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Corruption, an evil that nourishes the NRM’s rule ​in Uganda

Corruption, an evil that nourishes the NRM’s rule ​in Uganda

I heard the speech. I lost all hope. My optimism, crashed by words, spoken by my president, in his State-of-the-Nation address. An opportunity lost, another surrender to corruption, Uganda’s greatest threat. Having nurtured a state, of unprecedented corruption, my president pulled out his old song, to fool the citizens again, about an onslaught against this enemy. That song, premiered in January 1986, went into irreversible discord long ago, now unrecognizable, an irritant to the country’s ears. 


The president knows, just like most Ugandans do, that he is not in position to wrestle corruption to the ground. What little hope some of us still had, was dispelled by my president’s offering, of a new concept to my ears, framed as corruption by mistake-makers, distinct from corruption by dishonest people.  I thought I misheard him, but a video recording of his speech, relieved me of self-doubt. The war against corruption, lost long ago, is not about to be revived.  His talk of amnesty for the thieves, and his worry that punishing them, would rob him of people to work with, was the last straw for me.   


However, I allowed myself, to play with his new categorization, of thieves and robbers, with a few examples of each, flashing through my mind. Those who steal iron sheets from the Karamojong are mistake-makers. Those who steal medicine from government hospitals are dishonest thieves. Those who steal billions of shillings from parliament are mistake makers. Those who inflate costs, in public procurement deals, are dishonest swindlers. Those who have stolen trillions of shillings, in Uganda’s long list of mega-financial scandals, are mistake-makers. Those who steal petty cash, a few million shillings really, from the latest “wealth creation” effort, called the “parish development model,” are dishonest people. 


Those who have taken, hundreds of millions of dollars, that built that invisible world-class hospital in Lubowa, in the great city of Kampala, are mistake-makers. Those who extort bribes from patients, are dishonest thieves. They deserve admission to prison. Those who have sucked deep into the national trough, during preparations for international conferences in Kampala, are mistake-makers. They deserve our gratitude. Those who sell access to the president, are dishonest rascals.  Those who allocate themselves public land, and other major assets, are mistake-makers. Those who pocket money, via ghost workers, are irredeemably dishonest. 


I see an opportunity, for a team of legal experts, working with psychologists and mind readers, to develop a two-column catalogue of mistake-makers and dishonest people. Slot in there, various thieves of public assets and cash, dating back to the very early years of the National Resistance Movement’s clean leadership. It will be a well-subscribed list. They should start with documented reports of grand corruption in the NRM government, complete with names of people that mistakenly stole billions of dollars, from the long-suffering masses.  The dishonest people, among them chicken thieves and mobile phone snatchers, who ply their trade in the towns of the land, need not worry the president. They are already taken care of, by the Uganda Police and other security agencies.  


The names of the mistake-makers, await retrieval from the Report of Justice Julia Sebutinde’s Commission of Inquiry, into Corruption in the Uganda Police Force; the Report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, into the Mismanagement of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Uganda; and the Report of Justice James Ogoola’s Commission of Inquiry, into the theft of funds from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI). Then there are reports about the Danze-URA scandal, the Muhibauer-Uganda National ID card scandal, the Junk Helicopters scandal, the Valley dam scandal, the LC Bicycle scandal, the Basajjabalaba Compensation scandal, the Public Service Pensions scandal, the PMO’s Northern Uganda PRDP scandal, the CHOGM-2007 scandal, the privatization scandals, the sale of Uganda Commercial Bank, and so many others from long ago.  


More recent additions, to the list of mistake-makers, include the thieves who have milked the construction of tarmacked roads, hydroelectric generating stations, bridges, public markets in towns, infrastructure development in Kampala, and government buildings. Mistake-makers have been at it, in various public-private-partnerships, and national budget submissions. The partners of so-called foreign investors, have mastered the art of deception by mistake, with offers of fake projects that produce air and unlimited requests for further funding and financial rescue, to which the president and his government, gladly consent by mistake.


The truth, of course, is that my president knows about these things, and much more. His speech, peppered with humour, about hearing rumours of corruption, was the usual script designed to assuage the rising temper in the land, and remind the political actors that they are only free from prosecution at his pleasure. Corruption, the evil that has nourished the NRM’s rule, thirty-eight years and counting, is much needed by the ruler today, more than ever before. It is a potent means of control. The corrupt are completely captive, too terrified of prison to challenge anything the ruler throws at them.  Constitutional amendments, that may become necessary ahead of the transfer of power in 2031 or 2036, will need a parliament that has been whipped into line. A subtle threat of prosecution, on account of corruption, is an effective weapon.


Interestingly, the president singled out the money lenders for special censure. He called them bloodthirsty parasites, a name that is spot on, shared by thousands of his cadres, that he has propped up for decades. The money lenders are operating in a milieu, of commercialised politics, that the president has created. Corrupting parliament, to amend the constitution, and buying political support, with khaki envelopes, high-end automobiles for Anglican bishops, and cash for funding long-weekend merrymaking, by Diaspora Ugandan organizations, has made parasitism a lucrative pursuit. The country is sucked almost dry, by so-called foreign investors and their local partners, along with freelance looters.  It is a symbiotic parasitism, from which the president benefits politically. The money lenders are mere copycats.     


The president does not have a monopoly, on commercial politics. Other top leaders, of the other branches of the government, have hefty budgets for donations to people and causes of their choice. Members of parliament have so-called constituency development funds. All these are political bribes which are stealable by the donors and their courtiers. All done by mistake, of course, not through calculated dishonesty. 


It is a messy dilemma, about which the president asked a pertinent question: “Are you a leader unto darkness and death?”  .


© Muniini K. Mulera





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