Charles Onyango Obbo
Corruption: What State House needs to learn about giving…and taking
Posted Wednesday, March 20 2013 at 02:00
Museveni can likewise immunise himself personally against such innuendoes. He should become mukono gamu (mean).
Daily Monitor just told us that UK oil company Tullow has denied it ever toyed with a plan to offer an “undocumented” $50 million (Shs130b) payment to Uganda President Yoweri Museveni as was alleged in a London court recently.
Kwahar Quereshi, a lawyer for Heritage, Tullow’s rival, told a court in London that Tullow’s oil firm’s Exploration director Angus McCoss, had suggested in an August 2010 group email to fellow executives, that the firm should pay for an oil licence to “meet the short term needs and demands” of President Museveni.
Quereshi was suggesting that Tullow had, well, paid our Head of State – or his 2011 election campaign – a bribe. First, there is something about this that fits a pattern I don’t like.
Very many Western business executives, diplomats, and media, usually throw about these accusations of corrupt African leaders very casually. Anyone who read the US diplomatic cables that were leaked on the whistleblower site Wikileaks will have seen a lot of these. US diplomats in the cables quoted rumours about Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete being bribed with expensive suits, and again there were wild rumours there that Museveni had eaten something from oil contracts.
Not that there is no corruption in Africa, there is a lot of it, but the troubling thing is that these accusations about presidents and other big men and women are often made without or with the thinnest of evidence. British media would take 100 times more trouble to crosscheck an accusation of corruption against Prime Minister David Cameron, than it would against any African leader.
Why this cavalier attitude? It is because either many African leaders have been corrupt, or have done nothing about graft when it has been revealed. The bar has been lowered so much, the threshold of believability is so dismal for African leaders that few question when they are accused of corruption.
In the process the brush of corruption tars even relatively honest leaders. But there is something else at work here, and President Museveni would do his image a lot of good by factoring it into his actions.
The perception that a leader is having his joints greased does not primarily come from him taking gifts and kickbacks. Perhaps an equal, if not bigger, source is the way he gives.
It is difficult to know for sure, unless it is on video and there are bank transfers, if a foreign businessman gave a president a kickback, therefore often it will remain in the realm of extreme speculation and bar gossip.
However, a president gives openly and it is often covered on TV.
So assume that there are 100 businessmen who have debts in the billions of shillings, and the president chooses only one, say Hassan Basajjabalaba, and pays or compensates him nearly Shs150 billion; that is likely to raise suspicion however much it is done in good faith.
Firstly, the other 99 businessmen will wonder why Basajjabalaba was chosen, and not them.
Secondly, even if they understand the need for a bailout, they and the public will still be perplexed why Basajjabalala, possibly the lousiest and most undeserving among them, was the one who benefitted. Why, they would wonder, not choose 10 businessmen and give each of them Shs15 billion, thus spreading the joy over a wider area?
Again, the most logical conclusion, however unfounded, will be that favours changed hands. If you give too much, or on a basis that is incomprehensible, people will believe it is because you are receiving something equally big under the table.
To put this in perspective, let us compare Museveni and Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki. The Kibaki government has been as embroiled in as many scandals, some bigger, than Museveni’s.
Kibaki is an aloof leader, who never reacts angrily to stories about his government and State House the way Museveni does. He will not send Police round to your office as happens in Uganda. And, by the way, Kenya has a freer media environment than Uganda. You would think, therefore, Kibaki would be accused more often by both local and international media of personally receiving favours from businesses. However, not even once has that allegation been made.
Why? My sense is that it is because of how Kibaki manages the politics of giving. He has a reputation as being extremely tight-fisted with his money. In 10 years, he has not given any “investor” even a quarter an acre of public land, or recommended anyone for a loan or a bailout.
Because he doesn’t give, it is virtually impossible to accuse Kibaki of receiving. Not even his sharpest critics will suggest it, irrespective of whether it is true or not. So Museveni can likewise immunise himself personally against such innuendoes. He should become mukono gamu (mean).