The Warsan

The folly of walking against corruption

By Moses Khisa


It is highly unlikely that many Ugandans take seriously the presidential stunt of walking, ostensibly to signal commitment to stamping out corruption in Uganda. Speaking at the end of the walk, and addressing the ‘chief-walker’ rather directly, Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah referred to the exercise as “a waste of time and a public show for nothing,” according to Daily Monitor. Yes, it is. In fact worse.
It is a big joke and an insult to the taxpayer whose hard-earned money, taken by the State as revenue to finance public goods and services, is instead stolen, quite blatantly, no accountability and no consequences.
Mr Oulanyah reportedly added, “I come because it is a public show, but deep down, I know we’re going right back to practise the same damn corruption that we claim to fight…” “We,” yes, all present who matter, including those supposedly fighting it went back to doing the damn thing: Stealing using public positions and access to State power!
Apparently, Oulanyah stated that everyone has sinned and challenged anyone who has not engaged in corrupt practices to step forward. When it was his time to speak, the ‘chief-walker,’ the ruler, took the challenge, claiming he is a rich man, but has never stolen anything! But he also reportedly said being overweight is a sign of corruption, and that he had deliberately cut his weight from 106 to 76kgs.
Did he indirectly suggest that when he was overweight, he was corrupt and now he is not? To march against evil or for a good cause is a most welcome symbolic gesture. It helps in sending a message about what a group of people or their leadership want to achieve and what they stand for, their ideals and aspirations, their goals and priorities. This hardly applies to the regime of Mr Museveni and corruption.
Grand corruption, petty bribery aside, does not threaten Uganda’s current ruling regime, so the rulers do not have the incentive to fight it. It is not a problem to them. On the contrary, corruption funds and fuels the regime.
The NRM regime survives on nepotism and patronage – dishing out finances and favours to family and friends, to cronies and supporters. The ruler maintains his tenure in large part by supplying State largesse and buying support from as broad a spectrum of Ugandans as he can muster the resources to do so. He gets on the campaign trail from the day he is sworn in for a new term in office.
Where does he get all the money to fund a sprawling and oversized patronage machinery, including financial handouts and all sorts of material inducements? A lot of it comes from the national budget appropriated by Parliament.
The State House budget and that of the Office of the President have grown exponentially in recent years. Much of it goes to presidential pledges, donations and travel. But the money also comes from opaque and unofficial sources, from the many out there benefitting from the system and who give back to fund its continuation – that is the political corruption writ large.
Some are senior government officials and have family ties to the ultimate rulers. Others are contractors doing government work. But all are engaged in extracting from the public purse in different ways that we lump together as corruption.
In fact, we can qualify it as political corruption – grand financial malfeasance that preserves the existing regime even as individuals, extract from it for their personal accumulation. They extract so they can preserve the system and in turn the system gives them the avenues for more extraction. It is cyclical and reciprocal.
The scandals in the privatisation of government parastatals in the 1990s involved individuals highly connected to the rulers or the rulers themselves. This was the case with the divestiture of ground handling services at Entebbe airport and the eventual liquidation of the national carrier. There was the case of Uganda Commercial Bank too. And grand corruption in military procurement, guess which names featured in the big-money cases?
We no longer have public parastatals to give away to politically connected individuals, but we have public land, parcelled-out and commandeered in similar fashion as they did to the parastatals. We have large money infrastructure projects, many funded by expensive Chinese loans, from which schemers and middlemen with access to corridors of power extract slices and kickbacks from inflated bids.
It is the same modus operandi and actors cut from the same cloth as the previous ones. Of course, there are a few from the 1990s still active and running the show. They too marched against corruption on Wednesday!

Dr Khisa is assistant professor at North Carolina State University (USA).

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