Corruption scandals: Is Museveni digging a political grave for NRM?

Preparing to hand over power after a decade in office, China’s President Hu Jintao warned that corruption could ruin China and called for harsher methods to combat graft that has stoked public anger.

Sunday November 25 2012


By Yasiin Mugerwa


In a speech that marked the beginning of the end of Hu Jintao’s era and formally ushered in new leaders for the coming decade, the Chinese president singled out the suspected [ruling] party members, asking them to be ethical and to rein in their greedy family members, whose trading on their connections for money and lavish displays of wealth have amplified public cynicism about the party.

Unlike the case in Uganda and other countries, in China, corruption is a crime that draws capital punishment or the death penalty. President Jintao has relinquished his role at the top of the Communist party for Xi Jinping to take over as the country’s paramount leader.

While China is not Uganda, President Jintao’s fear that corruption could prove “fatal” to the Communist Party and bring down the state if not tackled coincides with the analysts’ warning that by protecting the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, Mr Pius Bigirimana, who was named in the loss of donor funds, President Museveni is trying to dig his political grave and that of the ruling National Resistance Movement.

Because of widespread corruption, Prof William Muhumuza from Makerere University’s Political Science cited key challenges Uganda faces today — a rich-poor gap, putrefying public institutions because of patronage — highlighting the imbalanced development between the wealthy politicians and a struggling countryside.
Combatting corruption and promoting political integrity, Prof Muhumuza told Sunday Monitor, is a major political issue. However, his analysis is that it is unlikely to lead to the government being voted out because “corruption is mainly a concern of elites”.

Ignorance of layman
“The patronage dispensed through various avenues, the populist government programmes, though of poor quality (e.g. UPE, free healthcare, SACCOs etc) and the influence of the beneficiaries of corruption may instead win more support from unsuspecting ordinary person,” Prof Muhumuza said. “The majority ordinary people are yet to link corruption at the national level with the poor quality of service delivery. This consciousness is still lacking at the moment.”

According to Prof Muhumuza the case of Mr Bigirimana being protected by President Museveni needs to be understood in the context of neo-patrimonial nature of African politics, where regime survival is insured using state resources that are irregularly acquired.

That patronage-driven politics thrives on corruption. And public resources are ordinarily stolen to reward “cadres” and regime sycophants. “The patrons and their clients are rewarded and sustained through political appointment (e.g. as presidential advisers, chairpersons and members of commissions, ministers, RDCs etc). These privileges serve as a reward and political investment for the next round of electors.

“The point here is that regime supporters or “cadres” in this case, are placed in strategic positions - usually the ones with a lot of resources, so that they can help to syphon them for purposes of building a political base for the regime. This is typical of almost all African regimes. The NRM is not an exception,” Prof Muhumuza said.

In a “damage control” statement to the donors who have already suspended aid over theft of aid at the OPM, President Museveni took time off to respond to what he called: “politically motivated red-herrings”, targeting people he said were trying to give the impression that the problem of corruption in Uganda is because of lack of “political will” to fight that corruption.

“Who? Me, Yoweri Museveni, lacking “political will” to fight corruption and criminality when I am stronger now than I was in 1971, when, together with my colleagues, we took the regime of Idi Amin head on, or when in 1981, with 27 guns, we attacked Kabamba? Those who peddle those falsehoods should be treated with the contempt they deserve,” Mr Museveni said.

While President Museveni brags of putting in place the numerous anti-corruption laws and institutions, by protecting suspects, some of whom are his ministers and close allies, the Executive Director, Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, Ms Cissy Kagaba, says has killed the impetus in the fight against corruption and promoted impunity in the process.

The infamous 2010 Temangalo land scandal involving Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi was the first case that possibly exposed the lack of political will to fight corruption. At the height of this scandal, a caucus meeting was called at State House, Entebbe, where a decision was taken to defeat the Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises report implicating the ministers involved. Again, the ministers who were implicated in the 2007 Chogm scandals survived through the party caucusing and others who, with tainted images, have since been re-appointed in key Cabinet positions.

“Even if NRM uses corruption to entrench itself in power, this is unsustainable,” Ms Kagaba said. “With time, Ugandans will get tired of those who steal their money and in the end they will get angry and remove their leaders from power. This is what caused the Arab spring. Take the example of OPM scandal; do you expect the people in northern Uganda to be happy when a certain group of people decided to steal their money?”

On several occasions, President Museveni has promised to stamp out corruption but no tangible solution to the crisis has been witnessed by the country today. The President is now accused of offering lip-service to the fight against the vice. But in trying to explain what has become of his promises to wipe out corruption in his government, Mr Museveni told the donors that key institutions like the IGG, seem to have been infiltrated by questionable characters.

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