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Corruption: Don’t hate the players, change the game

(Photo credit: Annah Nafula)

By Philip Matogo

The scaffolding of Uganda’s legal anti-corruption framework is the Anti-Corruption Act, the Penal Code, the Inspectorate of Government Act 2002, the Public Finance Management Act 2015 and the Leadership Code Act 2002 (LCA).

Again, the Penal Code provides instruments to deal with various corruption offences, including embezzlement, causing financial loss, abuse of office and fraud.

However, with all these sentries with their daggers drawn to decapitate the hydra-headed monster of corruption, it continues to flourish instead of founder on the reef of better governance.

This is clearly because Uganda’s neo-patrimonial system doesn’t set great store by the fight against corruption. Instead the system is built upon a spoils system whose unwritten credo is “to the victor belong the spoils.”

So when the Movement wins an election, it gifts government civil service jobs to its supporters, friends, and relatives as a reward for working toward victory, and as an incentive to keep working for the party—as opposed to a merit system, where offices are awarded on the basis of some measure of merit, independent of political activity.

That is why you are likely to find merry Andrews like Al-Hajji Abdul Nadduli as ministers while leaders who are quick on the uptake like Norbert Mao out in the cold.

As a byproduct of Nadduli and company being in office, many Ugandans have resorted to condemning and hating these clowns nominally known as our leaders. And since these ministerial appointees are not there on merit, they are there to ‘eat’ as corruption grows with their insatiable appetites. This corruption in turn shapes a cabal brought together by the honour among thieves.

“Sometimes you gotta have a little dirt on you for anybody to trust you,” Denzel Washington’s character Alonzo Harris told Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) in the 2001 movie Training Day.

By this token, these thieves can only allow you a seat at the table if you are willing to be as corrupt as they are. And a dragnet of corruption is thus expanded as the public’s hatred grows partly because corruption is wrong, but mostly because they have been excluded from the banquet.

And such hatred festers into a displaced aggression. Which, by definition, is aggression that cannot be expressed to the actual source that provoked the behavior. Instead, the anger is released onto someone who had nothing to do with the original conflict.

That is why many people in the opposition and the general public are consumed by a loathing that is expressed even when discretion would serve as the better part of valour. A case in point is the ethnocentric social media commentary surrounding the death of Arnold Ainebyona Mugisha, 26, who was shot dead in July last year by a Saracen guard at a Kampala city suburb supermarket.

Somehow, due to Ainebyona being from the same region as many government leaders who Ugandans claim have ‘Bogarted’ the spoils of power, he personified the disenchantment with NRM rule.

I used to sympathize with this rage until I watched standup comedian Dave Chappelle’s comedy special: The Bird Revelation.

In it he says, “The end of apartheid should have been a bloodbath by any metric in human history, and it wasn’t. The only reason it wasn’t is because Desmond Tutu and Mandela and all these guys figured out that if a system is corrupt, then the people who adhere to the system and are incentivised by that system are not criminals. They are victims, and the system itself must be tried.”

It thus becomes clear that it is the system and not the Musevenis, Elly Tumwines who must attract the enmity of the public. Because, as long as the system incentivises corruption, today corruption will be perpetrated by that empty suit in government and tomorrow, it will be perpetrated by you and I.

That is why we see crusaders against corruption outside the system instead of within it. And more often than not, those who were in the system and lose favour with the president tend to become crusaders against his suddenly unseemly regime.

Thus the neo-patrimonial system must be identified for the corruptor of souls that it is and thereafter done away with in favour of a meritocracy.

This is the only way we can defeat corruption: by putting people in the positions of leadership which reflect their competencies and integrity as a means of rewarding excellence.

While, concomitantly, mediocrity and a lack of integrity are punished by incompetents being passed over when it comes to jobs. Of course, this sounds like utopia, but it sure beats the dystopia in which we live today.

This article was originally published on The Daily Monitor.


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