Transition of Museveni from barter trade advocate to running ruthless mafioso of Uganda Inc

Transition of Museveni from barter trade advocate to running ruthless mafioso of Uganda Inc


When I was transiting through the teenage years in the 1960s towards sitting for Cambridge School Certificate Examinations at Busoga College, Mwiri in Uganda, which were popularly referred to as Cantab, three related words intrigued my mind: criminal, pirate and mafia. They all trace their roots in the word crime.

Before I delve into the subject matter of this article, let me clarify that when I finally did my O-Level exams at Busoga College, Mwiri in 1969, they were not strictly Cantab. They were jointly set by Cambridge University and the newly formed East African Examinations Board. 

Crime refers to activities that involve breaking the law. It may be violent or subtle. One who commits a crime is referred to as a criminal. In Uganda there has recently been a crime wave involving a sudden increase in the number of crimes of all types – physical, economic, political, social, ecological and environmental. Thus we have had an upsurge in the numbers of social , economic, political, ecological and environmental criminals committing social crime, economic crime, political crime, ecological crime and environmental crime.

This means that the number of criminals in the country has shot up astronomically and inter-connectively.  Concurrently, extrajudicial killings have also shot up astronomically. 

The binding word of all the crimes is corruption. Thus we have social corruption, economic corruption, political corruption, ecological corruption and environmental corruption. Some of the corruption is committed by individuals, some is by groups of individuals and some is by institutions, even by government itself.

I learnt that pirates are criminals who commit crimes at sea using ships to attack other ships in order to rob them. Apparently today in Uganda there are pirates on Lake Victoria and Lake Kyoga, using boats to attack other boats in order to rob them of fish and other goods. Since President Yoweri Tibuhaburwa Museveni sanctioned soldiers to use guns ostensibly to enforce lawful fishing, there has been an increase in the number of Ugandans claiming that their fish and goods have been robbed by people carrying guns and wearing uniform similar to that worn by soldiers of the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF).

The word mafia is today used to embrace all type and manner of crime summed up as corruption. However, while I was growing up in the 1960s I understood that the mafia was a secret organisation of criminals; a group of people within an organisation, government or political party who use their power or positions to accrue advantages of one type or another to themselves.

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary states that politics everywhere is still dominated by the middle class mafia.

In the 1960s, mafia used to be associated with countries such Italy, Sicily and the USA, where they dominated politics and the business world. When President Tibuhaburwa Museveni captured the instruments of power in 1986, and following the failure of his preferred barter trade economic model to avoid use of the American dollar, he soon committed himself to building a new middle class. Thirty-eight  years on his middle class is now the one associated with all type and manner of crime within and across borderlands. If you talk of business crime, intellectual crime, academic crime, cybercrime, political crime, economic crime, ecological crime and environmental crime, virtually all those involved belong to President Tibuhaburwa Museveni’s new middle class. They are found in the army, police, cabinet, legislature, judiciary, business, education, health, politics, you name it. They are powerful and wealthy and work under concealment influencing virtually everything, including presidential appointments and government deals, all for them to gain personally at the expense of the public.

In another article titled From State to Deep State I have indicated that they can be more powerful and more influential than the elected officials.

The first time I heard that there were mafioso in Uganda was from former Vice-President, Prof. Gilbert Balibaseka Bukenya, who used to refer to himself as Mahogany (a tough, hard hardwood of Africa). He claimed that his downfall from power was caused by the mafioso in government.

In an article by Muhammad Ibrahim in Uganda Mirror of August 27, 2021, Prof Bukenya repeated his assertion that the Mafia Group in Uganda is a brotherhood that nestles in government, which participates and ensures it removes any tree, however deep its roots are, and it frustrates service delivery for the personal gains of its members. Even new Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja alluded to the existence a powerful criminal gang in government that can issue threats to those in and outside government that threaten their interests. Even many government officials have talked of the existence of a Mafia network frustrating the system.

There is a claim that the mafioso network has its roots in State House, Entebbe and Kapeka where the president’s young brother operates from, and that frequently the network base in Kapeka can sometimes overrule the decisions and choices of the president of Uganda.

Clearly, therefore, if the innovator of Zero Tolerance to Corruption, President Tibuhaburwa Museveni, is to effectively and meaningfully deal with corruption in all its different forms and shades, he must tackle its roots in State House and in Kapeka. The Inspector General of Government (IGG) may be completely ineffective towards corruption generated in State House or Kapeka.

As the former vice president of Uganda, Prof Gilbert Bukenya, stressed and the new Prime Minister Nabbanja Robinah confirmed, mafiasm (corruption) of the powerful and wealthy is real. It requires total political commitment to uproot it. This must involve rethinking the middle class that President Tibuhaburwa Museveni has been building for over three decades. It is a highly gluttonous and selfish middle class. Sometime, if not always, it is armed and has access to the national budget, which it can use to finance its network operations.

Ecological and environmental crimes involving land grabbing, dispossession and displacement of indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands, and also forest reserves and game reserves, is largely by the middle class mafioso. There can be no meaningful and effective development, transformation and progress in Uganda if a small group of people wants everything to itself at the expense of the absolute majority of people mired and entrenched in a deep sea of poverty by an increasingly greedy and selfish group of people.

Power and wealth disorientation in the hands of a few is always a gateway for ultimate decay and collapse.

  • 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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