Charles Onyango Obbo
Crime, corruption are a leadership success for the Museveni regime
Posted Wednesday, October 23 2013 at 01:00
We steal each other’s wives and husbands. Our children are violently robbed of their innocence.
At a recent church service in Kampala, a woman had both her cellphones stolen from her handbag. No surprise there, God’s house has become one of the favourite hunting grounds for pickpockets and thieves. I was with a group of Ugandans when this theft was reported. What was revealing was the response of one of the good people I was with:
“…and I noticed the priest forgot to warn the people about thieves at the service,” she said.
I have been at church services where priests warned the flock of pickpockets. However, it seems the warnings are formally becoming part of services, and a priest or pastor’s failure to warm worshippers about thieves among them, is almost equivalent to him failing to say the Lord’s Prayer!
One of the Kampala Sunday papers then had a front-page story on criminal gangs with fancy names operating in the capital. Someone told me the story was “just the tip of the iceberg”. In other words, there are very many lesser-known gangs active in the city.
I too lost my phone at a funeral. My own sense was that it had dropped out of my pocket and was lying somewhere in the grass. No, people who know better told me. They told me thieves scour newspapers and listen to radio announcements for funeral announcements. They then hire a matatu and target selected funerals – and indeed weddings. Most funerals and weddings in Uganda, they said, end in tears for quite a few attendees.
Pickpockets and thieves have always been there in Uganda. What seems to be happening is that there is a dramatic escalation. Why is this expansion of theft happening?
Even though I was a victim, I am still rational enough to understand that part of this theft is driven by urban poverty (poor villagers don’t resort to theft so routinely). At a higher level, it is part of the wider class struggle between those who have and those who don’t.
But that is a very small part of the reason why we are seeing growing crime. The bigger reason was again illustrated on the weekend by a report on corruption on Uganda based on research by the New York-based advocacy group, Human Rights Watch, and the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic of Yale University.
It painted a bleak picture of corruption, saying that since President Yoweri Museveni came to power “waves of scandals” have hit his administration.
The report faults Museveni personally for what it calls widespread “bribery, nepotism, and misuse of official positions and resources” in the country. Corruption has turned Uganda into a Mobutist state, where graft now accounts for most aspects of State failure. My sense is also that if you want to accurately predict how Museveni’s regime will end, then study how corruption is working in Uganda today.
One of the most successful foreign policy initiatives and military adventures of the Museveni government has to be its role in the African Union peacekeeping force for Somalia, Amisom.
When no one dared, the Museveni government dispatched the UPDF to a Mogadishu that was still in the hands of al-Shabaab. They fought a long and brave campaign, paid very dearly, but together with Burundi that joined them later, they beat back the militants and made possible the establishment of the current government in Mogadishu.
I thought because of what the UPDF mission meant for Africa, the world, and Uganda, it would become sacred…the one thing which would be insulated against the ugliness of Ugandan politics and power. I was wrong.
We now know that commanders were stealing supplies for the troops and weapons and selling them to Somali bootleggers, and the very al-Shabaab militants they were fighting.
Two things are happening here. One, the rampant corruption at the top over the years has led to what we might call a “routinisation” or “normalisation” of corruption. Corruption and theft become the norm, integrity becomes the exception.
But there is something else more fundamental at work. The spreading criminality is evidence of successful leadership from the Museveni government. A key element of political leadership is the ability of chiefs to get the country to follow their example, and to change national behaviour by rewarding and reinforcing the characteristics that they consider to be the best. Clearly, the government has done a first class of getting the country to follow is lead-by-theft example.
Now public funds and assets are stolen. Votes are routinely stolen. Church collections are stolen. Soldiers’ lives are stolen. Parliamentary voters are stolen. We steal each other’s wives and husbands. Our children are violently robbed of their innocence. The Big Man hardly has any sense of shame and honour any more - I guess someone stole those too from him.
email@example.com & twitter: cobbo3