Museveni pronouncements on corruption since 1980 elections

Uganda Patriotic Movement party presidential candidate Yoweri Museveni (right) campaigns during the 1980 elections. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • Responding to a question at a rally in Bushenyi District on why he was a poor minister, UPM candidate Museveni in 1980 said using government position to amass wealth is high treason and promised to eliminate the vice once in power.

Had President Museveni followed through with his promise during the 1980 presidential campaigns, Uganda would today perhaps be corruption-free. 

In 1980, the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) party presidential candidate was sometimes referred to as the “incorruptible communist-trained Museveni”.

The Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) party, led by Milton Obote, went ahead to win the controversial elections, forcing Mr Museveni and his group to start the Bush War in February 1981.

Current view

But 36 years later after the capture of power by Mr Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA) rebels, victory over corruption still evades Sabalwanyi (chief warrior), as the President frequently calls himself.

Speaking during celebrations to mark the International Anti-Corruption Day on December 9, 2021, at Kololo Independence Grounds, President Museveni warned Inspector General of Government (IGG) Beti Kamya to be careful with her lifestyle audit, the latest in a string of efforts to try and curb the chronic vice in the country.

Mr Museveni said “Uganda is still lucky because the thieves who steal government money are still investing it in Uganda through building five-star hotels”. With the lifestyle audit, the President said, the thieves will start taking the money abroad and there will be no evidence, which will be a loss for everyone. 

1980 corruption message

During the 1980 presidential campaigns, Mr Museveni was tasked by the public to explain at rallies why he was allegedly poorest of all members of the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) government. He was the vice chairman of the Military Commission headed by Paulo Muwanga.

At a rally in Ishaka Town, Bushenyi District, a member of the public posed the question to Mr Museveni, then minister of Defence.

In response, Mr Museveni said: “Using government position to amass wealth is high treason. If UPM is going to be supported because it denounces such methods of getting rich, let it be.”

“Whether we form government in October or not, we shall leave no stone unturned; inculcating the right political consciousness in our people,” government newspaper The Uganda Times of August 27, 1980, quotes Museveni as having said.

It is thought that the question about Mr Museveni being poor yet other members of government were rich was intended to humiliate him. 

Bushenyi was a UPC stronghold, therefore, hostile to other political parties, especially Mr Museveni and his UPM. Bushenyi was also home to UPC diehards such as Chris Rwakasisi, Edward Rurangaranga and Adonia Tiberondwa.

“When we successfully waged war against [Idi] Amin, we had no ulterior motives. We neither wanted to amass wealth nor inherit his structures,” the newspaper further quotes Mr Museveni.

Earlier, on June 3, 1980, while addressing senior members of the Democratic Party (DP) at Grand Imperial Hotel in Kampala, Mr Museveni said he resented corruption in the UNLF government and said, “I cannot stomach thieves of any type”.

The Weekly Topic of April 19, 1980, also quotes Museveni as having said: “Demagoguery, cheap popularity, intrigues, obscurantism and corruption will simply not do any more.”

While responding to allegations that the UNLF government was to nationalise the economy, Mr Museveni said: “We shall not nationalise people’s property, but we shall not tolerate thieves.” This was according to The Uganda Times, June 24, 1980.

While addressing a rally at Mbale football ground, Mr Museveni warned the corrupt.

“This type of leadership where people just amass wealth without explaining how they obtained it is tragedy for Uganda. We will get rid of it,” The Uganda Times of June 30, 1980, quotes Mr Museveni. 

Museveni in power

Four years after he became President, Mr Museveni lamented the level of graft in what was supposed to be a corruption-free Uganda.

“The major problem in this country is that the guardians themselves have to be guarded. We require, at all levels, leadership that has moral authority to lead. The leadership cannot have that authority if they themselves are tainted with corruption,” Mr Museveni said on January 26, 1990, during NRA’s 5th anniversary.

On April 30, 1990, while addressing the National Resistance Council (NRC), President Museveni regretted that “corruption is a cancer which, if it is not checked, will hinder progress in all sectors of society. Negligence and corruption, coupled with wrong methods of work, are a lethal combination indeed”.

During a press conference in Kampala in June 1980, after the launch of his party UPM, Mr Museveni said, according to The Uganda Times, June 6, 1980: “Cleanliness in leadership is one of the rarest commodities in Uganda.”

Close to 42 years later, President Museveni still soldiers on in his quest for cleanliness in leadership.