Uganda: Why the War on Corruption is Elusive

Published on 8th June 2009

While addressing the Pan Africanists at Nommo Gallery, General Elly Tumwiine said they have launched a war against corruption, re-echoing the President’s state of the nation address. He called on Pan Africanists to embrace the war against corruption. 

Although I am grateful that General Elly Tumwiine was launching an anti-corruption war, corruption needs to be redefined. The President’s understanding of corruption seems to be narrow. The President narrows his definition of corruption to over-invoicing, air supply, embezzlement and white-collar corruption. I find two dictionary definitions sufficient for this article: 

1. Moral perversion; impairment of virtue and moral principles;

2. lack of integrity or honesty (especially susceptibility to bribery); use of a position of trust for dishonest gain.

My own understanding of corruption is that it denotes all aberrations, perversion and deviations from the moral principles and common good. Any form of abuse of office is but corruption. The government is largely responsible for the high levels of corruption in this country and it has deliberately refused to nip corruption in the bud.  Many graduates are rendered jobless as jobs are given on patronage basis. I  know many people working with government who are pursuing their Bachelors’ degrees and use mercenaries to write coursework for them. Ironically, the very bright but unemployed Ugandans are the ones hired to write coursework because they have to survive.  

In Uganda, there are many coursework bureaus around universities. These bureaus are not owned by average Ugandans but brainy people who have come out of the universities with very good grades but have failed to get jobs. The owners of the printing bureaus along Nasser and Nkrumah roads where the forgeries are mostly done are brilliant graduates who have found no other job and have opted to participate in forgeries as a way of making ends meet. These are the people who print university transcripts and UNEB certificates and are given money. I am sure if they had any other gainful employment, they wouldn’t indulge in this malpractice.   

Their failure to get jobs is not as a result of the fact that many people have graduated with university degrees. Research shows that Uganda has less than 1% of the people with university degrees. What this means is that there are many people who get jobs meant for university graduates with forged academic papers. Some people have been chased from the National Social Security Fund, the Uganda Revenue Authority and Bushenyi District Service Commission for forgery.  

If the government indeed was serious on fighting this form of corruption, it would prevail on all employing organizations to crosscheck with the institutions that the applicants and job occupants purport to have gotten their credentials from without necessarily informing the applicants and job occupants. If for instance, one submitted a degree transcript from Makerere University, the employers in this case the government departments and the private sector departments should send photocopies of the applicants to the University for Certification without the knowledge of the job applicants. The university staff then would cross-check with the person’s file and if the person has no file there, their applications should be rejected. Those that are already employed without genuine credentials should not only be fired but also should be prosecuted. By doing this, we would be able to kill two birds with one stone because, the would be coursework mercenaries would get jobs on merit and the people who forge documents would find it unnecessary for the forged documents would not help them secure jobs. 

From the foregoing, it is clear that even the president himself is not corrupt-free. The Ugandan press has time and again highlighted sectarianism in the government of president Museveni citing facts and figures and the president has not refuted the press reports. Sectarianism is one of the biggest forms of corruption which ironically was/is part of the reasons that made the National Resistance Movement/army fight a protracted bush war. Consolidation of national unity and elimination of all forms of sectarianism is number three of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) ten point programme.  

Therefore, given my understanding of the term, I am ambivalent about the Ugandan government’s wherewithal to fight corruption. Nevertheless, I am convinced that corruption is the worst vice to which all of us should point our guns but the president and his henchmen ought to first have a mindset change. Unless the root causes of corruption are handled, the corruption fight in Uganda will remain an illusion.

Vincent Nuwagaba

Mr Nuwagaba [email protected] is a Human Rights defender

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