Uganda’s anti-corruption drive and the woman on the escalator

Sunday December 8 2019


By Musaazi Namiti

A day before this week’s anti-corruption walk kicked off, I saw a funny video on Facebook whose poster said it sums up the approach the government has taken in fighting corruption. The poster could not have been more right.

The video shows a woman using an escalator and is walking—would you believe—in the opposite direction of the stairs. Because the escalator is moving, the woman thinks it is taking her where she wants to go.

But the truth is that she is not going anywhere. That is exactly how we are fighting corruption. We are doing things that cannot and will not reduce corruption one little bit, but we seem to think they are working.
The anti-corruption walk is the prize example. Another good example is the National Prayer Breakfast. It is CWOT, or complete waste of time, because evidence suggests that nothing fails like prayer.

The anti-corruption walk has been the talk of the town in part because the chief walker, President Museveni, is trying to show Ugandans that he is fiercely determined to fight corruption, yet many Ugandans think he has signally failed to punish the corrupt.

For example, a senior Cabinet minister who is very close to the president has been cited in corruption scandals, but Mr Museveni has never taken any action against him, much less explaining to Ugandans why the minister continues in his job.

Mr Museveni’s government, Ugandans believe, has only gone for small fish, when it comes to fighting corruption, leaving corrupt and powerful Ugandans to enjoy their ill-gotten wealth. People who are corrupt and have been jailed just happen to be politically insignificant, with no connections to the country’s ruling elite. If there is any campaign against corruption, it appears to have completely stalled.


This past October, I wrote a column that showed that the country’s score on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index had stagnated.

According to the index, the poorer the score, the higher the corruption. A score of zero denotes high corruption while 100 means there is virtually no corruption.

For the benefit of readers who may have missed my October column, I am reproducing what I wrote. I was only able to find the score for the past seven years, which is not to say that before those years the country was doing better.

In 2012, Uganda’s score was 30; in 2013, the score dropped to 26; in 2014, it was still 26; in 2015, it stood at 25; in 2016, it was still 25; in 2017, it rose to 26; in 2018, it was 26.

This dismal performance is surprising considering that the government set up a key body that is constitutionally mandated to fight corruption.
The current administration introduced the Inspectorate of Government, which has been around for 31 years.

The IG has had four Inspectors General of Government—Augustine Ruzindana, Jotham Tumwesigye, Faith Mwondha and Irene Mulyagonja (Raphael Bakku served in acting capacity)—but none has ever done anything truly remarkable and commendable about fighting corruption.

One of the former Inspectors (name not disclosed for legal reasons) once faced a probe, recommended by the ministry of Finance, for alleged corruption and abuse of office, allegations the Inspector denied.

The ministry had discovered that after salaries of judges were increased in 2006, from Shs2,583,000 to Shs4,575,000, the Inspector asked to be paid as a judge, not as IGG. The monthly salary of the IGG at the time was Shs2,900,000.

Politicians, who should lead the campaign against corruption, are themselves culprits. Mr Museveni, for example, has never told Ugandans how he expects them to take him seriously when he talks tough about fighting corruption yet in 2005, his government bribed MPs to change the constitution.

Back to the escalator story, the woman on the escalator stumbled and nearly fell down but was assisted by two men who told her how to use the moving stairs properly. It is not clear who will help Uganda.

The writer is a journalist and former Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk