chapter  11
International Donors and the limits of Countering Corruption
Pages 12

Previous chapters have shown that a mutually beneficial relationship has evolved between international donors and the NRM government. As mentioned, donors have held positive perceptions of Uganda as a model economic reformer in Africa, and additionally, it has been a valued ally against terrorism in the region. For Uganda’s major donors – the World Bank, the US and the UK – promoting economic reform and waging war against terrorism have been vital goals. They have acknowledged President Museveni’s personal and steadfast commitment to these goals, especially since the mid-1990s. And, indeed, because of the Museveni regime’s acclaimed success as an economic reformer and important regional security ally, Uganda has secured strong international support the past two decades. Prominent figures at the World Bank and Western aid agencies have claimed periodically that President Museveni was committed as well to fighting corruption in Uganda’s public sector. Even as evidence of corruption and manipulation in state decision-making accumulated, the IFIs and the bilaterals have maintained their aid to the NRM government. Both sets of donors were concerned that aid reductions on account of poor governance could impede economic progress or undermine political stability in a country that had experienced political and economic turmoil during the 1970s and 1980s, but had made major strides in development under the NRM. And, in fact, during the 2000s, the IFIs and bilateral donors regularly increased their financial contributions to Uganda while simultaneously muting their criticism of corruption in the regime. Similarly, by regarding Uganda as an important partner in the ‘war on terror’, the UK and the US governments have been reluctant to press President Museveni on political reform and have also been remarkably reticent about criticizing high-level state corruption. The large amounts of aid resources that Uganda received enhanced the centrality of the central government in decision-making as well as contributed to NRM leaders pursuing patronage politics and corruption for political and personal purposes. Thanks to aid, the government has been able to maintain high levels of public spending and exercise considerable discretion over the distribution of state resources. Donor-sponsored reforms have neither led to a smaller state sector, nor ensured fiscal transparency and budgetary discipline and

developed open and accountable governance (Robinson 2007). Moreover, if donors voiced any criticism, they opted for diplomacy and dialogue to persuade the government to fight corruption. Unlike in many other African countries, the Museveni regime has not had to face ‘good’ governance conditionalities from its aid donors. As we argue in this chapter, the unwillingness of donors for many years to adopt a punitive approach to a regime seriously tainted with corruption, made the control of corruption nearly impossible. In a highly personalized political regime, President Museveni has played a key role in shaping relations with the IFIs and bilateral donors. Museveni personally engaged with senior World Bank and bilateral aid officials to highlight Uganda’s importance as an economic success story in Africa (Fisher 2011: Chapter 4). He also engaged with key US and UK political leaders and officials to emphasize Uganda’s importance as a valued anti-terror ally and stabilizing factor in an otherwise volatile region (Fisher 2011: Chapter 5). By underlining the well-publicized features of his rule, namely, peace and stability, sustained economic recovery and the fight against terrorism, Museveni has been relatively successful in convincing Western leaders not to be too critical of only limited achievements in the areas of democratization and governance. By cooperating closely with donors in areas of vital importance to them, the Museveni regime has been rewarded with substantial aid, but has also avoided much donor pressure in exercising discretion and authority in domestic areas of politics and governance. In some instances, however, there have been disagreements among donors on the wisdom of this particular approach, although the views of these more critical elements have seldom prevailed. Also, the donor-government relationship itself has not been without its tensions. But, in general, a mutually beneficial relationship has evolved between donors and the government that has weakened the fight against corruption in Uganda. In particular, it has resulted in the donors focusing on economic, security and development areas while the incumbent NRM political leadership shaped the processes of democratization and public governance, with donors playing essentially quiet diplomatic roles, checking the extremes of arbitrary rule.