Why does Museveni tolerate corruption?

President Museveni takes oath in Kampala to kick off his sixth term in 2021. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Most of the same Christians attending Good Friday and Easter Sunday services and condemning the rampant corruption, themselves live by a degree of corruption, impunity, tax evasion and other indiscretions.

On this Easter Sunday as millions of Ugandan Christians commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the state of the nation will be on many minds.

There will be calls by clerics to the government to clamp down on the rampant corruption and abuse of public office.

Corruption and nepotism are emotive topics in Uganda because of the feeling of unfairness that comes with that.

Having sacrificed years in school and millions of shillings in fees, it is frustrating to graduate from university only to discover that one can’t get certain jobs, not for the lack of qualifications but because one is not from the right tribe or does not have the right political connections.
The normal civil service regulations, Rotary Club and religious injunctions call for upholding the laws of the land, church, and constitution.

Those who embezzle public funds or violate the Constitution should be prosecuted and, if found guilty, jailed or fined.

Jobs in government offices should be given to those who score highest in interviews and entrance exams.

Of course, most of the same Christians attending Good Friday and Easter Sunday services and condemning the rampant corruption, themselves live by a degree of corruption, impunity, tax evasion and other indiscretions.

President Museveni’s morality in public matters differs from the standard understanding of public conduct. He does not pretend to be guided by the Bible or the laws of the land when it comes to dealing with corruption. The laws of power are his working position.

As explained in the article earlier this year on the role of Gen Salim Saleh in National Resistance Movement (NRM) Uganda, there are two goals that override all others to President Museveni -- his continued, unchallenged hold on power, and keeping Uganda from falling apart.

Whatever makes these two goals possible is what he focuses on and all means and methods toward that end are what matter.

This gives some background to puzzling interventions by President Museveni.
When Justice Faith Mwondha was the Inspector General of Government (IGG), her attempts to investigate errant government officials often came to a dead end, with the President reportedly telling her not to be so hard on the corrupt.

It has happened to her successor Beti Kamya in December 2021. As she vowed to audit the lifestyle of public officials whose wealth is far greater than their official salaries and allowances, Museveni warned her not to do so.

Rather than give his support to something so obviously right for an IGG to do, Museveni said the corrupt when they steal public funds build five-star hotels in Uganda and, if punished by the IGG, will take their money out of the country.

This amoral and pervertedly pragmatic way of seeing things is typical Museveni and reveals how his hold on power has been constructed.

In his view, when corrupt public officials and military officers steal from the public treasury, they tend to invest in the country.

This investment gives them a stake in the economy and an interest in the stability and welfare of the country.

The owner of a five-star hotel, in other words, has an interest in a stable environment and high disposable income by the middle-class since these will be his or her patrons at the hotel.
The five-star hotels and shopping malls will indeed be built, but the legacy of this kind of amoral pragmatism will take decades to undo.

Corruption distorts the economy, robs the country of the talent of its best, impoverishes the population which, in turn, is unable to afford the services, goods, and facilities created by the corrupt rich.

This might explain why many of the hotels mentioned by the President lie mostly empty.
Last month, March 2023, Kamya announced that she would start an audit of military officers’ wealth, leading to yet another intervention by Museveni.

In a letter written on April 24, 2022, Museveni had explained to IGG Kamya that “the law must be in tandem, with logic”.

What is this logic? Museveni explained:
“The logic is that the identities and details of army personnel should be the monopoly of the CPA (Chief of Personnel and Administration). Even he/she may not know all the details because it is dangerous to do so. The wealth, in terms of conduct of the personnel of the defence forces, is monitored by a wing of CMI (Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence). This wing is known as counterintelligence. Military intelligence gathers information about enemy armies and other enemy groups. On the other hand, counterintelligence gathers information about possible pollution of our own defence forces (enemy agents, political subversives, corrupt people).”

There is some logic to this, if by it the President was referring to classified roles and identities of intelligence officers.

However, it does not detract from the fact that overall, Museveni’s approach is that corruption is not necessarily a danger to the country.

In addition to all this is the added part of Museveni’s son Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba.
Since April 2022 when his 48th birthday party and celebration became a national event in open violation of military rules and codes of conduct, President Museveni is mindful of this glaring contradiction.

If he were to clamp down on errant and corrupt military officers, he would unite them in defiance since many would wonder why their fellow generals are court-martialled for their misdemeanours but Muhoozi is not.

As the longtime Daily Monitor columnist Charles Onyango-Obbo put it so succinctly in 2004, the day President Museveni actually decides to root out corruption will be the day a military coup is staged against him.

And this, Museveni knows all too well.