Uganda: Fighting Corruption Under Museveni Looks a Lost Battle

13 December 2018

I grew up in a humble Christian family in the hills of Kigezi mid last century. My formative education was in Christian-based schools up to Junior Secondary Two. The schools, most of which were founded by the church, were run by dedicated head teachers.

As I grew up, I came to learn, among others, that stealing and lying are sins Christians are commanded by God not to commit.

During that time, the British colonial government provided the leadership and governance. Its by-laws such as tax for every male over 18 years, liquor licence, terrace-farming, food reserves and burungi bwansi (community service) were enforced by chiefs at all levels. Corruption may have existed at the time but schools were well run and public services were accessible and available.

Currently, corruption has become such a monster in Uganda that it has crippled service delivery, stalled projects, caused deaths and disillusionment in society. A common topic for discussion today is about dilapidated hospitals, schools, police stations, inflated infrastructure projects, outright stolen public funds, schemes to fork out public funds from the treasury and paying bribes to access government services.

I recall one of the "Kyankwanzi" school topics of discussion was 'Which thief is better, the one who steals and invests the loot overseas or the one who invests in Uganda?' The answer is now obvious. The seeds that were sown then have ripened. Since the stolen money is invested here, the President once said, he would forgive the thieves and life continues.

The President delivered his national address on corruption. The address, as expected, was not short on vilifying civil servants and anti-corruption agencies. He inaugurated yet another agency to fight corruption and again vowed to defeat corruption once and for all.

Briefly defined, corruption is the dishonest conduct by those in power to gain personal wealth and, or to retain power. Since independence, the country has experienced increasing levels of corruption around access and retention of political power. Turmoil followed. From about 1992, Uganda, at the urging of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, embraced extreme capitalism.

Ugandans were told government had no role to play in business; national businesses/ assets should be sold. The capitalist creed is that you win by accumulation of personal wealth amidst scarcity, power play and influence.

People in vantage points have gained a lot from this policy by selling access to the powers that be and power retention is now a big enterprise. Consequently, critical national institutions such as the army, police, judiciary and intelligence services have been sucked into support of the enterprise. In such an environment, it is a tall order for anyone to think or imagine of fighting or eradicating corruption. The stakes are high and so are the returns! It sounds like a lost battle and that the only answer here are prayers.

However, Ugandans are yearning for change and unless this change is managed, it could explode into violence. Change could start with revisiting our economic policies. The role of government in business should be reestablished to provide direction and standards. It is not sufficient to license and observe. Government should set the pace.

Secondly, there should be frank conversations among our leaders to, among other things, reestablish trust and respect for each other. This alone would reduce the fuel fanning the power retention enterprise and reduce opportunities for violence. Kenya has done it, why not Uganda!

Thirdly, the parties (current or future) should improve their leadership and governance processes. These are ingredients lacking in all the current political set-ups. Leadership and governance processes include strategic and organisation setting, enforcing policies and procedures to achieve organisational objectives. It is also about anticipating certain occurrences and being prepared to minimise their impact on the strategy. Ultimately, the leadership should render accountability by way of tabling audited financial statements.

Logic dictates that you cannot give what you don't have. A party that would emerge well organised to deliver first on its own accountability to its membership and commit to building accountable national institutions would most likely win over Ugandan voters.

Mr Turyahikayo is a retired banker.

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