chapter  4
Elite Corruption and Regime Consolidation
Pages 13

Elite corruption in Uganda Corruption in Uganda has been subjected to increasing public exposure since the mid-1990s. Transparency International (TI), the non-governmental organization devoted to fighting corruption, has, in its annual Corruption Perceptions Index, ranked Uganda regularly since 1995 as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. In 1998, the World Bank drew attention to corruption in several areas of state activity. It reported that ‘numerous sources confirm the existence of a high level of corruption in Uganda’ (World Bank 1998b: 39). Many high-profile graft cases have been exposed in the Ugandan media since then, some of which will be examined in following chapters. These scandals have involved state and business elites, and reached the highest levels of the country’s political leadership. Elite corruption in Uganda was, of course, not introduced by the NRM. It existed as well under previous governments, although arguably only under the NRM has it become a serious problem. Under the first post-independence Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) government (1962-71), high-level corruption was limited. Government officials were respected for their integrity as well as being well regarded for managing well-functioning state institutions. The government of Milton Obote was considered relatively clean. The military dictatorship of Idi Amin (1971-9), however, saw the proliferation of corruption at all levels of the state machinery. There was some personal enrichment by top political leaders and associated private entrepreneurs, particularly through coffee smuggling; and systematic plundering was carried out by the army. Corruption among state officials was generally of a petty nature, and, essentially, a means of consolidating their support for the system (Kasfir 1983). Under the second Obote presidency (1980-5), petty graft continued to pervade the public sector, but only the occasional high-profile scandal involving state elites surfaced. When the NRM came to power in 1986, it set up several unofficial inquiries into the affairs of government ministries under Obote II. Not a single UPC minister was charged for abuse of office. Yet under the NRM, in power for twentyseven years, corruption has become marked in the higher echelons of the public sector. Although difficult to measure, long-term Uganda observers believe that it

has been greater in the two decades since 1986 than under previous postindependence regimes.1 When the NRM seized power, it ranked corruption as one of the problems that needed to be rooted out from Uganda’s body politic. One of its goals, as identified in its Ten-Point Programme, was the ‘elimination of corruption and the misuse of power’ (Museveni 1985). President Yoweri Museveni and other top leaders spoke out against abuse under previous regimes and committed themselves publicly to fighting it. In doing so, they sought to depict the Obote and Amin regimes as pervasively corrupt ones, as well as to enhance their own moral stature in seeking to end corruption. They established the office of the Inspectorate of Government (IG) in 1986 as evidence of their desire to tackle graft. And over the years since then, they have instituted or revived various institutional and other mechanisms to combat corruption in the public sector. But within a decade of their assuming power, observers were remarking on how serious a problem corruption had become under the NRM. An editorial in the Daily Monitor (31 October 1997) referred to ‘the misdeeds of an increasingly corrupt executive’. After a quarter-century of rule, ‘misuse of power’ remains prevalent in many areas of state activity, and constitutes a matter of concern to both Ugandan and international observers.2