Corruption, power struggle and the inevitable fall of the NRM government

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Montesquieu defined corruption as a feature of any polity (democratic, aristocratic, monarchic or despotic) where its leaders fail to act on the basis of its core or foundational principles.

Growing concern about corruption in Uganda today from all quarters suggests something has changed since the preceding regimes. There is evidence of widespread ‘misuse’ of public resources. The concern is that the NRM government has not only failed to control corruption, but neither has the ideology to avert it. Today the NRM government, when asked about corruption, what does it say? It is a way of talking about a project of class formation over which it has lost control.

The office of the Auditor-General, for example, continuously asserts that local governments alone spend billions of shillings (irregularly), and more billions in expenditures of local governments are often found to be (unauthorized). Such recurrences have often been met with widespread consternation in the media and by opposition parties. Often too, the NRM government has received such “news “with dismay as well.

My argument is that the internal strife around contestation for power and state resources within the NRM, rather than differences on how to implement the collective manifesto of the party has, not only suffocated the last of a dying patriotic will of the NRM, but also weakened NRM’s claim to represent and act in the interest of the public good. Corruption, in other words, degraded the very and perhaps only nationalism or purpose of the NRM government.
Power struggles have shifted the focus of the cadres and members of the movement away from societal concerns and people’s aspirations. These circumstances have produced a new type of NRM leader and member who sees ill-discipline, divisions, factionalism and in-fighting as normal practices and necessary forms of political survival.

This ‘new type of NRM cadre’, self-interested and prone to pursue their self-interest through divisive alliances, benefits from government and party interventions, there has been a ‘misuse’ of public resources, that is, there has been corruption. Note the deviation here is relative to the NRM’s own culture, that is, its norms and traditions. That is why, for the NRM, the solution to corruption lies in internal organisational renewal: to reinforce the organisation’s own culture and to attract members invested in the broader vision of the Movement. In my opinion this is not a solution. The NRM is like a cancer patient whose only hope for survival or cure lies not only in the cure of the most affected breed but in the entire change of guard which realistically cannot be achieved internally. Not even the idea of recruiting youth or a new breed of cadres.

Chinua Achebe’s novels ‘Things Fall Apart’ and especially ‘No Longer at Ease’ (1960) make the argument in narrative form. Even honest and idealistic individuals entering politics or the public service are drawn into corrupt practices arising from their unenviable position at the interface of two, contradictory worlds.The first is a governmental system that calls on individuals to pursue their work according to anonymous rules and regulations. The second is a system of patronage that binds its members to obligations and duties on the basis of family, kin or friendship. Corruption, on these terms, arises when the pulls of kin and party loyalty overrides the obligations and culture of public office. In a version of this argument Jean François Bayart claims that corruption is especially severe in Africa because the state is the major force within the economy and political office is the principle route to personal wealth (Bayart 1993).

In summary, talk of ‘corruption’ in Uganda increasingly refers to members of the NRM acting in ways contrary to what is expected of them, either by the standards of the NRM party as a political organisation or by the standards of the public service. We are witnessing the weakening of a once solid and seemingly dynamite party. On the one hand it is bound to fall like a house of cards, slow and systematic. On the other hand, like quick sand, in a flash.
The NRM it could be said, was a set of individuals vested with a mission of general interest and invited to transcend their particular interests in order to produce universal propositions, who constantly had to labour, if not to sacrifice their particular point of view on behalf of the point of view of society, at least to constitute their point of view into a legitimate one, but have fallen short.

CREDIT: Wycliff Gratian

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