KAMPALA – The outgoing week will go into the annals of history when Ugandans for the first time ever united “mudobozi elyomwanguka” against corruption using Entebbe airport as “precursor”.
I am intentionally borrowing the phrase “precursor” to show you the readers that corruption has a multiplier effect and is a very contagious habit. In other words, corruption as a vice starts small but expands rapidly and if left unattended to can give birth to deadly off springs.
Corruption in Uganda has entrenched the society to the extent that many of us think it is normal to solicit and to give bribes.
When you have a government that does not listen to the cries of its people, the citizens go mute and hide very important information that would have helped the government clean its image at local and international levels.
Not so many years ago, I had an experience at Entebbe airport that would puzzle any one listening to my narrative. May be things have since changed but I have ever walked through the departures of Entebbe Airport and travelled to Kenya’s JKIA airport without an exit stamp in my passport.
On the fateful day, I arrived at Entebbe at about 8.45am and was booked on to a Kenya Airways flight.
I was allowed to move through from the departures to a Kenya airways plane and off to Nairobi without getting an exit stamp at Entebbe. The airport staffs on duty that morning were busy cutting deals instead of doing their work.
Nobody realised I had moved through all the major check points un-noticed. Akin a dog that keeps quiet when thieves attack and only gets up on time to bark at its master; I was only arrested briefly upon my return.
When the arresting officer demanded to know how I had managed to evade the system, I told him the entire story to his own embarrassment and shame. At the end of the questioning, he was feeling guilty but aware of the consequences if the story leaked.
Coiled and beaten, he begged me not to reveal the shame to anyone and I didn’t until today. Given that I had a JKIA stamp, they were forced to add theirs to confirm my return as if they had endorsed my exit. If I was a terrorist, the whole of Entebbe airport would have been marked red for international travelers.
Ugandans promoting corruption need to be reminded that fighting the vice is not an end in itself; it is a fight for social justice, for peace and for security. Unless we wake up and stop condoning corruption, we will get to produce children already adapted giving and receiving bribes. Corruption is one of those supper evils that have retarded Uganda developed and dented the image of the NRM Government since they came into power. Year in year out, corruption keeps its head afloat and it appears nobody is willing to take it on, not even the President.
There is a popular quote extracted by one of the telecom companies from the numerous responses the President has given on corruption. In that audio that I have called a confession, the president is heard lamenting, “I am not God to say let there be no corruption and corruption stops” I think the President was agitated by those who were pointing a finger at him for failing to eliminate or reduce corruption. The angry reaction of the President was that of a man who had conceded defeat and that there was/ is nothing he could humanly do about it. He seems to have left the fight to whom it may concern.
I will stand with my head high and say what many of you are afraid to talk about, the President of this country has the capacity to minimize or stop corruption, he just lacks the political will to do so. He can employ the same method he used when he decreed that security cameras be installed on roads all over the country and guess what, it has happened smoothly and it has controlled crime to some degree. The President should treat Corruption as treason such that whoever is found guilty should be executed in public by firing squad to scare away would be offenders, otherwise we will continue to borrow in order to feed the corrupt.
You cannot have a President who contradicts himself on matters of national importance. Uganda would have ascended to a middle income status more than 15 years ego had it not been for the rampant corruption. For every 10,000/= meant for the public, corruption eats atleast half of it. The president does not seem to know we are in an era where everything said and done is documented. I recall it was 2006 during celebrations to mark 20 years of National Resistance Movement in power, the President told the nation that he did not know that the country had been wrecked by corruption. He then vowed to fight it in all forms and against all odds.
He made the same utterances in 2011, 2016 and 2021 without looking back to see if his fight had recorded any achievements.
In all the instances, he pledged war on corruption to deliver the country to his proclaimed dream destination of a corruption free country.
Even with two government institutions funded to fight corruption and so many civil society organisations, corruption is still the oxygen we breathe, it is the breakfast, the lunch, the evening tea and the super we have in every government office. That is why some people never want to go for leave.
I know the President cannot fight corruption alone but atleast he has not put in place any punitive measures especially against the big fish.
It is also self defeating that the President can appoint an IGG and them warns her to trade carefully against certain individuals. So when you hear corruption at the airport, we should not think it an isolated case.
We are told how traffic officers are sent to the field yet at the same time their bosses expect them to return with a certain amount of money on a daily basis. For how long will the president keep lamenting and renewing his enthusiasm for anti-corruption only for the country to continue grappling with the same vice.
It is impossible for a suspect in police custody to leave the cells without paying some money. If he is taken to the courts of law, there are thousands of brokers who will demand for money in order to be granted bail. Sometimes it is done behind the back of the judicial officer and sometimes in connivance. Some court clerks and the court orderlies are the conduit through whom corruption is propagated around courts. We are told the same thing is happening at the directorate of immigration, NIRA, administrator general or those seeking letters of administration, Attorney general for those seeking compensation among others.
We you hear civil aviation authority talking about banning the use of mobile phones you wonder if they have done their homework well.
We all know that corruption at the airport is well planned and it appears these employees also report somewhere for accountability after their shift yet the supervisors who are the brains behind the scandal have been allowed to retain their phones as if they cannot use talk walkies or radio calls. It is either laziness or the part of the managers to supervise staff or they are part of the syndicate.
We are told how weigh scales have been manipulated so that passengers are always found guilty of carrying excess language. If they fail to catch you on luggage, they will find some excuse to pin you down. Just last week, an immigration officer picked a passport from a Chinese friend of mine and told him he was not going to travel because he had over stayed by two days, they took 500,000/= from him to authorize his travel without paying the lawful fine. These habits had begun during the lock down but have persisted and accepted as the new norm. The traveler would get to the airport only to be told the covid test on the system are showing positive and contradict the results showing on the physical covid certificate. Others would confiscate the yellow fever book to say it is expired for forged.
I have seen some people who were stooped from travelling because their passports were found without a single stamp as if it is a mandatory requirement.
Others have been blocked for carrying a lot of Ugandan food on claims that they could be taking it for sale. Those are some of the terrible experiences our dear travelers endure at the hands of fellow Ugandans. some have ended up travelling by road to Kenya in order to board a plane.
They say old habits die hard; these employees unless reshuffled and transferred will devise new methods of extorting money from passengers.
Whoever selected them to serve in those roles must have recruited them along tribal lines; they all appear to be originating from the same village.
They are very crude, uncouth and very arrogant. They speak to travelers as if they own the airport. Madam Lumonya should stop playing public relations by asking the public to avail evidence, just review the cameras in those rooms to see the thieves.
Now that public effort has cleaned up Entebbe, let us take the fight to another institution and leave Betty Kamya and the state house anti-corruption unit to take their salaries for no work done. They are sleeping on job for fear of losing their jobs to the mafias.
Roger Wadada Musaalo is a Lawyer, human rights activist, researcher, and politician