The Observer (Kampala)

27 January 2013

Uganda: Can NGOs Movement Topple Corruption?

When the deputy secretary to the Treasury, Keith Muhakanizi, recently revealed that the state had paid over Euros 4 million (Shs 14.2 billion) to the Irish government, as a refund of money swindled in the Office of Prime Minister (OPM), there was a backlash.

The loudest protest came from civil society, with Cissy Kagaba, head of Anti- corruption Coalition of Uganda, describing it as an insult to Ugandans.

"The office of the Auditor General has already produced a report that can be used to apprehend the thieves; however, the same government has instead decided to again steal from its people by diverting monies that would have been used to improve service delivery," Kagaba said.

The grand theft in the OPM has left many Ugandans horrified at the level of abuse that is possible under President Museveni; but it also appears to have galvanized civil society in a manner unseen in recent times. Under their Black Monday movement, NGOs and other civic groups appear more willing than before to confront a government that easily deploys force against its critics.

The Black Monday movement is led and coordinated by the Uganda National NGO forum. It says it will present the true essence of the struggle against graft, which activists describe as theft from the poor. The movement's first event, planned to take place at the UMA show grounds, was blocked by the police. However, since then, several NGO officials have been picked up by the police for allegedly inciting the public to violence.

The most prominent arrest happened on January 7, 2013, when ActionAid's Executive Director Arthur Larok was picked up and held at Jinja Road police station for four hours after attempting to distribute flyers. With time, NGOs have come to be seen as a bulwark that will lead the revolution against a culture of grand theft by public officials. However, many observers doubt that the NGOs are achieving much in increasing publicity, which is a critical element of increasing awareness of corruption.

Dr Juma Okuku, from Makerere University's department of political Science and public Administration thinks they are only preaching to the converted and not those who need information.

"People don't eat words; so, unless these leaders link corruption to the lack of services, the average man on the street will remain aloof from this movement," Okuku said.

Richard Ssewakiryanga, the Executive Director of Uganda National NGO forum, that provides a platform for NGOs and CSOs to engage in issues of governance and development, is hopeful that CSOs in Uganda can create a successful social movement against corruption if they first remove the disconnect between them and citizens.

"We need to engage the citizens more than the usual strategies that we have employed in the past like condemning corruption or distributing leaflets about the dangers of corruption to Ugandan public and I believe that the Black Monday movement can be a start to what can grow into a successful movement against corruption.

Okuku, who has done research on social movements and people in industries, thinks that for CSOs to be successful in creating a movement against corruption, they will depend on, the ability to mobilize resources notably funds, their capacity to resist state aggression and bribery of their leaders plus the effort they put in to ally with other groups like teachers unions, co-operatives, opposition parties and a dedicated team to further the movement's objectives.

However, he does not think that Ugandans with the leadership of CSOs can be successful in instigating a movement against corruption because CSOs are always short term in their resolutions and actions.

"Many a time Ugandans come up with such good ideas like the case of the Black Monday movement that they have recently launched but then they later don't follow them through with the urge and gusto that they had at the start yet such a movement that they are trying to create will demand commitment and a dedicated team of people if they are to succeed."

However, Ssewakiryanga is optimistic that the Black Monday movement will succeed because the public is now outraged by the scale of the problem.

"Today's front pages of newspapers are dominated by stories about the theft of public funds and when Ugandans look at the poor services that they are getting, they are able to create a link between these factors which will push them to join the Black Monday movement," Ssewakiryanga says

He adds that with more coordination between CSOs and the public, expect 2013 to be year in which the fight against corruption will reach new heights. Ugandan civil society will be hoping to have the same impact as India's Anna Hazare. He led a successful social movement against corruption, forcing the government to respond with reforms and measures to fight corruption.

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