An elderly gentleman, who practiced journalism many decades ago, called me last week after he read the story about the Shs165 billon ‘pension scam.’
He was particularly intrigued about the part allegedly played by a journalist. The one who Grace Akullo, the Director of Criminal Intelligence and Investigations Directorate (CIID), claims got more than $350,000 from the accused to distribute to the police and the media in order to frustrate the case. ‘You mean a journalist can also be that corrupt?’ he asked.
Well, to me it is a no brainer. A journalist or any other Ugandan is a product of the system that we have built or destroyed over time. In Uganda, the normal procedure of equitably distributing national resources is all but dead. This is partly due to corruption and partly because of a deliberate attempt to create a power relation that makes as many citizens as possible, powerless and beholden to those who have unlimited access to national resources.
So the hospitals will lack drugs. The public school will provide mediocre education. The justice, law and order system will favour those who have the ability to buy their way. The good job will go to the one who knows someone or is willing to part with money or a sexual favour.
How does a journalist fit in? How does he pay approximately Shs1 million for each of his three children per term? How does he afford proper medical care? How does his build a house of ‘only’ Shs100 million in two years plus apartments or rentals to augment his income? How does he buy a good second-hand car of about Shs18 million to move around comfortably? How does he ensure that he eats to his fill, dresses decently, cares for his siblings and aging parents?
And here we are talking about an honest pay cheque of about Shs2 million per month (on the high side.) And this is a trade that is very involving and time consuming, that one hardly has time and space for a ‘side job.’
A columnist with this newspaper, Charles Onyango Obbo once introduced me to a new word that I have never found anywhere, when he said corruption ‘lumpenises’ society. A decent person in an environment like the one in which Uganda finds itself will have to adopt the habits and instincts of a lumpen in order to survive, lest they die crying.
Everyone uses what is in their hands all for the sake of financial gain. If one has to give marks, they may ask for sex. If it is in the medical profession one may give false HIV results for money. At that moment the one giving the results if oblivious of the fact that the recipient may infect his sister, daughter or wife -and thus himself. If one is an officer of the law, they may let a criminal off the hook -and punish the innocent forgetting that the criminal may one day engage in a crime like murder or theft that directly or indirectly affects the officer.
The journalist is from this same stock of people. He like the Shakespearian Shylock, feels pain, gets hungry, bleeds when pricked, and fears poverty like any other Ugandan. So he is bound to behave like any other Ugandan when push comes to shove.
In his hands is information and it is the power of information that he will harness. Hold it back or publish it, add a lie or two or withhold the truth whichever is financially rewarding at that moment.
Lets us add that the sweetener may come in the form of transport allowance, wedding contribution, an iPad, a laptop, a trip abroad with money for shopping, a set of new tyres or a car, etc. So don’t be fooled by those lamenting that they ‘studied the wrong journalism’ simply because they have not been approached by people with $350,000. Compromise big or small is compromise. It is the action and the intention that matters.
Then why does it surprise many when it is claimed that some journalists are corrupt? Well the reason is that the journalist by nature of his work, act as the mouth, eye and ear of society -and people are bound to take their words seriously.
Because they expose evil they tend to look righteous. Besides, this tradition of exposing the wrongs of society makes people believe that since journalists know what is bad, they are bound not to practice it. Wrong. Preaching water and drinking wine is as old as time!
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @nsengoba
SOURCE: Daily Monitor