Chris Mwesigye Bishaka
Corruption is usually defined as the abuse of public office for private gain. Its simplest, crudest and most basic form is bribery, which is ubiquitous in Uganda. From getting a valid birth certificate (in order to get a national ID) to a death certificate (for probate) and whatever comes in between, the average Ugandan must part with a bribe, euphemistically called chai (tea).
But a more nefarious and debilitating type of corruption is getting approval for government contracts and big investments which requires giving ministers and members of the first family and their cronies a piece of the action. Getting a government job with access to bribes is itself a valuable commodity and it is an open secret that employees in local district offices and members of parliament or district councils at all levels often buy their positions and as a result, such officials must then extort kickbacks to pay off their investment, while sending their superiors some of the take.
Such corruption has over time created patronage networks going right to the top that have completely eroded the state’s integrity and the citizens’ trust of the ruling government. Civil servants’ and politicians’ main goal is not carrying out their public mission, but extorting revenue to distribute to their families and cronies.
The personslistic rule of President Yoweri Tibuhaburwa Kaguta Museveni, where power has been concentrated in the hands of one individual who is not accountable to parliament, the military, the party, the people or the constitution, expends its energy persecuting (and prosecuting) political opponents instead of seeking to sanction public thieves who have deprived taxpayers of much needed public goods and services.
Personalist leaders have limited constraints on their decision making abilities and are held less accountable for policies, including those with negative outcomes. They are able to appoint friends, relatives, and cronies to important offices. These handpicked insiders have strong incentives to remain loyal to and uncritical of the leader.
The narrowing of decision making circles around good old Tibs to a small group of loyalists and like-minded advisors has eliminated competing voices within his regime and created a groupthink dynamic that has
impinged on judicial independence, civil liberties, and checks on over reach from the executive branch. Museveni is probably the least-constrained leader in Africa since there is no institution that could fire him.
However, as corruption hollows out the state and its institutions, the very system he has created to keep himself in power will most likely be the same system to kick him out.