Saturday March 6 2010

What is the cause of this elite corruption in Uganda?

By Margaret Wokuri

With Nandala Mafabi’s team, it seems we need more shock absorbers for we are certainly not yet done with shocks from the Chogm expenditures! Shs240m was budgeted for gold and silver gifts for the Queen and other Chogm guests. The money was released and spent but the gifts were never seen. How did Uganda get to this sorrowful state? Corruption during Amin’s regime, it has been said, was a result of scarcity of goods. One had to have connections to access basic household necessities. This type of corruption is what can be described as corruption of need and, while sin is sin, this, some would say is quite an understandable sin.
But today, goods and services in Uganda are in plenty for those who can afford and so what is perplexing is that the corrupt are not just the poor and needy but largely the already privileged class. What then drives this already privileged class into corruption?

Analysing the cause of corruption in Kenya, Michella Wrong in It’s Our Time to Eat delves into the history and tries to link Kenya’s corruption to the materialistic culture of the Kikuyu. She writes that the Kikuyu are by culture very ambitious and materialistic. She cites Kenyan stereotypes of telling a baby’s tribe in Kenya by simply making a rattling noise from coins because a Kikuyu baby will raise its little arms to grab the coins. This ambitious and materialistic culture is however said to have been curtailed by the coming of the colonial rule. When the Kikuyu took over power at independence, they went about aggressively to compensate for the time lost. Since then, the Kenyan treasury has been a carcass for the tribal hounds that take over power. Could such an explanation hold for Uganda’s ruling class?

The other explanation is rooted in what is described as ‘spoils politics’ that often emerges as a result of states getting into a transition without the necessary structures. Uganda, as we are aware, went back into multiparty politics without the necessary structures. Instead of healing the purported tribal and religious constructions that affected earlier multiparty political practice in the country, the Movement system made it worse by eroding even the few institutions that were in place. Like my lecturer once put, the Movement system was a mere pain killer but not a healing tablet for Uganda’s political party problems. After 20 years, even the little problems that could have been sorted just soared up. So you have ‘survivors’ making a killing out of the broken system, taking every opportunity to plunge their hands into the national treasury.

The solution to Uganda’s corruption lies in finding its cause. If this elite greed is rooted in culture like the purported Kikuyu, then we shall need to re-orient the said persons. If it is because of a transition that went wrong, then the solution lies in another transition. Already, the Democratic Party has made a break through by electing a president general outside the historically rooted environ. The NRM Central Executive Council cheated us of a transition by smuggling in their old guard. Even then, I wonder if a change of guards in this party would make any difference. The best therapy is for citizens to put this party into a cooler, then like UPC, it will emerge a sober party to be considered for future leadership of the country.
Ms Wokuri is a social critic