How Uganda’s State House became the unrivalled power point of ruthless theft of public resources

How Uganda’s State House became the unrivalled power point of ruthless theft of public resources


When we recently wrote our article Engineering and institutionalising corruption through the Office of Prime Minister in which we gave examples of mind-boggling cases of theft of public money and properties to prove our case, we never suspected that it would attract a lot of interest within the country and across the globe, especially among Ugandans in the diaspora.

One concerned and enthusiastic reader asked us not to stop here but to go ahead and demonstrate how the Office of President of Uganda has been at the centre of engineering and institutionalizing corruption in the country for more than three decades. 

We have adequate information to demonstrate the centrality of the Office of President of Uganda in the scourge of corruption in the country. Being retired academics and old men in our 70s, we have decided to respond to the request by the reader to do justice to the role of the Office of President of Uganda in fuelling, sustaining and advancing corruption in the country. We have no interest in the quo whereby corruption is central to the economy because we are not beneficiaries of the scourge.

We are just obliged as senior citizens to have our take on the issue of corruption and how the Office of President may be responsible for most of the corruption in the country.

We have coined our topic as given above to break the monotony that would definitely arise if we tailored the topic to that we used to unearth the role of the Office of Prime Minister in the corruption scourge. In this article, however, we will not separate corruption engineered and institutionalised by the Office of President from that engineered and institutionalised by State House.

Over the years we have curiously watched the public residence of the President, State House, being fused with that of the Office of the President, just as the ministries of health, education and agriculture, have carried out functions hijacked from different ministries and institutions. This is, of course, a corruption of both governance and the national budget.

We will take corruption to be a very broad concept. We will, therefore, go beyond economic and financial corruption, which we concentrated on in our previous article. We shall see corruption as having numerous dimensions, including political, social, economic, financial, administrative, educational, health, scientific, technical, regional, ecological, environmental, biotic, cultural, spiritual, legislative, judicial, executive, moral, military, ethnic, investment, electoral, public service, et cetera.

Our assumption, which we have to prove is that the Office of President, and by extension, State House, is at the centre of corruption in Uganda, and its corruption influence radiates in all the dimensions of corruption but in a cobweb-like manner.

Therefore, corruption in Uganda is a complex phenomenon in our view, existing, persisting, proliferating, sustained and spiralling supersonically upwards with the Office of President and, by extension, State House, as its engine and pivot.

The following aspects of the presidency seem to explain the centrality of the institution in corruption in Uganda:

  • The Constitution of Uganda (1995) invests all power and authority in the person who occupies the Office of President and absolves him from being sued in case he committed a crime or a misdemeanour. The president is the substantive minister for Finance, with the minister of finance only deputising for him.
  • The tendency of the president to relapse into presidentialism, whereby he makes all the crucial decisions of whatever nature and everything begins and ends with him.
  • The tendency for the president to fall victim to ethnic and kinship politics, which compels him to seek to entrench the unfortunate saying that “blood is thicker than water.”
  • Choosing political merchants to run businesses under privatization polluted by ethnic and kinship consideration.
  • Determined long-term politico-military effort to destroy alternative political thought and practice in the country to enhance Presidentialism.
  • De-institutionalisation of the country by over militarization of the economy, public and other institutions.
  • De-nationalisation of the country by populating it with large numbers of refugees some of whom have in the past occupied jobs that would otherwise be occupied by the indigenous people.
  • Capacity to hover over the legislature, judiciary and executive arms of government, and even influence their decisions single-handedly.
  • Ever linking the governance of the country to the Luwero bush war instead of allowing it to go forward, and in so doing populating most institutions with Luwero bush war combatants or those connected to them genetically and ethnically.
  • Enacting laws (ie, Sectarian Law, Terrorism Law, Political and Other Organizations Law, etc) to disable indigenous citizens politically, thereby preventing them from genuine participation in the governance, leadership and economy of the country.
  • Constitutional engineering to ensure that term limit and age limit does not apply to the presidency, and to allow for hereditary politics, particularly with regard to presidency.
  • Manipulation of citizenship and dual citizenship to disadvantage the indigenous citizens with regard to resources, including power, jobs, opportunities and participation in governance, leadership, business, politics, etc.
  • Allowing the rise and rise of the deep state whereby unelected officials have even more power and authority than the elected officials and can influence virtually everything including appointments anticippointments.
  • Deregistration of parts of National Parks and Game Reserves, including mining in them and forests, replacing them with foreign crops such as sugarcane, oil palm and Eucalyptus.
  • Allowing people belonging the nomadic-pastoral human energy system and with cultural, biological, genetic and ecological roots outside the country to incessantly grab and occupy the indigenous and sacred lands of the settled communities of Bantu, Luo and other ethnic groups without constraint or restraint.

The list of the various manifestations of the president of Uganda is inexhaustible. It points to one thing that most corruption arises from the various manifestations of the President in every sphere of human activity, making choices and selecting actions that suit his personal interests or those close to him.

It was the manifestation of the president that resulted in the fated foreign exchange in 1987 that resulted in many indigenous people and their firms losing billions of shillings, while numerous former combatants of the Luwero Triangle emerged out of the exercise stinkingly rich. Many died extremely wealthy, and those who are still alive are among the richest in the country. If we view the exercise this way, then it was a corrupt exercise designed to impoverish the indigenous people.

It was the manifestation of the president in terms of decision-making that introduced a distorted modernisation and privatisation policy that saw the bush combatants and those connected to them genetically, ethnically and kin-wise benefiting financially and in terms of property from the wholesale sale of public enterprises, some at one shilling each.

This hyped the wealth of the combatants even further. It was no more or less stealing from the public to enrich the combatants many of whom were of Rwandese nationality or origin.

It was the manifestation of the president in terms of decision-making that saw numerous indigenous Ugandans being retrenched from their jobs in early 1990s, ostensibly to build a small, efficient labour force in the civil service. However, over the years the jobs were filled with ethnically related people connected to power and speaking the same language. Other numerous, meaningless jobs were created to accommodate even more of such people.

Meanwhile, most of the retrenched and the several families that used to benefit from them socially and economically sank into untold poverty. Many, just like the former workers of the defunct East African Community who were never paid their benefits, are still waiting to be paid their dues arising from forced termination of their services. We now see corrupt social disorientation in the country in favour of the powerful, those connected to them, their families and originating mainly from Western Uganda where many immigrants settled and easily call themselves Bahima.

It is presidential manifestation by ignoring the widespread land grabbing by mainly immigrants that has forced numerous indigenous Ugandans to become internal refugees and a floating population in their local environments in their own country, or to migrate en masse to towns and cities, where they end up being pollutants and, therefore, undesirables whose only wealth is their income and social poverty.

It is as if the aim is to turn the formally nomadic pastoralists that roamed the land with their cattle attached only to grass into modern day settlers and big landowners at the expense of the traditional owners of the land.

This is dangerous corruption akin to what obtained in Apartheid South Africa when ethnic segregation against Blacks reigned.

It was the presidential choice or decision to erase Bujagali Falls (which should be more accurately spelt and pronounced as Budhagaali Falls) from River Nile, despite the fact that local ecotourism based on it provided livelihoods for many people and sustained the then Municipal Council of Jinja with enormous income. The presidential desire was to erect a hydroelectric power station, not so much to power Uganda as to power neighbouring countries. Indeed, when environmentalists and human rights crusaders argued that Bujagali Power would be too expensive for Ugandans, the president retorted that if Ugandans were too poor to buy the electricity, he would sell it to Uganda’s neighbours.

Indeed, Bujagali electricity ended up being too expensive for most Ugandans, and even institutions, to afford it. Affordability rather than accessibility to electricity has remained the most teething issue in the energy sector. However, as if this was not enough, the president decided to invite a public firm from South Africa, Eskom, to run Uganda’s electricity subsector, and went on to split Uganda Electricity Board into six small firms managed largely by people from one region and ethnically related.

We can go on and on to show how presidential manifestation and choices or decisions have ended up corrupting the entire economy of Uganda.

  • A Tell report / By Prof Oweyegha-Afunaduula, a former professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences of the Makerere University, Uganda
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