There was much drama and excitement on the floor of Parliament on February 16, when ministers Syda Namirembe Bbumba and Edward Khiddu Makubuya resigned following their questionable approval of large government compensation to Kampala businessmen Hassan Bassajabalaba and Col. John Mugyenyi.
What we are witnessing in Parliament today is a hectic exercise in chopping down all parts of the tree except its trunk. They busily cut off the branches, the flowers, the weeds and the fruit on and around the tree.
From the sixth Parliament to the current one, from the late Tom Aisu Omongole to Winnie Byanyima, John Ken Lukyamuzi, to the current anti-graft crusaders Gerald Karuhanga, Abdu Katuntu and, MPs have become national heroes over their drive against corruption.
In due time, ministers from Brig. Jim Muhwezi and Sam Kutesa in 1998, to Sam Kutesa, John Nasasira, Kabakumba Matsiko and now Makubuya and Bbumba resigned.
Impressive. However, the question remains: How about Basajjabalaba himself, the man at the centre of the compensation scandal? How is it that long-time Cabinet ministers are forced to resign over illegally compensating Basajjabalaba (whom comedian Zizinga of Radio City’s breakfast show jokingly referred to as “Basajjabafuna”) but the man who got the illegal compensations remains free?
Ministers have resigned since the 1990s but at almost no point did the Ugandan public hear that the funds they had allegedly embezzled were extracted from the corrupt ministers. So what we have had is a decade-and-a- half of seemingly vigorous parliaments, a seemingly vibrant civil society and a seemingly vibrant news media.
Over the same period, the misappropriation of public and government funds has not only continued but increased. The most basic of public services for the ordinary Ugandan have continued to rot or be absent.
More unanswered questions
The total silence over Basajjabalaba exposes the hollowness of this anti-corruption drive by the ninth Parliament, as well as the general hollowness of Ugandan society. People cannot make the connection between cause and effect, between what lies at the root and what is peripheral to the Ugandan crisis.
Two MPs, John Ken Lukyamuzi and Samuel Odonga Otto came close to striking at the roots and truck of the tree when three weeks ago they declared that they were going to start a campaign to have President Yoweri Museveni himself censored.
Oddly, this announcement by Otto and Lukyamuzi that should have focused minds and generated the greatest public interest lasted only a day and has since faded from the news and public discussion. The two MPs have not been asked what became of their announcement. The public has not discussed it at length or followed it up.
The Presidential Press Unit photograph published by the government-owned New Vision newspaper showing the disgraced Kabakumba Masiko at a state occasion hosted by President Museveni for a visiting Chinese official should have made clear that Museveni is the trunk and root of corruption in Uganda, and Muhwezi, Makubuya, Kirunda Kivejinja, Bbumba, Nasasira, Kabakumba Masiko and other ministers who have resigned or been censored over corruption since 1998 are only branches.
Few people seem to see this, and so for our lack of intelligence and keenness in identifying the root of massive corruption in Uganda, the country will (and should) continue suffering until it gains wisdom through that suffering where it has failed to gain it by simple reasoning.
Western hypocrisy and the raid on the gays workshop
As all this is playing itself out, with Uganda’s infrastructure decaying and public money embezzled with impunity, another familiar angle has presented itself. The Western world, through its embassies in Kampala, has not seen it urgent and important enough to speak out against the government’s reducing of Ugandans to wretchedness.
The US, Norwegian, Dutch, German, French, Italian, and Danish ambassadors and British High Commissioner, among others, are comfortable to drive around the dark streets and potholed roads of Kampala.
They apparently feel it is no extra cost for their embassy and residential generators to run 12 hours a day owing to the shortage of electricity in Uganda. Regular media photographs of Mulago Hospital and other government hospitals in Uganda without drugs and with patients lying on the floor have no effect on them.
Nothing about the suffering and indignity of the vast majority of Ugandans seems to affect or cause alarm among the western nations who contribute substantially to Uganda’s budgetary needs.
However, they are not as indifferent as they seem. Last week, a group calling itself Freedom and Roam Uganda organised a workshop in Entebbe town for Ugandan homosexuals. When he got word of the workshop, the Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Fr Simon Lokodo, ordered the meeting closed.
The police raided the premises. Immediately and predictably, the news of this “Raid on Entebbe” caused a stir in the western world. Gay group after gay group, human rights defender after human rights defender expressed their horror at the barbarism of the minister and the Ugandan government for trampling upon the rights of its people.
The irony, of course, is that this particular trampling upon of human rights - the rights of homosexuals - is one that the overwhelming majority of Ugandans fully agree with their government; yet this same West is silent when the rights of the majority - to a decent life, medical treatment, quality schools, good roads - are abused.
This is the environment we live in. On one hand, MPs who zealously attack corrupt ministers but somehow have nothing to say about Basajjabalaba and even less to say about Basajjabalaba’s patron saint, President Museveni.
Then the people we would have turned to, to exert pressure on the NRM government to give its citizens their right to a decent life (the western nations) are in a phase in their social and cultural history in which they are obsessed with the dignity of homosexuality but indifferent to the dignity of the vast non-homosexual majority.
Yet another sign that 2012 will be one of the many wasted years in recent Ugandan history, full of drama and goings-on but all of which really amount to nothing at the end of the day.