By Ariel Rubin
19 November 2009
Most Ugandans need simply scan the front page of a newspaper in order to see the effects of corruption first-hand. From the venality of the CHOGM saga to the myriad stories of witch doctors defrauding gullible clients, corruption is never out of the headlines for long.
Transparency International's CPI (Corruption Perception Index) 2009 released yesterday placed Uganda at 130 out of the 180 countries rated, marking a four point slip from last year. Top countries included New Zealand, Denmark and Singapore while the lowest-rated country was Somalia. In an interview with the Daily Monitor yesterday, Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda national coordinator Jasper Tumuhimbise concurred with the report noting, "We lost the anti-corruption fight when our leaders put in place institutions and laws without the accompanying political will."
According to Transparency International, a Berlin-based global civil society organisation, the CPI measures the perceived levels of public-sector corruption in a given country and is a composite index, drawing on different expert and business surveys. The index offers an interesting map of the state of things in regards to corruption and its effects; over half of the countries in the bottom 30 are African. Interestingly, the African country believed to be least corrupt is Botswana, which ranked 37th.
Botswana's high ranking sends an important message to Uganda, which stands on the brink of major oil exploitation. The estimated two billion barrels lying in the Albertine Rift will provide a serious financial windfall to Uganda; but if the question is to Uganda or just certain well-heeled members of the Ugandan government, then the answer becomes a bit murkier.
Botswana is one of those all too-rare phenomena, a country that has seemingly defied the "oil curse" and maintained stability and transparency when so many others (Equatorial Guinea, Angola and Nigeria to name just a few oil-rich African examples) have not. The boon that is promised by oil needs to be tempered with good governance and far-reaching developmental projects. The fact that Uganda slipped four places in one year does not bode well for the future of transparency with the onset of drilling set to begin in the coming months. With grumblings about the lack of transparent oil contracts between businesses like Tullow and Heritage and Government alongside the failure to disclose the details of the PSAs (Production Sharing Agreement) to the public, fears pervade that next year could see Uganda sink even further.
The other major worry comes with the onset election season. After the disputed 2006 national elections, where Human Rights Watch reported of ballot stuffing, multiple voting, and potentially hundreds of thousands of people being denied the right to vote; the coming elections in 2011 could further damage Uganda's international standing if they are not conducted in accordance with the highest standards of scrutiny in a fully open, democratic space. The AC (Action Congress), a liberal Nigerian political party, commented yesterday apropos their own country's decline that, "It is not by accident that the countries that are rated highly by Transparency International are the among the world's most stable democracies, countries where the rule of law is not a cliché but a reality." That same test of stability and rule of law will become all the more apparent as campaigning gets ready to begin in earnest.
Today Uganda stands on the brink and with the onset of oil and elections, it is a moment pregnant with immense possibility and anxiety. Free, fair elections alongside fully transparent oil dealings with just and equitable management of revenues could transform Uganda; but entrenched cronyism, clientelism and outright graft threaten this transformation. Without a robust democratic space in which human and environmental rights are respected, the 2009 CPI could stand as a benchmark noting where Uganda is but more importantly, where it could have been.