The corrupt are walking, tomorrow they will run

Friday December 6 2019



Benjamin Rukwengye

Benjamin Rukwengye 

By Benjamin Rukwengye

We need to start early. What does the future look like? If you have a child in boarding school, you must be familiar with the requirement to label their property, in big bold letters – or else it will get stolen. And if your child stands for a post as prefect at their primary school, you will find out that voter bribery isn’t just sacks of money and donations to dubious Saccos. Assuming that childhood is life’s purest stage, at what point did this bunch of eight to 10-year-olds learn to steal, from each other?

There is an interesting clip online, where President Uhuru Kenyatta is lamenting about the level of corruption in Kenya, and his powerlessness to deal with it. Along the way, he even asks, “Mnataka nifanye nini, jameni?” basically asking “What do you want me to do?”
The thing with corruption is that it has a peculiar ubiquity about it. All of us know it exists, because we experience its dire effects every day on the roads, offices, schools, hospitals, courts, and the police. Everywhere. We also have some ideas on who might be corrupt – because we can tell people whose lifestyle and riches that aren’t commensurate with their pay slips or intellect. And if you asked us, we could even volunteer suggestions on how they should be dealt with.

The problem though is that some of them are our relatives and friends – and we need their patronage – yet the remedies we suggest must not be selective. From religious leaders to cultural leaders, politicians, government bureaucrats, the security services, to the corporates and even the civil society. All of them, same WhatsApp group.
So, all things considered, it is safe to say that corruption is how things work – such an irony – around here, and that without it, how they would collapse. Which then begs the question of whether it’s really possible to eliminate something from which almost everyone benefits in some way? What would be the motivation?

The answer is in our anti-corruption strategies. It tells you a lot about the thinking that goes into the fight against corruption, when the go-to plan is to organise a walk, in the middle of the city, during traffic peak hour. The walk, even as a dumb strategy to deal with public policy failure, should have been organised on a Sunday morning, when traffic is at its lowest. But to lock down the city and inconvenience people who earn so little, but get taxed so much, only for it to be stolen by the same walkers is mockery or mental laziness, or both.

You have got to feel for President Museveni. William Pike’s book, Combatants, has some very revealing insights and anecdotes about the NRA bush war. In one of those, President Museveni is quoted sayin, “Corruption can be eliminated in two years or less. It can be done through the educative approach, or through police methods, arresting people and punishing them as an example. It is not as difficult as it sounds.”
You can also tell how seriously the fight against corruption and misuse of power was taken by NRM, which listed it at number seven in its 10-Point Programme. That should also tell you that it is an age-old vice and not necessarily the creation of NRM or President Museveni.

In the same interview, the President also reasons that “a desperate economic situation induces people to be corrupt.” But this is a contradiction if you consider that corruption has consistently grown in tandem with Uganda’s economic transformation and progress under the NRM.
What has happened, is that a bigger kitty exacerbated the politics of patronage, and created a ‘Chief blesser’. Even then, it is hard to imagine or argue that anybody else, under the circumstances, would fare any better. It is just the way the system is built.
The irony in all of this is that corruption is thriving even amid the tyranny of morality, religion and trumpeting of traditional values. It will not go, if the price is a front-row seat in church or a promotion at work.

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So then, what does the future look like? If you have a child in boarding school, you must be familiar with the requirement to label their property, in big bold letters – or else it will get stolen. And if your child stands for a post as prefect at their primary school, you will find out that voter bribery isn’t just sacks of money and donations to dubious Saccos.

Assuming that childhood is life’s purest stage, at what point did this bunch of eight to 10-year-olds learn to steal, from each other? How do they know that to win an election as time keeper or compound prefect, they will need biscuits and sweets to motivate the electorate. Now imagine of them as adults!
If Uganda is walking, President Uhuru might need to organise a run, and share his notes because we’ll definitely need one a few years down the line. But that’s not how you deal with corruption.

Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. rukwengye86@gmail.com

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