Small fish get fried as big fish swim to pounce another day
Posted Sunday, October 27 2013 at 01:00
It is hard for any report on corruption in Uganda today to say anything new and insightful because theft of public money and abuse of office have been going on for such a long, long time. Corruption has since become a key part of the fabric of Ugandan society.
What reports such as the one Human Rights Watch released last week do is serve a more mundane but useful purpose: Pull together the disparate and discrete things we know into one volume, one central place. That makes for easy reference. It also contributes to coherence in the narrative about corruption and its continuing subversion of national development.
Who knows, some day someone will pick on reports like these, wipe the dust off and implement their recommendations. That someone will, most definitely, not be Mr Yoweri Museveni. Having allowed it to sink root and thrive, our President is incapable of dealing with corruption.
It is not that President Museveni is not aware who is stealing what. He has chosen to avert his gaze for reasons solely of political expediency. That is tragic. Mr Museveni is capable of so much more – at least he showed promise back in the day. He has the tenacity, the intelligence, the discipline and the strategic wherewithal. All those advantages have been squandered in pursuit of the life presidency.
His friend Olusegun Obasanjo could whisper to him a thing about political will. To back up his minister for the federal capital territory – the man he sent in his second term to go get Abuja working again – the President himself accompanied the official on missions to break down big people’s buildings sitting on road reserves or erected without city permits.
I will review Ahmad Nasir el-Rufai’s candid memoir in this space in the coming weeks. One thing the book, The Accidental Public Servant, teaches, possibly in very Nigerian terms if one recalls Chinua Achebe, is that no (social, political, economic) condition is permanent. It is not God-ordained for Uganda to remain mired in corruption and underachievement. That condition can, and must, be changed.
Leadership matters. The wretched way the security services and RDCs treat journalists in Uganda is a direct reflection of their interpretation of what they think the boss wants. And that is because the said boss takes to the podium every so often to denounce the media in stern terms. He sets the framework, the parameters. The rest is an easy job.
With corruption, several prosecutors, former and current, tell Human Rights Watch (HRW) that when the President says his former deputy Gilbert Bukenya has no case to answer when his prosecution is underway or that he will pay former minister Mike Mukula’s legal fees, that is a direct message to the prosecutors and other underlings: Leave these guys alone.
As one prosecutor in the Office of the Inspectorate of Government said: “If the head of state comes out openly to offer to pay for someone’s lawyers, what kind of message does that send to us? We know we cannot win.” We know we cannot win!
The other aspect, one which this column has denounced before – in fact denounced following the Mukula jailing – is tribesmen and women trooping to State House to plead and kowtow before the emperor to get a daughter or son of the soil off the corruption hook. The reason they do not go to the courts where a case is at, the report notes ruefully, is because they realise, correctly, that power lies with the President.
Because Mr Museveni has encouraged these dubious representations, he has undermined the Judiciary and everything associated with the process of allowing the courts determine legal matters without undue influence from anyone.
If Mr Museveni’s government has chosen corruption as a vehicle for patronage and will therefore do virtually nothing to stop it, some citizens have elected to do something.
But to underline just where the government stands on the issue, its security forces routinely harass anti-corruption activists, especially those organised under the Black Monday Movement.
That drew a sardonic comment from Bishop Zac Niringiye, a leader in the movement. He told HRW that the “priority in building capacity for the police has been to improve the capacity to arrest us, not to investigate [corruption]”.
We live in a fantastically twisted country. Uganda must win though.
Mr Tabaire is a media consultant with the African Centre for Media Excellence. email@example.com