By Stephen Twinoburyo
Having lived in South Africa right from the time of its first bid to host the World Cup up to the time it has hosted the 2010 showpiece, I marvel at the great work that has been done in order to host this tournament. In building and upgrading infrastructure, the South African government took long term goals into consideration in that the developments made will help the country for very many years to come.
All planned projects were completed and there is value for money to be seen. Even perennial critics will find it difficult to pick fault. Though there was an added emphasis, this was a continuation of the way things are normally done. Money allocated for projects is usually used to complete those projects and there is proper accountability for that. There could be an inflation of the cost but there is hardly a delivery of less value than budgeted for but where this happens and is discovered, consequences follow.
While having a discussion with a friend, the talk shifted to the general behaviour in Uganda. Corruption has become so engrained that the majority of Ugandans hardly think about the general good of the society they live in but rather individual acquisition, even if that means taking what belongs to the rest of the population. No national or social project in Uganda can be completed at its proper cost and value. The people involved ensure that they take as much out of it as to barely leave something to show that some work has been done. Unbelievable as it may sound, some people in highly respectable positions use all the money allocated for a project and the project never takes off at all.
The leaders are quick to blame colonialists as the cause of the country’s problems yet one wonders who of the two is the cause of greater misery to the people. One wonders who of the two has led to greater suffering and done less for the people. The situation as it is in Ugandan has largely risen out of the country’s leadership.
When President Museveni came to power 25 years ago, he raised so much hope by promising to fight corruption and build ethics among the people. For a while, many people believed him and donors poured money into the country, especially after his impressive fight against HIV/AIDS. However this promise quickly grew into the most extensive corruption machinery Uganda had ever seen. When top Museveni aides and cronies started massively taking public money with impunity and without any consequences, the public trust vanished. It has become a norm for anybody to “milk” the public purse to dryness, with only paperwork or a scant cover-up to show that something has been done. Sadly this now even happens when individuals are dealing with each other.
Foreign investors in Uganda say they find the cost of running business in the country so high because of the massive bribes they have to pay at every turn. They can never get even a simple document signed without bribing somebody. Some potential investors have reconsidered their investments due to the prohibitive costs of corruption. One investor recently reconsidered a power project to Uganda because of the costly bribes required but engagements went smoothly in DRC and other SADC countries where the project will be launched. Anybody who has visited Uganda knows about the incessant power failures.
Is it not a shame that millions of dollars allocated by the Global Fund to the fight against TB and HIV/AIDS disappeared into the bank accounts of top government officials? As such the fight against the diseases was frustrated and thousands must have lost their lives while a few people that happened to be in the path of that money have become massively rich. As usual, after exposures of such, some kind of investigation follows and a few inconsequential people are thrown in prison to placate foreign observers and media until the case is forgotten. For the Global Fund, the money was never recovered, the implicated people are free, the government promised tighter controls and more money was released.
In another case, it is unbelievable that money allocated to prepare Kampala city for the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) summit, among other malpractices, was diverted by government ministers to build roads to their homes and claim they were upgrading the city. Needless to say, all the public roads that were upgraded got washed away within 6 months of the summit’s end. That summit was another enriching scheme for top officials and people connected to the president. Ugandans as usual, sank deeper into poverty and misery. There is nothing to show for CHOGM.
DRC is another example. State resources were used to fight an unnecessary war and wreck communities but what it produced were massively rich Ugandan politicians and top military personnel. Meanwhile many foot soldires that stood to gain nothing perished in that war. I am told that the difference with Rwanda is that Rwanda used what it acquired in DRC to build its infrastructure. Meanwhile the DRC may never recover in this century and the international community will write this off as one of those unfortunate moments.
This conduct has now pervaded all sectors of society in the country but there is nowhere it pays better than in politics because of the ability to make decisions and be within earshot of the president. It goes without saying that to be massively wealthy one needs to be close to the president as that will open channels of unmerited opportunities as well as instil fear in anybody, be it in police, public or private office, that may want to pose a challenge. Ironically, many people refer to somebody who exhibits non-corrupt tendencies as “a fool” and say he/she will die poor.
Somebody told me that people, even in respectable professions like the medical field, exploit or do unimaginable things to their clients so as to raise huge monies from them.
One wonders what will be done to change the mentality in Uganda. Any government that comes after the current one, as long as it’s not from the current leadership, faces a daunting task. Rebuilding trust, honesty and respectable institutions will not be an easy task. It will require great leadership and selflessness to turn around the current state of Uganda. Currently, hardly anybody cares about the country, much less the leaders.
It is regrettable that sometimes one meets Ugandans outside the country that say they have given up on what is happening in the country and will never return. There are those who never even visit. Then there are those one speaks to in the country that are so frustrated that they have given up on ever seeing goodness in the country and would get away if they got the opportunity.
Undoubtedly, the majority of Ugandans want to live orderly and decent lives. As long as such a desire exists, there is hope. There is hope that Ugandans one day will turn their country around. However, to achieve this will require strong will, great determination and sacrifice.