Leaders in the cattle corridor districts of central Uganda have said politics is likely to derail the fight against Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD).
Most of the cattle corridor districts in central Uganda are currently battling Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). The most affected are Nakasongola, Nakaseke, Gomba, Sembabule and Luweero.
FMD is an infectious and sometimes fatal viral disease that affects cloven-hoofed or divided hooves animals.
In the last three years, the ministry of Agriculture, has declared a quarantine and closed cattle markets in the affected districts to avert the spread of the disease.
But livestock farmers in some districts are up in arms, accusing government of selectively imposing the quarantine.
In Sembabule District, a section of leaders and livestock farmers say the quarantine only stops the movement of animals and not livestock products, a trend they describe as strange.
Mr Ezekiel Gumisiriza, the chairperson of Kabukongote Parish in Malongo Sub-county, says since the outbreak of FMD in the area in August last year, movement of animals has been restricted yet trade in hides, milk and ghee has continued.
"Why should motorcycles transporting milk and other livestock products be allowed to move freely yet we have a restriction on the movement for the cattle. As an experienced livestock farmer, the trend is turning political," Mr Gumisiriza says.
Two weeks ago, cattle traders and residents of Lwemiyaga County led by their Member of Parliament, Mr Theodore Ssekikubo, petitioned Parliament, protesting what they called unlawful and arbitrary blockading of Lwemiyaga cattle market.
More than 50 petitioners explained that they were being blocked from selling their cattle to traders outside their district on grounds that the area had been under quarantine.
The petitioners also stated that while the commissioner for Animal Health, Dr Anna Ademun, had ordered the closure of Kyamamba, Lugusulu and Rumegyere markets, citing the outbreak of FMD in Mitima Sub-county, Sembabule District, she has never ordered the closure of Lwemiyaga market.
"...in a clear case of discrimination and highhandedness, the market of Lwemiyaga market is blocked while those in the neighbourhood; Kyaahi, and Maddu in Gomba, Burunga, Rwemikoma and Kazo in Kazo, Kashagama and Kyemamba in Lyantonde, Butawata in Mubende remain operating normally," the petition reads in part.
"...in a further display of double standards, the instruments ordering for the closure of Kyemamba, Lugusuulu and Lumegyere markets dated August 7, 2019, and another of August 2019 issued by Dr Kiconco Doris and Dr Ademun specifically prohibit trade in the affected area. In Mitima Village itself, there are milk diaries and coolers operating and processing milk in the area and butchers," petition further states.
On January 10, police in Sembabule fired teargas and live bullets to break up a weekly cattle market in Lwemiyaga County and consequently arrested Mr Ssekikubo, accusing him of defying quarantine imposed in the area.
Mr Gumisiriza claims that nobody has come up to explain the questionable application of the quarantine but officials were quick to arrest Mr Ssekikubo who protested the matter.
Mr Elly Muhumuza, the Sembabule District chairperson, says selective application of FMD quarantine has been applied in the area for a long time. He said in 2018, he also protested the quarantine and was arrested.
"We cannot contain FMD if quarantine is applied selectively with politicians taking charge of the process for their selfish benefits. The public should know that the quarantine politics has been around for some time with a section of the leaders directly taking charge for selfish ends. I am happy that the farmers are now realising what we have for some time been talking about," Mr Muhumuza says.
"The selfish politicians are now taking charge of decisions that purportedly originate from the government departments in the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries," he adds, without giving names of the politicians.
Mr Patrick Nkalubo, a former candidate for the Lwemiyaga County MP seat, adds that imposing of the quarantine in the area is the work of some politicians and leaders who influence decisions at the top.
"We are collectively standing together with our farmers to fight the proclaimed cattle quarantine that is not real. Authorities should help the farmers. I am sure that my colleague (Ssekikubo) is fighting a genuine cause on behalf of the suffering livestock farmers," Mr Nkalubo says.
However, Dr Emmanuel Kalungi Kawooya, the district production officer, contends that the decision to impose the quarantine was based on findings by technical people.
He says whereas farmers are arguing that the commissioner for Animal Health only imposed a quarantine on Kyemamba, Lugusuulu and Lumegyere cattle markets, Lwemiyaga market also had to be closed because of its proximity to the affected ones.
"By default, we had to close Lwemiyaga market because the law provides for a radius of 20kms from the diseased area," Dr Kalungi says.
"We had estimated that by November 2019, the risk of spreading FMD would have reduced but at the end of December 2019, a team from Makerere University and Agriculture ministry conducted a sample survey and discovered that the prevalence was still at 50 per cent, an indicator that FMD was still present," he adds.
Following arrest, Mr Ssekikubo said the Security minister, Gen Elly Tumwine, is among the politicians profiteering from the Sembabule cattle movement ban together with his business associates at the expense of the majority livestock farmers in Sembabule District. But Gen Tumwine has since distanced himself from the allegation, insisting that Mr Ssekikubo is inciting residents to defy a genuine policy meant to help farmers contain the FMD.
The ping-pong seen in Sembabule points to the role of politics in service delivery across the country.
A 2004 World Development Report titled 'Making Services Work for Poor People' stated that politics is at the centre of service provision. The report said wherever there is some form of accountability, there is some form of politics or politicians.
"The politics can travel in different ways: through the 'long route' of citizens' involvement in national or local politics to pressure government to deliver services; or through the 'short route' of citizens engaging directly with service providers," the report said.
Yet according to a 2017 Sauti za Wananchi survey by Twaweza, a non-governmental organisation, many Ugandans feel they are not involved in the decision making of day-to-day policies.
In Nakaseke District, parts of Ngoma Sub-county have been under cattle quarantine since 2018. District leaders claim that while the farmers try to follow all the guidelines, highly placed government officials have often used their positions to smuggle animals from Tanzania that are at times infected with FMD.
In Nakasongola District where more than 80 per cent of the local revenue is generated from the livestock industry, the leaders blame government for failing to end the FMD that has persisted in more than five sub-counties for the last three years.
"We have no direct answers as feedback to the livestock farmers who have faced the repeated cattle movement bans, with their respective families nearly starving," Mr Samuel Butagasa the Nakitoma Sub-county councillor, says.
The entire district is currently under a cattle movement ban although the authorities claim that they have hope of some cattle markets opening when the results from recent samples taken by a team from Makerere University and the ministry turn out to be negative. "Our people have suffered and the district treasury is not doing well," Mr Sam Kigula, the district chairperson, says.
What law says
According to Section 7 and Section 29 of Animal Diseases (Amendment) Act 2005, no person shall remove from a place of quarantine any animal, carcass, fodder, wool, butter, ghee or dung except with the sanction of inspecting officer. A person who contravenes such rules is liable to a fine not exceeding Shs100,000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding a month or both.