What you need to know:
- In Uganda, if you want to tackle corruption effectively, you must be ready to cram prisons with VIPs because they are the taproot of corruption, yet they control the police, prisons, the Judiciary. You cannot win. And Ms Kamya knows this.
The story goes something like this. A pupil in one of the schools near Kampala asked his dormitory mother to keep Shs5,000 for him. But when the pupil wanted to use the money and asked for it, he was ignored. The dormitory mother had misappropriated it.
Dormitory mothers, as the name suggests, act as the biological mothers of pupils, and they do just about everything to ensure the pupils, some of whom are as young as six, feel at home — away from the comfort and safety of their parents’ homes.
At night, the mothers check on the pupils in dormitories when they are sleeping. If a pupil is taken ill during the night, for example, they will be the first to know and will report immediately to the school’s healthcare professionals.
But the dorm mothers, as these women are often called by the pupils they look after, teachers and parents, earn laughably small salaries — like most Ugandans. It is, therefore, not surprising that a dormitory mother can misappropriate Shs5,000 belonging to an innocent child who needs it for Gorrilo’s.
This story says a lot about the abject poverty in which millions of Ugandans are trapped, and it is being shared because of what the Inspector General of Government, Beti Kamya, said on November 14, as Daily Monitor reported. While addressing senior civil servants, Ms Kamya said public employees should not be corrupt because they earn low salaries.
It was the right thing to say, but it is highly impractical. For each one of us, there is one key thing to consider: survival. It is the most important task that all animals have to perform because it is the foundation of everything. A dormitory mother needs to survive as does a policeman or a teacher. We must look for a way to survive.
Consider this: Ms Kamya was appointed by a president who heads a horrendously corrupt government, which she used to criticise. Although she is not corrupt herself, she accepted the appointment. It is hard to rule out survival since Ms Kamya was not known to be in gainful employment when she got hired. In fact, she had lost her parliamentary job.
Some may say that Ugandans who are engaged in high-level corruption that grabs the headlines are not looking to make money for survival. But as a former (Kampala) newspaper editor once told me, quoting a senior civil servant whom he had asked why people in public offices who are well paid steal public funds: “What if you get cancer?”
The civil servant said treating cancer requires tons of money and is often done outside Uganda. If you are diagnosed with cancer and it is at an advanced stage and you are short of money, he said, you have to die.
This takes us back to survival, which can be on a personal level or on a level of entities/institutions. The NRM government, for example, is blamed for corruption, but it is corruption (to a large extent) that is keeping it in power. It is corruption that enables businesses to cope with taxes.
How to get rid of this corruption is the million-dollar question. Corruption fixes problems for people who are financially secure and those who are grappling with financial impotence, although it does create more problems.
In Uganda, if you want to tackle corruption effectively, you must be ready to cram prisons with VIPs because they are the taproot of corruption, yet they control the police, prisons, the Judiciary. You cannot win. And Ms Kamya knows this.
Mr Musaazi Namiti is a journalist and former
Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk
[email protected] @kazbuk