The 1970s and early 1980s can accurately be described as reign of terror in Uganda’s history. Like the Jacobin factions during the French Revolution between mid-1793 and July 1794, regimes ruthlessly executed anyone considered a threat to their existence. While the NRM government has sought to establish order and address a situation fraught with peril, their failure to address corruption can be equated to previous regimes’ failure to guarantee security to their citizens.
Insecurity can be fixed by, for example, creating a disciplined and professional army and police force. Something I believe the NRM regime has substantially achieved and for which it has not received adequate praise. However, once corruption becomes a way of life or a culturally accepted practice as it has become in Uganda over the past 20 years, it would take a monumental effort to eradicate.
I often tell friends that our leaders are not imported. They grew up among us, we dine with them, they are our associates and most importantly, they are our relatives – uncles, aunts, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. Their behaviour once they assume public office merely reflects their upbringing and culture. We, as society, are squarely responsible for their convictions and dispositions. If, indeed, someone has grown up convinced that it is acceptable to help oneself to public money, it would be almost criminal for society to expect them to become custodians of that money.
Opposition politicians will say, with a measure of justification, that the only way to rid Uganda of the current proportion of corruption is by changing government – and I do not contradict them. But I think it’s going to be more complicated than they allow. Uganda cannot rid itself of this level of corruption without changing the culture and the way we view corrupt public officials. We must start seeing these people for what they are, thieves! Unlike our Opposition leaders, I am an idealist, yet even I concede that political change alone is incapable of improving our social services or aance our poor infrastructure. I hesitate to say that even three consecutive changes of government within the next 30 years would not address the unscrupulousness among our political class, unless we change our own attitudes towards corrupt public servants.
Hong Kong is considered to have built one of the most successful institutions to combat public corruption. A Usaid anti-corruption publication considers Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) an iconic and historic example of the most successful example of anti-corruption agency. The key to its success is, rather than restricting its activities to law enforcement, Hong Kong’s ICAC worked on changing public attitudes that consider personal loyalties more important than formal rules and public duties. I tell myself that it’s too early to despair. In Africa, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia has been praised for fighting graft in a country infamous for corruption. She demonstrated her commitment to tackle corruption when in 2012, she suspended her own son, along with 46 other senior government officials, for failing to disclose their assets to Liberia’s anti-corruption officials. Liberia’s example is an illustration that while government has a part to play in shaping people’s attitudes where corruption is concerned, the heaviest burden falls on citizens who determine how corruption is perceived in a country.
Similar to Hong Kong and to a less extent Liberia, we can nurse our condition by changing people’s attitudes with regard to corruption. And that can only start with the conversation at our dining tables at home.
Mr Makubuya is a Barrister. firstname.lastname@example.org
SOURCE: Daily Monitor