/ 26 June 2024

US visa sanctions a reminder that Uganda must urgently stop corruption

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Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.(Photo by SIMON MAINA/AFP via Getty Images)

I was listening to X Space about the latest sanctions imposed by the United States government on Ugandan officials and their spouses over gross corruption and human rights abuses.

Ugandans have various responses to the news, with many stating it is a response to the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act. Other Ugandans think the sanctions are a result of the corruption scandal involving the alleged theft of iron roofing intended for the impoverished region of Karamoja involving ministers and MPs, as well as other gross corruption cases.

In my opinion the US was sending its usual red, white and blue envelope to Uganda with foreign policy checks and balances precautioning a partner state to address gross political corruption and human rights abuses.

It’s now 61 years of bilateral relations between American and Ugandan people, but during those years the relations were halted during Idi Amin’s presidency because of human rights abuses, corruption and terrorising of minority groups, including Indian Ugandans.

The US Mission to Uganda clearly states that it’s working towards a healthier, educated, secure, just and democratic Uganda and is thus investing close to $1 billion annually.

Why would it be okay to accept a billion dollars and all sorts of partnerships in joint security programmes but feel offended by the condemnation against any misuse of resources culminating into corruption. This should not be an area of contention to jeopardise US-Uganda relations.

Yes, Uganda is a sovereign state but the US visa sanctions against corrupt officials do not erase our borders or change the national anthem, flag, coat of arms or dictate any change of leadership.

The US in its red, white and blue envelope with visa sanctions is reminding Uganda about the common principles and values in foreign relations.

According to Transparency International’s 2023 Corruption Perception Index, Uganda scored 26 on a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

The report states: “When ranked by score, Uganda ranked 141st among the 180 countries in the index, where the country ranked first is perceived to have the most honest public sector.”

What the US government is saying is: if you misuse taxpayers money generated from revenues in Uganda and remittances from Ugandans working in the US, don’t come to America.

Uganda is a net receiver of remittances, some which comes from the United States. The country’s remittances stand at $1,294,938.295, according to the World Bank.

The country uses this money to deliver services and any dubious transitions contribute to money laundering, which can cause inflation of the dollar.

Uganda, by passing the Anti-Homosexuality Act, is equally imposing sanctions against the US, which allows people to have different orientations. So, if you belong to the LGBTQI+ community, don’t bother asking for a visa to Uganda given our laws of the land and cultural values.

So Uganda should allow American checks and balances in the same way Uganda allows grants, investments, humanitarian assistance and trade as part of the US’s red, white and blue envelope.

The US Mission to Uganda is committed to improving transparency, accountability and oversight, thus taking measures against any form of corruption.

Perhaps it paid attention to the Inspectorate of Government report and the Equal Opportunities Commission report 2023, as well as to the policy dialogues, public debates, public outcry and outrage in our national print papers, television Broadcasts and on social media.

According to the Inspectorate of Government report, Uganda is estimated to lose $9.144 trillion annually, which is equivalent to 44% of the total government revenue. This $9.144 trillion is money that can be used to address the gaps in the healthcare system and education that the US is funding.

Uganda’s corruption has exposed the country to gross inequality gaps, nepotism, tribalism, infrastructure breakdown, inflation, environmental degradation and health and gender disparities.

Uganda’s corruption discourages foreign investments, the African renaissance and foreign cooperation.

Corruption undermines economic, social and political progress and can potentially jeopardise national security and political stability.

Fortunately, Uganda has good policies and anti-corruption institutions, namely the Inspectorate of Government, the Directorate of Public Prosecution, the police and the State House Anti-corruption Unit.

But their work is being undermined by gross impunity, which is fuelling industrial scale corruption, which political corruption triumphs.

Despite all the criminal laws and efforts against corruption some officials continue to participate in the vice because of impunity, knowing that nothing will happen to them — even with evidence.

Impunity stems from patronage and it’s no secret that Uganda is under a patriarchy system seasoned with political corruption.

One of the pillars upon which corruption in Uganda rests is “quid pro quo”; the exchange of government jobs for political support.

According to Transparency International’s 2023 Corruption Perception Index, the US is ranked 24th among 180 countries.

The US perhaps is reminding Uganda to learn from its past problems with corruption and overcome a vice that is limiting our speedy economic growth and quality service delivery for all.

Perhaps, the Ugandan government will respond to the foreign checks and balances.

The recent response from President Yoweri Museveni about corruption came during the State of the Nation address 2024. 

Perhaps it prompted the police’s criminal investigations department to arrest Cissy Namujju and two other legislators of the parliament budget committee members.

For Uganda to be free from corruption it must adhere to foreign checks and balances, among other efforts.

Robert Kigongo is a democracy deliverer and sustainable development analyst.