About me.

Andrew M. Mwenda is the founding Managing Editor of The Independent, Uganda’s premier current affairs newsmagazine. One of Foreign Policy magazine 's top 100 Global Thinkers, TED Speaker and Foreign aid Critic

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Why red tape increases graft

President Yoweri Museveni claims he appointed his wife as state minister for Karamoja because ‘elites’ were rejecting the job (never mind only one person, Tom Butiime, turned it down). He also justified the appointment of his family members, e.g. his brother, Salim Saleh, to government positions as a sign of sacrifice, not privilege.

These statements are a product of both ignorance and arrogance: Ignorance because the president cannot see a clear case of conflict of interest, i.e. that he cannot be an objective or impartial judge of the managerial competences of his wife; arrogant because he places himself above human nature ‘ as a kind of god ‘ who can make judgements on people, including his family members, without bias.

Museveni claims he has spent almost 40 years in the ‘struggle’ for Uganda’s ’emancipation’. How come he has been unable to cultivate people who can ‘help’ him develop Karamoja in a nation of 30 million souls? What special attribute does his wife, who has no professional accomplishments, possess that other Ugandans lack which makes her best suited to ‘develop’ Karamoja? And how can God/nature be so mean to Uganda as to give these attributes to only his wife?

The recurrent theme of projecting himself and his brother as the only people who sacrificed during the struggle in Luwero is insulting. But it is this sign of self obsession that is responsible for the gross nepotism we see in the country today. Many people participated in the struggle, thousands lost their lives and many lost their limbs (Elly Tumwine lost an eye, Mugisha Muntu got bullets in his chest, Henry Tumukunde almost lost a leg, etc). Yet Museveni continually points only to his brother.

Many people who participated in the struggle would agree that Saleh was a courageous and brilliant commander. I personally find Saleh a man of extraordinary good naturedness ‘ kind, generous, modest, empathetic with a quick and brilliant mind. But Museveni’s attempt to accord his own brother a special status in the struggle at the expense of everyone else creates suspicion on both his intentions and the validity of his claims. It also betrays how strong the president’s instinct for nepotism is.

The entire Museveni family have no accomplishments of their own which can form a basis for anyone to make independent judgements on their abilities. None of them has gone to Cambridge or Oxford, Yale, Harvard, MIT, Stanford or Princeton (not even Makerere University) and gotten a PhD in computer science, solid mechanics or bio technology and then proceeded to become a successful software engineer in the Silicon Valley, a cutting edge designer at Rolls Royce or patented a micro chip that can diagnose diseases in the human body. Without exception ‘ his wife, brother, son, daughters ‘ all of them live off his patronage.

There is no doubt that Museveni is a man of exceptional qualities and ability. His has been an improbable journey from a family of poor illiterate itinerant peasants to president. His decision to launch a protracted armed-struggle to capture power is a statement of his strategic foresight. That he succeeded without much foreign assistance is evidence of his extraordinary organisational ability. His success at stabilising the political dispensation in a country that had literally fallen apart is a critical indicator of his exceptional leadership qualities. His decision to liberalise the economy that launched Uganda on two decades of sustained growth is evidence of his pragmatism. Finally, his initial success in projecting himself to Africa and the world as an enlightened leader has been impressive.

Yet, over the years, Museveni has also exposed the poverty of his personality and the parochial nature of his vision. By indulging in family rule, plundering national assets, stealing elections, destroying the institutional integrity of the state and spoiling our common patrimony, he has demonstrated that he is no better than other African dictators of old like Mobutu of Zaire, Omar Bongo of Gabon and Nassingbe Eyadema of Togo. His claims of sacrifice sound more ridiculous.

If Bill Gates successfully sought the presidency of the United States, he could legitimately claim to have sacrificed his iconic computer software business that has made him the richest man in the world to serve the American people. My friend Fred Balagadde (only 26 years) can claim that for his PhD, he developed a micro chip that can diagnose any disease in the human body, thus making obsolete the role of a doctor in human life. With a promising career ahead in a high-tech research firm in the Silicon Valley, he could claim sacrifice if he quit to come and serve as president of Uganda.

How about Museveni? He had accomplished almost nothing professionally or materially before coming to power to justify his claim that he is sacrificing by being President. His CV tells it all: Kyamate Primary School, Mbarara High School, Ntare School, Dar Es Salaam University (graduated with a pass degree), six months as a junior officer in the President’s office in 1970, a teacher in a rural cooperative school in Tanzania, one and a half years as a Minister in a chaotic UNLF government, war lord (he prefers to refer to it as ‘freedom fighter’), then President of the republic. Almost all his wealth has been accumulated while he has been in power.

Therefore, we have no evidence whatsoever that Museveni and his family could have lived a better lifestyle out of the presidency to justify this claim to sacrifice. Yet for whatsoever little sacrifice he may have gone through, Museveni demands exaggerated entitlements ‘ a residence that cost US$ 93m, an executive jet that costs US$ 8m per year to maintain and which he uses to fly his daughters to deliver babies in Germany, etc.

Lately, Museveni has justified his refusal to leave power on the grounds that Uganda still has serious problems which only he can solve. This is not a sign of self confidence. Instead, it reveals a deep seated complex born of fear that a successor may do a superior job and thus expose the myth of his greatness. It is this fear that has driven him to turn his family into cannon fodder in his reckless pursuit of power.

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