Author: Kene C. Esom
NOTE: I had written this piece in response to the Uganda media’s covering of the corruption scandal and the developments around the AHB in Parliament.
President Museveni’s speech 1 in Entebbe on Monday, 26 November 2012 to
development partners under the auspices of Partners for Democracy and Governance
[PDG] made for quite an interesting read for a number of reasons. Firstly, in my
assessment it was one of the best State of the Nation addresses the president has never
made in recent past. In a marked departure from his previous addresses, this was not
solely a preoccupation with regurgitating tales of NRM’s liberation of Uganda and the
paradise Uganda has become since the advent of his government but also an admission
of the failings of his government in the area of public governance, particularly in
checking corruption in government. In defending the allegations of lack of a political will
to fight the menace of corruption, the President appeared to grab at every straw –
including blaming ‘Article 174 of the Constitution, the Public Service Act of 2008 and
section 188 of Local Government Act, all of which give power over money, contracts
and personnel to the civil servants, not to politicians.’ [not that there is always a
difference between the two].
Uganda is currently ranked 143/183 in the 2011 global Corruption Perception Index of
Transparency International and comfortably shares that bottom quadrant with such
African countries as Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, DR Congo, Chad2. With
Uganda reeling from multiple high level corruption scandals, most recently the thefts of
Pension Money in the Ministry of Public Service and the Northern Uganda
reconstruction funds in the Office of the Prime Minister both involving sums running
into over $200 million, the lack of transparency around access to and control over
Uganda’s oil resources, the unwillingness or refusal of Parliament to deal with these
issues decisively, and the cutting of donor aid by development partners as a result, the
President’s speech could not have been more timely. Perhaps it has taken this cacophony
of scandals to inspire His Excellency to re-examine his house and bring it to order.
Another issue that has placed Uganda on the world stage is the infamous Anti-
Homosexuality Bill 2009 which has literally seen the Speaker of Parliament, Hon Kadega
take international centre stage as the unofficial face of Uganda’s foreign policy addressing
what she probably perceives as the biggest issue facing Uganda presently, homosexuality.
It is ironic that this 2009 Bill seems to always resurface on the agenda of Parliament
whenever consensus cannot be reached on such challenging issues as dealing with
corruption or when there is an imminent threat to the powers of principal officers. Hon.
Bahati’s Bill has become a tool for holding Parliament together in the face of crisis, and
for appeasing the demands of Ugandans for transparent, accountability and financial
probity in Government, a gimmick that has been so successful in the past that the
Speaker of Parliament’s choice of a ‘Christmas gift to Ugandans’ was neither the
2 Transparency International, Corruption Perception Index 2011,
prosecution of corrupt public officials and the return of their loot to the State coffers nor
the decisive conclusion of the bill on access to and control over Uganda’s oil resources,
nor a promise of full independence and lack of political interference in the affairs of key
institutions such as the Office of the Inspector-General of Government, but a promise
to pass the Anti-Homosexuality Bill before Christmas.3 Unfortunately the Speaker may
have under-estimated the gullibility of Ugandans to fall for this trick especially in the face
of the recent spates of corruption scandals. More and more Ugandans have refused to be
fooled by this ploy; they are calling out the Anti-Homosexuality Bill for what it is
‘populist, opportunistic and hypocritical’ in the words of Pastor Solomon Male, Director
of National Coalition Against Homosexuality and Sexual Abuses in Uganda
(NCAHSAU) and former proponent of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. According to
Pastor Male, the Bill ‘is a waste of precious time, financial and other resources that
should have been applied more productively elsewhere’.4
It is therefore imperative for the President, in the spirit of his newfound candour, to
direct Parliament and his cabinet to focus their time, financial and other resources on
issues that really matter – fighting corruption in the public sector, access to healthcare,
access to justice, curtailing unbridled nepotism and tribalism/clanism in the civil service,
professionalism in the security agencies, regional peace and security, among others.
Positive changes in this regard will bring the much-needed goodwill back to Uganda and
inspire the people’s confidence in their elected representatives in a way that no State of
the Nation speech or diversionary Parliamentary posturing can.
Kene C. Esom is the Director of Law and Policy, African Men for Sexual Health and Rights
[AMSHeR]. AMSHeR is a regional coalition of African civil society organisations addressing the
human rights of sexual minorities and the access to HIV services for key populations.