of all major public buildings and shopping centers. Moreover testing began even before the first COVID-19 case reported on 14 March. Systematic tracing of contacts began immediately.
With continued reports of new COVID-19 cases, on 20 March, the government instituted nationwide total lockdown. The objective was to contain and avoid spread of COVID-19 among the population which would have overwhelmed Rwanda’s health system.
The lockdown measures worked well and by 30 April, COVID -19 cases had reduced on daily basis and no cases had been registered among the population. Based on the above assessment, a cabinet meeting which sat on the same day loosened the local down measures but instituted compulsory wearing of masks and night curfew from 8 pm to 5 am. Free movement of people during the day was allowed within all Provinces and City of Kigali, manufacturing and construction sectors reopened, and hotels and restaurants allowed operating until 7pm.
Another Cabinet meeting which convened on 18 May, maintained lockdown measures in place since 30 April but announced that interprovincial travel and Moto taxi service will resume on 1 June 20. However, the Cabinet decision was later suspended owing to an increase in COVID-19 infections in the country.
As a result, Ingabire and Ntaganda issued their reckless press release in total disregard of all the above efforts made by the government to ease lockdown measures so that people can slowly go back to normal life but also ensuring that their lives are not exposed to danger. By calling for lifting Covid-19 containment measures, Victoire Ingabire and Bernard Ntaganda demonstrated lack of a sense of responsibility.