Corruption grip on Uganda: Can Museveni’s latest vow bring relief?

By Odeke Bazel 

President Yoweri Museveni’s recent declaration to combat corruption has sparked a mix of reactions among Ugandans. While some view it as a positive step towards addressing a longstanding issue, others see it as a tactical manoeuvre to appease international donors and maintain his grip on power.

Uganda’s corruption conundrum is deeply entrenched, with the country ranking 144 out of 180 in Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index. The World Bank estimates that corruption costs Uganda’s economy approximately 500 billion shillings (around $130 million) annually. This staggering figure underscores the urgent need for meaningful reform.

Despite Uganda’s impressive economic growth, with a GDP growth rate of 4.59% in 2022 and a GDP per capita of $964, corruption remains a significant obstacle to development. The country’s economy has grown at an annual rate of 6.5 per cent over the past 36 years, but the benefits of this growth have not trickled down to the majority of the population. Over 21 per cent of Uganda’s population lives in poverty, and 15 per cent of the youth are unemployed.

Museveni’s regime has been criticized for its authoritarian tendencies, human rights abuses, and suppression of political opposition. Corruption has been a pervasive feature of his rule, with those close to the regime benefiting from lucrative government contracts, land deals, and other forms of state capture.

A 2020 report by the African Development Bank noted that Uganda’s corruption burden is exacerbated by weak institutions, lack of transparency, and inadequate accountability mechanisms. The effects of corruption have been devastating for Ugandans. The country’s healthcare and education systems are in disarray, with many citizens unable to access basic services. Infrastructure development has been stifled, and the economy has suffered as a result of corruption and mismanagement.

According to the World Health Organization, Uganda’s healthcare system loses approximately 20% of its budget to corruption each year. Similarly, the country’s education sector loses around 15% of its budget to corruption annually.

Museveni’s promise to tackle corruption is not new. He has made similar vows in the past, only to fail to follow through. In 2018, he launched the “Anti-Corruption Unit” within the State House, which was supposed to tackle corruption in the public sector. However, the unit has been criticized for its lack of independence and effectiveness.

This time, Museveni claims to have a comprehensive plan to tackle corruption. His approach includes strengthening institutions, increasing transparency, and punishing corrupt officials. However, the plan lacks specific details and timelines, raising concerns about its sincerity and feasibility. The plan’s success hinges on the government’s willingness to implement meaningful reforms, including the establishment of an independent anti-corruption agency, the strengthening of whistleblower protection laws, and the implementation of asset declaration requirements for public officials.

The international community has been critical of Uganda’s corruption record, with many donors conditioning their aid on the country’s ability to tackle corruption. The European Union, for instance, has withheld aid to Uganda due to concerns over corruption and human rights abuses. In 2020, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) suspended aid to Uganda’s health sector due to corruption concerns.

In conclusion, Museveni’s latest vow to tackle corruption is a positive step, but it requires concrete actions to be taken seriously. Ugandans deserve better, and it’s time for their leader to deliver. The international community must also hold Museveni accountable for his promises and ensure that aid is conditional on tangible progress in tackling corruption. Only then can Uganda hope to break free from the shackles of corruption and achieve meaningful economic and social development.

The Author is a Researcher, Political Commentator and a Social Worker

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