The Observer (Kampala)

27 February 2013

Uganda: Donor Ire Not the Silver Bullet for Corruption

opinion

Last Thursday's remarks by the US ambassador to Uganda at the closure of an investment meeting of the US chamber of commerce in Kampala sent strong ripples across Uganda's political breadth.

Ambassador Scot DeLisi had noted in his speech that although Uganda was a paragon of economic potential to investors, the confidence in its prospects could be undermined by prevailing rampant graft on the part of bureaucrats who engage in stealing valuable donor funds meant for development.

He observed that the endemic corruption was due to weak governance in the country.

This touched off wild excitement within a number of political circles who speedily spread the wonderful news that the government had at last fallen foul of the US authorities.

The ecstasy almost sounded like a long-awaited antidote to a consuming pandemic that was decimating the country's poor souls had at last been found. However, in government corridors, there were grimaces on visibly hurt faces.

The gruff retort was that the ambassador's criticism was needless because the government itself had been the one which initiated and publicized cases of corruption in addition to prosecuting the suspects. The way the officials always clutch to emphasizing the government's pre-eminence in unearthing and investigating corruption cases leaves many Ugandans wondering who else ought to have been thought to be more appropriate to perform this primary function of the state.

For a state to remain ostensibly unaware of the massive theft of resources under its watch for so long constitutes guilt of either neglect or incompetence. The fitting demeanour ought to have spawned contrition and pleas for mercy instead of lamely bragging excuses. Everyone knows that theft in the government is not confined to a few ministries or bureaucrats alone. Those who do not steal only have no opportunity for doing so.

The desire by our people for upright governance, which we previously and proudly professed in the NRM, has been so outflanked by abuse of power that it is no longer decent to deny it. But, in seeking new answers to face this situation, the people of Uganda ought to take interest in understanding the fundamental sins at the root of the country's blight so that the phenomenon can be decisively extirpated from our midst. Artificial and superfluous solutions can only complicate the equation.

It is all too often hoped that the ultimate and final word of integrity against corruption in our country lies expressly with the donor governments, their agencies and financial dealers. Many of our political novices naively assume that foreign investors and governments are genuinely inimical to corruption in our society and can be rested upon to combat it.

Since colonialism, the interests of foreign investors have been to extract privilege and to wrest immense advantage for themselves. They were the first to draw Africans into corrupt deals, exhorting community leaders to sign away the sovereignty and power of their countries in exchange for trinkets like beads and cowry shells. Since that time, politics in Africa has been built around treachery of the people in the service of foreign control and interests. The word corruption is interpreted in a curtailed way.

That is why the fury of donor governments was limited to stolen money in the OPM. Although aid to Uganda was suspended, the suspension was quickly retracted as soon as it was demonstrated that the stolen money was refunded. No questions were asked on whose money was drawn for the refund. Foreign investors enter into questionable deals secretly without the knowledge of the people.

Basic economic and political rights are routinely flouted in addition to hosts of other skewed arrangements like that of Umeme. Foreign business drives are not averse to selling horse meat under the label of beef or vend opium by force in China as an article of trade commodity if national vigilance is absent. Therefore, corruption in our country cannot be eliminated just by a few instances of jailing individuals.

It requires addressing a whole gamut of issues, including stoppage of the wastage of resources, reduction of expenditure on redundant structures like an oversized Parliament and officialdom, cultivation of public responsibility, and payment of a living wage for public servants.

To do this, demands that Ugandans go back to the drawing board to restore sovereignty to our society and build our country under new standards of common politics and organization to overcome our adversity.

The author is a member of NEC (NRM) representing historicals.

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