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Beti Kamya destined for disillusionment in anti-corruption fight

Beti Kamya destined for disillusionment in anti-corruption fight

Let us talk corruption, but first things first. I readily acknowledge that corruption is a universal phenomenon. It is not unique to Uganda. Transparency International told us earlier this year that multinational companies based in “clean” or seemingly corruption-free countries had been implicated in “high-profile cases of money laundering, foreign bribery and other private sector corruption.” 


Second, not everyone in Uganda is corrupt. Within the public and the private sectors are true patriots who have successfully resisted the affliction. 


Third, space does not allow full discussion of corruption. I will only focus on President Yoweri Museveni’s response to a very passionate and pointed speech by Beti Namisango Kamya, the Inspector General of Government, in which she promised to launch an audit to reconcile the disparity between public officers’ lifestyles and their known legitimate sources of income. 


“Now, the lifestyle audit is good,” Museveni said, “but be careful because we are still lucky that our corrupt people are corrupt here. They steal the money, they put it there, you see a five-star hotel from corruption.”


Museveni added: “Now, if you only concentrate on the lifestyle, then they will take the money out, and you will have no evidence here. It will be another struggle. The money they are stealing is mainly government money.”  


Here, Museveni was walking a well-travelled road where many believe that corruption that transfers state resources to the private sector can result in socio-economic development. The most obvious example of this are the Asian Tiger states, captured by corrupt regimes, yet successfully transformed from agrarian to industrial economies in just a few decades. 


This has been possible partly because the corrupt in those countries have recycled the proceeds of corruption internally. Museveni hopes that the corrupt in his regime will follow suit. This is very unlikely to happen. Whereas an Asian loots and keeps most of it at home, simply transferring resources from the public to the private sector, the African tends to loot and ship most of it abroad.


This difference in behaviour is due to the attitude of the Asian and the African corruption practitioner. The Asian has an emotional investment in his homeland. Nation and nationalism are not slogans to him. Pride of national identity has deep roots. Social capital and social cohesion are maximised.


On the other hand, the African is focused on self and family, and to some degree, ethnic identity. Being Ugandan is a song in discord, devoid of an agreed script of shared goals, interests, and values. The idea of a Ugandan nation and nationalism exists only on paper and in forgettable presidential speeches. Social capital and social cohesion are non-existent. 


Museveni’s “go-soft-on-corruption” appeal to Beti Kamya would probably work if Uganda had Kenya’s capitalist character. The corrupt in Kenya generally steal and invest in Kenya. While they are socially and culturally loyal to their ethnic communities, they are genuinely Kenyan in their investment and economic outlook. 


Kenyans share evident common interests. That is why Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga fight for the presidency but come together in defence of mutual economic interests. Indeed, they form strategic political alliances with an eye on mutual survival. 


Notwithstanding her turbulent politics, Kenya is a country that has eased the presidential grip on every facet of life that Daniel arap Moi wielded with relish for 24 years. The Kenyan leader does not enjoy the power to impoverish a citizen with the ease that is exercised by the Ugandan ruler.  Kenya’s rule of law and constitutionalism are real, making for a robust and secure investment environment even for regime opponents.


None of this is meant to endorse President Museveni’s acceptance of corruption as a welcome avenue for Uganda’s or Kenya’s economic development. Mine is a brief observation on his false premise even in the world of “corruption-is-good-for-the-economy.”  I completely reject corruption in all its forms, and I endorse Kamya’s lifestyle audit campaign. I take her word that she is serious and is prepared for the enormous battle ahead.


Unfortunately, Beti is destined for the same disappointment with which her predecessors left the office she occupies. She will do her audits. She will investigate cases. She may even lay charges. But the untouchables will remain, well, untouchable. Museveni’s public response to her was a friendly reminder that her appointment as IGG was merely a parking spot for a loyal political asset, not an assignment to upset the cart that has been part of the president’s strategy for maintaining political and security control of our complex country. Simply put, the President’s message to Beti was: “Don’t take your assignment seriously. Let sleeping dogs lie.”


I trust that Beti has read or listened to Museveni’s numerous speeches on corruption since 1986. I have. One thing that is striking about them is the duplicity with which the president has handled this vice. The man who poured water on Beti’s shining moment last week was the same one who told the corrupt a couple of years ago that they were an endangered species, soon to be crushed. 


In his year-end speech in 2019, Museveni said: “The NRM has opened a war on corruption. We shall defeat corruption. There is no corrupt individual that we cannot bring down. All we want is evidence. We never want to be unfair to anybody. Stay tuned on this.”


We have been tuning in for 36 years. Even before he deflated Beti’s balloon in front of the world, we already knew that Museveni was not in a hurry to start the war against corruption. Yes, a few small fish have been netted and punished. But the big fish, some with impeccable evidence against them, continue to enjoy their loot in peace. 


Why are the corrupt still free and practicing their trade? Why is my honored friend Beti destined to disillusionment? The corrupt, described by senior regime functionaries as The Mafia, are in control of the state. They have way more access and influence on the commander-in-chief of the war against them than the untrusted Beti Kamya will ever be. 


Received wisdom is that the cornerstone of taming corruption is promotion of integrity, transparency, and accountability. However, in Uganda’s case, this will remain a pipedream as long as Museveni and Musevenism rule. Taming corruption requires three important strategies. First, political will. Second, political will. Third, political will. Over to you, Tingasiga and good luck my sister Beti. Be of good courage.  




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