Corruption has stunted Uganda’s economy and society

A child who does not eat enough in quantity and quality does not grow at a normal rate including acquisition of immunity against diseases and will likely die prematurely or will be disabled in many ways.

A woman who does not eat enough will likely produce an underweight child with permanent physical and mental disabilities including brain underdevelopment which occurs in the first three years of human life from conception and will likely die at a young age or fail to learn.

Similarly an economy and society that does not get enough investments in economic and social infrastructure and institutions does not grow at a high and sustained rate and people suffer from poverty, illiteracy and disease leading to low productivity and premature death.

In Uganda since NRM came to power in 1986, investments in infrastructure and institutions such as roads, energy, agriculture, education, healthcare, housing, research and extension services have been very inadequate. Endemic corruption has been a major factor siphoning off funds and stunting economic and social development. Thus, corruption has been a silent disabler and killer. Corruption has reached an emergency level that it needs to be addressed without further delay.

Corruption is the misuse of power for private gain. It occurs when a public official takes public money for personal enrichment. It also occurs when a private person or entity bribes a public official. In this way, corruption is like a tax on public and private funds, taking away those funds that would have been invested in productive sectors to promote economic growth and social development. Funds obtained through corruption in developing countries end up either in foreign banks or spent on consumer goods and services rather than in productive investment.

There is recognition that it takes two to tangle. Thus, most opportunities for corruption in developing countries are generated by interactions between politicians and public officials in developing countries and the business sector in developed countries. Therefore developed countries that facilitate and their banks that stash away ill-gotten funds must share the blame.

Controlling corruption calls for strengthening democracy, transparency, popular participation and accountability. Democratic and watchful free societies backed by vigorous and independent media improve chances of early detection, exposure and punishment of those engaged in corrupt activities. To succeed, anti-corruption activities at national level need to be combined with those at the international level through enforcement of laws.

When NRM came to power in 1986, it was fully aware of the corrosive impact of corruption on Uganda’s economy and society. Point seven of the ten-point program categorically stated that corruption particularly bribery and misuse of office to serve personal interests had been a major constraint to Africa’s economic and social development. For example, diversion of drugs from public hospitals by medical staff for private purposes results in patients getting underdoses that render some microbes resistant to drugs, creating many chronic cases and ultimately premature death. NRM government pledged to eliminate corruption from Uganda once and for all, receiving much public support.

Sadly, once in power, NRM government and party quietly shelved point seven of the program and embarked on massive corruption to accumulate money for patronage or personal gain, banking most of it abroad and spending the balance on imported consumer goods. Public officials – there could be a few exceptions – from the highest to the lowest public service level in Uganda are alleged to have demanded bribes before rendering public services. Those without sufficient funds have suffered a great deal.

Many officials with access to public funds have just lined their private pockets as witnessed in the GAVI case. Corruption reached scandalous proportions that some government officials justified it as an integral element in countries experiencing rapid economic growth as in Uganda. In order to keep corruption alive other officials have reasoned that corruption has become so entrenched and sophisticated that it cannot be eliminated.

It is important to stress that corruption has gained an upper hand as democracy, transparency, participation and accountability that would have check it have lost ground under the NRM regime. In a failed state and military dictatorship that Uganda has degenerated into, corruption has become order of the day in public and private interactions.

Donor complaints including reduction in development funds and public condemnation have not had any effect. Instead corruption is galloping at a faster speed, causing more harm to Uganda’s economy and society. Voices are being heard that corruption and NRM have become inextricably linked, meaning that to end corruption, NRM must go through the following strategies:

First, donor community – bilateral and multilateral – should impose targeted sanctions on officials heavily involved in corrupt practices, preventing them from travelling abroad and freezing their accounts in foreign banks.

Second, donor funds should not be channeled through central government. Instead they should be provided through credible non-governmental and civil-service organizations to render services directly to the public under close supervision. This action would reduce funds at government disposal for patronage and/or outright theft for private enrichment.

Third, donor support to the military and police – the two institutions NRM has used to deny Ugandans their rights and freedoms – should be drastically curtailed or eliminated altogether.

Fourth, donor community should facilitate a level playing field in Uganda to enable implementation of peaceful and civil actions against the NRM regime, reserving the right to use other means in self-defense.

Fifth, the media through the equivalent of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty that served Eastern and Central Europeans well during their struggle against communist dictators and a human rights accord similar to the 1975 Helsinki one should be launched in support of Ugandans’ efforts to get rid of a government that has failed to deliver in 25 years as confirmed by high levels of absolute poverty still above fifty percent, excessive income inequality favoring a tiny group of the rich, reemergence of diseases and lowest life expectancy in East Africa (Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania) and violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms including widespread torture.

The inhumane manner in which the president of FDC was treated in broad daylight for exercising his inalienable right to drive in the nation’s capital Kampala says it all.

Imagine what is happening in remote corners of the country and behind the scenes and you get an idea of hell Ugandans are living in. Even those in exile are not spared!

A combination of these peaceful strategies implemented with sincerity, will and consistency will not fail to end NRM regime that has relied heavily on external and military support.

There is a critical mass that Ugandans want a peaceful regime change. Military solutions to Uganda’s problems since 1966 have made matters worse.

The next government should be one of the people, by the people and for the people of Uganda with the military protecting Uganda borders against external invasion and the police responsible for law and order – not governing the country in military and police uniforms or in civilian clothes.

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