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Uganda’s Corruption Epidemic Traced to Post-Independence Leadership


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The root cause of all corruption stems from those who led us after independence. When we gained independence in 1962, Uganda shifted from a bureaucratic administration that emphasized good governance to one that prioritized political sovereignty. We experienced a period of relatively good governance when King Edward Mutesa II was president, though there were issues of bad financial deals in the Buganda federal government between 1964 and 1966.

When Obote took over, we ended up with a bureaucratic autocracy lacking in accountability, transparency, and the rule of law. This trend was mirrored across Africa. For instance, Ghana, the first country to gain independence, ended up with a corrupt leader, Kwame Nkrumah, towards the end of his tenure. Nkrumah and his post-independence successors started out well, but they lost their way. As a result, corruption became one of the main reasons cited by almost all coup plotters from the 1970s onwards. Amin listed it as one of the reasons in 1971 for ousting Obote. In Sierra Leone, Captain Valentine Strasser also cited it as a reason for the coup. The same occurred in Ghana and Mali in 1991.

Corruption itself comes from the Latin word “RUMPERE,” which means that something is broken. What has happened in Uganda since 1986 shows that ‘something is broken’ in the country and needs fixing. When you listen to the arguments made online by someone in their 20s with a degree, you may think that they have just finished primary seven. A lady like ‘Bad Black,’ who has confessed to being a prostitute, is more followed and listened to on Facebook than a religious leader or scholar. Foul language (‘Okuwemula’ in Luganda) is the order of the day. When you don’t steal public funds, people think you’re dense. The Besigyes (products of NRM) realized that they could not fix it from within and opted out. Yoweri Museveni, too, has formed various institutions to fight corruption, but not much progress has been made.

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Africa has ended up with two classes of leaders since the coup era: benevolent autocrats and kleptocrats. Both are not absolute dictators or autocrats because they try to work within the existing state institutions. There are many characteristics of these two types of leaders, but I will mention a few to make a point.

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Museveni is specifically a kleptocrat: he is fearful of being overthrown and therefore favors policies that benefit him in the short run with costs spread in the future. He can manipulate any state institution for personal gain. For instance, he can spend a lot of money bribing people in an election, as he did in all previous presidential elections because he believes that with the oil money coming in, this void can be fixed in the future. He has spent a lot of money on individuals like Full Figure, Catherine Kusasira, Balaamu, and others, only to likely discard them after elections if they do not fit into his long-term plans.

Combating corruption at the presidential level is actually more difficult because the president has immunity while in power. By the way, up to now, I don’t know how to interpret his 770 million shilling donation to a school in Kigali in 2011. Is a poor person supposed to donate food to a neighbor when he cannot feed his own family? I don’t know what religious scholars say about this, but I don’t think it’s right.

Kleptocrats will also seek a taxation system that efficiently generates revenue, but they are likely to introduce distortions. At the moment, Uganda collects more taxes than at any time since independence, but there is very little to show for it because we are led by the wrong people. So, we cannot change a system that has gone wrong with ‘wrong people’ still at the helm of things. According to Ismail Musa Ladu of the Daily Monitor, despite the increase in revenue from 10.6 trillion shillings in 2014/15 to 27.4 trillion shillings in 2018/19, of which 65 percent were tax revenues, government spending has continued to outstrip revenue.

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Kleptocrats tend to support projects that generate large corrupt payoffs. Thus, the leader will endorse projects with little economic justification and propose public projects that could be efficiently carried out in the private sector. If revelations of corruption are likely to destabilize the regime, the kleptocrat will do everything to make sure that they go away on his terms.

For instance, just look at the people that were implicated in the Global funds, Temangalo, CHOGM, etc., and how their court cases were handled– It all doesn’t make sense, but as long as they are on the good side of the president, they are eventually free. Some are even continuing to serve as MPs, and others were even appointed in M7’s cabinet. Summarily, there is no serious political will to fight corruption in Uganda.

The Article was Written by Abbey Semuwemba, UK via the UAH forum

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