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Museveni on corruption: a tired song in discord

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Museveni on corruption: a tired song in discord

It is rather tempting to ignore President Yoweri T. Museveni’s latest denunciation of corruption in Uganda. After all we have lost count of the president’s numerous speeches against corruption since 1986, the year he captured power with promises of destroying the monster. 


Recall that point number 7 in the Ten-Point Program of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) was the “elimination of corruption and misuse of power.”  Nearly 36 years later, Museveni presides over one of the most corrupt governments and societies in the world. So, another presidential speech on the subject is an efficient sedative. Easy to ignore.  However, allow me to make a few observations on that speech.


For the umpteenth time, Museveni declares zero tolerance for corruption. He informs the world that he knows the corrupt but “unfortunately I don’t have enough proof to arrest people.”  He follows this with the usual stuff about the dangers of corruption to the country’s economy. He talks about his worries about the effects on his foreign investors but says nothing about the burden of corruption on the millions of his subjects. 


He dwells on his personal abhorrence for gifts. “When I came back from the bush,” Museveni says, “the Banyankore collected cows – 800 of them, actually it was like 2000– that they were for me. I refused those cows and I handed them to the government,” he claims. “You normally see them in Ngoma.” Interestingly, Museveni then says that he often gives those same cows to the poor. 


“Even you people are not proud. I don’t want anybody to say that Museveni is rich because he was helped. No way! If I am rich, it is because I worked for everything myself. I feel very proud. That’s why I don’t care about anybody. Silina gweneguya, kubanga tewaliwo eyali anyambyeko ng’omuntu. (I do not kowtow to anybody because nobody has ever helped me as an individual).”


Museveni’s words are both self-indicting and at variance with the reality of his regime. First, a man who ascended to the presidential monarchy of Uganda through the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands, many of whom gave their lives in his fifteen-year quest for power, should be the last one to claim that he does not owe his wealth to anyone. The dead are shielded from the pain of his ingratitude. The living are silenced by fear and resignation to a fate that regret and tears cannot heal. However, history will record a truth that the ruler cannot erase with words.


Second, Museveni who, in the same breath, reports that he rejected a gift of 2000 cows, but obtained land for their husbandry and gives them as gifts to the poor, confesses that he is indeed their owner. Do you give away that which does not belong to you? 


Third, the poor people, like most Ugandans, are robbed of their rights and basics for survival, and are bribed with cows to keep them kow-towing to the ruler, and blind to the captured state and the chains that hold them hostage.


Fourth, the president who despises the idea of receiving gifts and takes pride in being self-made, happily gives handouts of cows, cash, cars, and such to his subjects in exchange for political support. Five million-shilling handouts to MPs to lift presidential term limits is but one example of this misuse and abuse of power and public resources for personal political gain. 


Like the precolonial monarchs of Africa, Museveni, who hates being indebted to anyone, wants every Ugandan to be indebted to him. 


Fifth, his claim that he knows the corrupt in his regime but lacks the evidence to arrest them is a tired song in discord, designed to hide a deep-rooted lack of political will to act against the tribe of the untouchables.  In the words of Justice Bosco Katuusi in 2010, when he was the head of the Anti-Corruption Court: “This court is tired of trying tilapias when crocodiles are left swimming.” 


Museveni has had plenty of evidence collected in numerous corruption scandals that have been exposed during his long reign. The reports gather dust in some forgotten files, while the culprits drink deep at the trough, winking at each other as they listen to replays of the president’s latest performance. 


In the unattended piles of documents at the Rwakitura and Entebbe palaces, are reports on corruption in, to name just a few, the Uganda Revenue Authority/Danze; Uganda Police Force; Plunder of Congo Free State; Purchase of Junk Helicopters; Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria; Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization; NSSF; CHOGM; OPM/Northern Uganda rehabilitation fund; Katosi; Covid-19; and Uganda Airlines.


One recalls that when Gen. Salim Saleh confessed to Gen. Museveni in 1998 that he had received and accepted an $800,000 bribe, the president forgave him and informed the country that he had done so. 


Space does not allow full listing of the untouchables that have been linked to mega-corruption during the Museveni era.  We shall just note that, to my knowledge, only two cabinet ministers have been convicted by a court of law on charges of corruption. One minister’s conviction was overturned on appeal. Museveni had publicly offered to pay $50,000 towards the convicted minister’s appeal.  The other minister was fined Sh. 10 million ($3,000) and set free. 


Is there any wonder, then, that nobody seems to be listening to the president’s anti-corruption sermon?  The corruption that Museveni has supervised and helped entrench in his 35 years in power has so severely eroded the country’s soul that many children know it and practice it. Many elders know it and depend on it. Some judges sell justice for dollars. Many real and pretentious religious leaders take advantage of it. 


This last group of corrupt men and women, operating under titles of prophets, apostles and pastors, don expensive threads, hold Holy Bibles aloft and, with fake American accents, use Jesus Christ’s name to defraud their gullible congregations of their savings.  Museveni, who sees through the charade, loves this pseudo-Christian industry. If the charlatans bring in the votes to mask a corrupt pseudo-electoral process, the president has no interest in calling out the blaspheming parasites.  


There are survivors, of course. I have interacted and done business with quite a few very honest people. However, the disease is so rampant that one is pleasantly surprised when one encounters these survivors. 


There was a time when I would have appealed to the president to quit the singing and act against corruption. Not even I, the near-eternal optimist, still holds on to the hope that Gen. Museveni will ever turn his attention to fighting corruption. He sits astride a regime that is buttressed by force and violence, bribery and commercialised politics masquerading as democracy.


The state was captured long ago. Corruption is at the core of the country’s identity. Change remains a very distant dream. 







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