By Kintu Nyago
Though 50 years is a long time in a person’s life, more so in Uganda and many other developing countries, due to poor social indicators, not so in the life of nations. For instance, China has continuously experienced statecraft for more than 2,000 years, a reality we must appreciate if we are to understand its current renaissance.
However, even in our circumstances, 50 years of existence, as an independent post-colonial country is worth celebrating. It presents us with an opportunity to reflect about the past, make the best of the present and plan a better future.
As this young nation gears up to our Golden Jubilee celebrations, my focus here will be on the history of Uganda’s struggle against corruption.
And given that corruption is the abuse of one’s role, position and office, then I understand colonialism to have been its personification.
It was never invited here for that patronising ‘civilising mission’ as articulated by colonial ideologues; Lord Lugard, the missionaries and colonial administrators.
We were colonised for the political and economic gain of the colonising powers. Forget about Morton H. Stanley’s letter in The Daily Telegraph of November 15, 1875, that claimed Muteesa I had invited the imposition of Pax Britannica over Buganda. The wily Muteesa, in his right mind, could never have willingly offered the throne he had inherited from his ancestors, to foreigners.
Colonial policies were corrupt and corrupting to the core. This through the oppressive political, economic and legal structures they instituted to enforce their crude exploitation of our resources.
The effects were the extractive economic models that they imposed on the colonial society.
Colonial officials only accounted to the distant colonial office and Parliament in London. Colonial natives were there to be oppressed and crudely exploited and not to be accounted to. Such opaque governance promoted corruption and abuse. Even at the village, colonial natives never even contemplated to question the actions of a colonial chief.
The resultant colonial social political structure was ideal breeding ground for what we harvested then, and the early post colonial period (1962-86).
Although democratic practices are central in the fight against corruption, colonialism in its 60 plus years in Uganda never organised even a local council one election! And we need to take with a pinch of salt, the ‘good governance’ lessons from the West.
Against this background, the gross abuse of power and resources that we experienced in the early post colonial period was expected. As colonial cadres, Obote and Amin lacked the political will and capacity to radically reform the colonial state.
The abrogation of the 1962 constitution and killings and detentions without trial that occurred soon after were excessive and corrupting abuses of power.
The 1964 Nakulabye massacre, were the prelude to the aforementioned. More bizarrely, President Idi Amin routinely murdered men for their wives.
Such was the fate that befell Jesse Kasirivu, Sarah Kyolaba’s male friend.
The primary casualties of Amin’s criminal corruption were the political class. Including the then Chief Justice, Bendicto Kiwanuka, Michael Kawalya Kaggwa, an eminent entrepreneur jurist; and Anil Clerk President of the Uganda Law Society. Religious leaders across the board were not spared. For instance Archbishop Janani Luwum. .
State inspired terror and impunity continued unabated during the Obote II regime. For instance, Maj. Gen Oyite Ojok murdered, Sebastian Sebugwawo, the youthful DP MP for Mityana, when the latter, on the floor of Parliament, questioned Ojok’s fused role as de facto leader of the military and Uganda Coffee Marketing Board.
Unlike the 9th Parliamentarians who floated anonymous documents alleging Tullow Oil’s corrupting ministers, Ssebugwawo had his facts. Unfortunately, he was assassinated that same evening, on Wampewo Avenue, on his way home.
Few can equal President Museveni’s record of fighting corruption. For instance, his leadership stopped the state inspired violence and impunity alongside extra judicial killings.
Through ideological based political will, and the introduction of constitutional democracy, the fight against corruption has been institutionalised. Uganda has one of the best liberal democratic constitutions.
The policy of democratic decentralisation was introduced to empower the ordinary person, from the grassroots. In this regard, very few, if any other peasants, anywhere are equally liberated and empowered as Uganda’s.
Given that peasant village structures derive their mandate on universal suffrage. This empowerment has greatly contributed to the fight against administrative corruption.
The introduction of the constitutional and independent institution of the Inspectorate of Government has ensured the institutional fight against administrative injustice and corruption. Baring in mind that the bureaucracy and related state agents have historically been central in carrying out corrupt practices.
Under Museveni, Uganda enjoys one of the most liberal media environments in the world. Debate is flourishing with corruption being freely stigmatised and exposed. As we turn 50, as an independent country, our challenge is to consolidate these gains.
Our capacity to rationally manage and monitor our resources requires to be strengthened more so in light of the fact that our economy is to more than double, in the coming few years.
The writer is the Assistant Principal Private Secretary to the President
Corruption rooted in colonialism