By Mayimuna Nabagereka
Corruption in Uganda, and indeed, in other African countries, is an institutional problem–it is a problem exacerbated by the existence of weak and dysfunctional institutions. No one individual, president or otherwise, and no matter how much power that person is granted, can deal effectively with corruption, unless he or she begins by bringing together all relevant stakeholder groups in the country to reconstruct the state and provide the country with institutional arrangements that adequately constrain state custodians (i.e., civil servants and political elites).
If anyone on this forum is really interested in minimizing corruption in Uganda and creating a new foundation on which the country can build a new nation characterized by peaceful coexistence, rapid creation of the wealth needed to fight poverty and improve national living conditions, including those of heretofore marginalized groups and communities, that person should recognize the role played by the country’s dysfunctional institutions in the perpetuation of a corrupt and/or “chop” mentality in the country.
Such an individual might begin by reading Jean-François Bayart’s L’état en Afrique: la politique du ventre (1989). I believe there is an English translation: The State In Africa: The Politics of the Belly (1993). Also La criminalisation de l’état en Afrique (Jean-François Bayart, Stephen Ellis & Béatrice Hibou eds., 1997). I believe there is an English translation–The Criminalization of the State in Africa (1999). Reading these materials should help the reader recognize the importance of institutions to corruption. If he or she is still not convinced, then read the following: John Mukum Mbaku, Corruption in Africa: Causes, Consequences, and Cleanups (2010). The key point brought out by all this research is that: unconstrained power can turn even a saint into a despotic and uncontrollable tyrant. That’s why Uganda has a got a dictator in M7 who claims that all money belongs to him.
The impact of corruption on the lives of Africans is often understated and not overstated. As one who has not only researched and written about corruption, but one who has been affected by corruption, I can tell you that corruption is probably one of the most important constraints to human development in Africa. A lot of issues in Africa, such as destructive mobilization by ethnic and religious groups that are marginalized by the ruling regime and pushed to the political and economic periphery, often have their origins and foundations in the corrupt practices of the civil servants and political elites who rule the country.
Civil service pay has very little to do with corruption. Some of the highest paid civil servants and politicians in Africa are also among the most corrupt. In fact, in studies of corruption in Nigeria and Cameroon, scholars determined that the most corrupt civil servants in these countries were actually among the highest paid public workers in the country. You may want to read Gould and Mukendi’s piece on corruption in Zaire/DRC. It is quite illuminating. D. J. Gould and T. B. Mukendi (1989), “Bureaucratic Corruption in Africa: Causes, Consequences and Remedies,” International Journal of Public Administration, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp, 427-457.