In Uganda, there is a common held belief that if you are chasing a public service, and you want it done quicky, you have to pay a bribe.
We’ve grown so accustomed to it that it now looks normal. In Uganda, everyone jumps queues, no one is patient. In Runyankore – Rukiiga, there is an informal saying that “ekirirema sente, ekyo okinage” loosely translated as “there’s nothing money can’t buy.”
People love money and bribes so much, that there’s nothing so sacred that cannot be bought at a price. From holy rice, prophecies, to justice in the courts of law, evetything is up for sell at the right price.
In Uganda, the constitution can be amended at the right price. Historical safe guards in the constitution such as the term limit and the age limit were eviscerated after bribing members of parliament.
Perhaps you are wondering why am disparaging my country, dragging it in the mud. But the only way to move forward is to acknowledge the present truth and charter a different path in the right direction.
The country’s ethos are built on the foundation of corruption, influence peddling and bribes. Yesterday a good friend of mine who invented a fintech called pocket pesa, disclosed to me about how it cannot work without Ugandan technocrats getting a rip off.
My sister and her husband wanted to start a metal scrapping business to begin exporting scrap abroad but they were told that the business is a dead end because it belongs to “abanene mu gavumenti.” That apparently, metal scrap business is the monopoly of an indian crony who works for highly placed individuals in the government.
When I wanted to get a passport, I phoned one of the officials whom I was told could help me. The man derisively told me that I had to part with Shs. 700,000. The sheer confidence and arrogance deeply offended me. It unsetted the deep wells of my existence (Thank God, now applying for and getting a passport can be done online).
The cutting corners way of doing things has had an unintended consequence to innocent Ugandans. Most Ugandans are prejudiced because they come from the western region where the ruling head of state comes from. There is a wrongly held assumption that people from western Uganda benefit from the corruption and bribery that goes on in the country.
Money has no tribe. Bribes are not the monopoly of a particular people but those that use their influence to elicit gain. Even when it is their duty to serve the people. A friend of mine who works with a government body disclosed to me that finding someone in a position of public service that genuinely cares about the common good of the people is as hard as finding a needle in a haystack.
Everyone serves their selfish interests. Imagine the dysfunctionality of the whole government when everyone serves their selfish ends. Unworkable bureaucratic systems that sustain corruption. Sheer mediocrity and incompetence. Apathy that one man cannot make the difference when the whole system is rotten. The prevailing notion that there’s not a thing any one person can do to extricate themselves out of this cobweb of dysfunctionality.
Perhaps it’s time we thought: why should any Ugandan pay a bribe. Don’t we enable the system by sustaining it. What if we all took the high road and endured inefficiencies in the short run in order to destroy and supplant the corrupt system inherent in these bureaucratic institutions in Uganda?
What if we, the people who are getting ripped off said: ‘Enough. We can no longer pay you to do your job?’ Wouldn’t Uganda be a much better place? With efficient government institutions and systems, wouldn’t you get a driving permit by paying the statutory fee of Shs. 150,000 instead of the inflated sum of Shs. 600,000 or more?
The problem is that in Uganda, sometimes corruption is privatised. The function that should be played by government authorities is let out to private individuals and companies. The ordinary individual has no safe guard. What if all the influence peddling and corruption in this country was no more. Uganda would be the most beautiful country on earth.
There would be no tribal prejudices, no short sightedness in government. Imagine if rule of law prevailed in this country and laws were enforced as they are written in statute books. Ahh. Imagine if people chased high ideals rather than the issues of daily bread that do not solve the systemic problems in this country.
Is our next generation up to the task of building the ideal Uganda we all want to live in? This beautiful Pearl of Africa where the mighty and the ordinary would have equal rights before the law. Where fair competition is the Supreme Court beyond which there is no appeal. Imagine.