Are Ugandans inherently corrupt?

11 Min Read

March 14, 2013 By IdaHorner

Uganda has made it in the international headlines for Aid related fraud  a couple of times that stand out for me. In 2005, officials at the Ministry of Health, as well as Project Managers misappropriated $1.5 Million that was given to Uganda by the Global Fund, to mitigate TB, Malaria, and HIV/AIDS (Aidspan 2008 pg.1-2) And in 2012 the employees of the Office of the Prime Minister in Uganda, diverted over £9 million that was meant for health care facilities in Northern Uganda into their personal accounts (The Guardian 16 November 2012).

This most recent incident left me with a few questions

  1. Why do donors continue to send aid to Uganda
  2. Are the donors themselves to blame for the misappropriation of this money
  3. Are we (Ugandans) inherently corrupt ?

I am doing a more detailed study with respect to the first question so will not attempt to answer it here.

Are the donors themselves to blame for the misappropriation of this money?

This is a broad question too but there is certainly evidence that suggests that donor governments are not entirely blame free when it comes to aid money being misappropriated. The basis of the blame is to partly to do with the UN target of 0.7%, in short donor countries have to spend (give) 0.7% of their Gross National Income on aid and sometimes to countries that cant manage the money.

Opponents of this target have put forward some compelling evidence but for our purposes,  I would like to draw your attention to the evidence given by Ms Wrong to the House of Commons Economic Affairs Committee. Asked about corruption in aid recipient countries she said

“The obvious way to get large amounts of money out of the door is to give it as direct budgetary aid, but that means very little oversight unless you trust the Auditor General in the country concerned and that is often a mistaken assumption to make. You are either going to have to do it as direct budget aid, which you cannot then monitor, or you are going to give it to multilaterals and then you are depending on their processes, or you are just not going to give it. But you have to give it because you have to meet 07% aid, so I do not understand how you square that circle”

If donors can’t follow the money, the money is vulnerable to thieves. A point for consideration here is the possibility that some aid recipient countries do not have the capacity to absorb large amounts of foreign aid.

When that happens  there is every likelihood for large windfalls of money to be misappropriated. I imagine , but have no proof of this, that aid recipient governments will also be under pressure to spend this money or lose it. If this is indeed the case, most governments are likely to spend that money than lose it and I am sure you can work out the bits in the middle.

But doesn’t all this boil down to trust?

Surely the people that gift us the money expect us to use it for the purpose it has been given or is that too much to ask? Which brings me to the question 3

Are we (Ugandans) inherently corrupt?

I must admit, this is an odd question, but possibly one that we must ask of ourselves, Most Ugandans that I know are at a loss as to what can be done to stamp out of corruption and in fact most are angry about the continued theft of public funds. Initiatives such as Black Monday have sprung up in the face of increased corruption in public office.

But truth be told corruption in Uganda is not confined to public office/systemic, It permeates day-to-day life and is fed by citizens who do not even recognise that there are contributing to it.

Let me give you an example of something I witnessed during my last visit

I got onto a wrong bus and found myself in Ishaka West Uganda instead of Ruhanga SW Uganda. The bus driver got me onto a taxi back to Mbarara  an hour away from where I was, so that I could catch the right bus.

The taxi was a normal family car that should ideally carry 5 people including the driver. But to maximize his income the driver insisted on carrying 4 people in the back, we were literary sat in each others’ laps.

Along the way we stopped and the driver went into a shop to buy something and this point he added one more person to the front seat making that 3 including him. I watched with some amusement as to how he would drive with the third person literary sat on the handbrake and obstructing part of the steering wheel. This person also had to hold the several bottles of water that the driver had bought in the shop.

We were soon  on our way again at life threatening speeds. As we approached a Police check point, the driver told the middle person to lower his head in order to give the impression that there is only person and the driver and this would ensure the Police would not stop him.

And sure enough the Police didn’t stop us. But the taxi driver stopped a few yards from the Police checkpoint, got out and matched over to the Police and handed them the bottled water he had bought in the shop.

When he got back to the car, some of the passengers lauded him for his kind act. It was a hot day and no doubt the Police appreciated the water. They were on highway surrounded by woodlands and not a shop in sight.

The taxi driver said he had not done this out of kindness but instead as an “insurance policy”, this would ensure that the Police would not stop him in future, should he overload his car.

Crucially, none of us dared to challenge the taxi driver’s actions nor complained to the Police about what had just happened.

Yes, we all conspired to break the law and to deceive the Police   because we wanted to get somewhere fast and this corrupt taxi driver was going to get us there!

A few days later I found myself discussing corruption in Uganda with a woman  who had stood for local elections and lost because in her view she would not buy the locals’ votes. Here is what she said

I don’t have personal resources to buy votes and the only way I could have done that was to take out a bank loan, but I would have to pay back that bank loan. The only way I could achieve that is by diverting public funds for personal use. This would deprive local schools and hospitals of vital funds they need to save lives etc. by accepting bribes for votes the local people don’t realize that they contribute to the poor state of schools and hospitals.

Where am I going with this?

Buying our way out situations is a way of life so much so that we don’t question it and worryingly we don’t even appreciate that it is this,  that feeds the corruption that we take to the streets to protest against.  The people in public offices are part of the same system that doesn’t recognize corruption because it has become a way of life and given half the chance they will steal public funds.

So as you can see we are all in this together, we feed corruption!

We pay people to do a job that they are already paid to do in exchange for preferential treatment

We pay off traffic cops so that they can turn a blind eye to our driving misdemeanors

I would be interested to hear about the experiences of other African countries. Are these issues peculiar to Uganda?  Can you relate to some of the issues raised here?

How do you cope with corruption in your country?

Did you enjoy this article?

Have these posts delivered directly to your inbox

Never miss another post! Join 20,000 other smart readers and have content delivered on a weekly basis.

Share This Article