The ongoing mega corruption scandal which has rocked the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) has been the subject of numerous articles in the local media, most of which are lamentations of citizens who are stunned by the excesses and impunity of Ugandan politicians and senior officials. As a friend correctly put it; “the cynicism of Uganda’s politicians has blunted our capacity to be shocked”.
How sad, but I believe that collectively, the overwhelming majority of Ugandans are not as helpless and powerless as the ruling clique thinks. Together, we have the capacity to put an end to this horrendous and shameful corruption which is destroying the body politic and soul of Uganda.
I thank David Mpanga for his patriotic comment published in the Saturday Monitor of November 17, titled: “Corruption fuels ethnically divisive tendencies in this fragile country”, which raised important questions that I would like to address in this opinion.
I share Mpanga’s legitimate concerns and fears about the damage which corruption has already done to the “very delicate fabric of this nation and setting us up for massive state failure with all the violence and lawlessness that entails”. It is no longer a question of whether, but when such a “massive state failure” will occur!
In the spirit of telling the truth, I should like to comment on Mpanga’s pertinent arguments, especially where he states: “Corruption is exaggerating ethnic and social tensions. Imagine how the people of northern Uganda, the victims of two decades of war and the intended recipients and beneficiaries of PRDP funds, feel when they hear that public officers who do not hail from the region stole or wasted the money that was intended to lift them out of their poverty. What do they say to each other quietly and in their own language when no outsiders are listening?”
Let me share with fellow citizens what I have heard many people from northern Uganda say about what appears to be a deliberate and systematic looting and waste of PRDP funds. Mpanga has, in fact, already put his fingers on the core of what northerners are saying, namely that, what is happening to PRDP funds is “pure evil” perpetrated by shameless and heartless people who designed and implemented a scorched-earth policy in northern Uganda for over 20 years!
Beneath the horrendous and obscene corruption at the OPM is a deliberate and callous attempt to complete by other means the “unfinished business” started in 1986 to “pacify the primitive and backward northern Uganda” and lay the region to waste.
Northerners believe that many (not all) of their fellow citizens from other regions are jealous and envious of the millions of dollars which donors, out of sympathy, have generously provided to rebuild, rehabilitate and develop a region devastated by the NRA, LRA and UPDF.
Against this background, Ugandans from the north frankly feel angry, disappointed and badly let down by the government.
In September 2002, my friend and classmate Cyril Agard Didi (RIP), then Minister of State for Northern Uganda, clashed with then Prime Minister, Prof. Apolo Nsibambi, in Parliament over the question of resources for northern Uganda.
Didi was requested to introduce the budget estimates at a parliamentary committee, but he adamantly refused and passed on the responsibility to the Prime Minister because, according to Didi, Prof. Nsibambi was the de facto controller of the vote which was technically under his office.
Prof. Nsibambi was furious and lugubrious; and demanded an apology which Didi refused to offer, but he eventually gave a pseudo apology after pleas from Deputy Prime Minister, Gen. Moses Ali and others. My good friend confided to me later that the point he wanted to make and highlight for Parliament and Ugandans at large was the blatant abuse of donor funds earmarked for northern Uganda which had been going on with impunity for many years!
The British government’s decision to suspend all direct aid to Uganda came rather late to save the situation, but better late than never! According to the British Secretary for International Development: “Unless the government of Uganda can show that UK taxpayers’ money is going towards helping the poorest people lift themselves out of poverty, this aid will remain frozen and we will expect repayment and administrative and criminal sanctions.”
The ball is now in our court and if Uganda had decent, honest and principled leaders, the only option left for them is to resign and pave the way for general elections to enable Ugandans choose a new government. In Japan where personal integrity is taken very seriously, individuals implicated in such a shameful scandal would have committed suicide to save their face and the reputation of their families. Such will, of course, not happen here. I appeal to Uganda’s development partners and friends, especially the EU, UK, USA and the World Bank, to exert pressure on government to do what is legally and morally right. A friend in need is a friend in deed. May the LORD have mercy!
Amb. Acemah is a political scientist, consultant and a retired career diplomat.