Uganda: COVID-19 and Corruption—The Long View

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Corruption so rampant that even Covid vaccines to save lives are sold off. File Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

[The View From Uganda]

Barrack Obama and other former U.S. presidents charge hundreds of thousands of dollars for a speech. 

In one hour, they can earn over $200,000 to make a few remarks prefaced by the words “I don’t have much to say, but…” Considering this to be extortionate, I believe such a windfall reduces men like Obama to rent-a-leaders. Or circus acts complete with roadies (publicists) and props (Teleprompters). 

The late former U.S. president Harry S. Truman wrote an illuminating book entitled, “Mr. Citizen.” It details how when he left the White House, jobs were thrust at him. One proposal, requiring only an hour of his time, guaranteed him half a million dollars. Although this is a tidy sum, he realized that, in being a man of such stature, he had become an institution. And one of the biggest institutions that charges by the hour is prostitution. So he looked beyond the fig leaf of “public service” associated with such jobs to see them in their primary colors. “I turned down all those offers,” Truman wrote. “I knew that they were not interested in hiring Harry Truman, the person, but what they wanted to hire was the former president of the United States. I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialize on the prestige and the dignity of the Presidency.” 

So, by cashing in on the Fountain of Honor, a former president has made it as dishonorable as, well, a house of ill repute. This is corruption and is harmful on a subliminal level as we subconsciously accept it as “part of life”. In Uganda it is this “part of life” acceptance which has turned corruption into something defensible by National Resistance Movement (NRM) regime apologists like the publisher Andrew Mwenda. 

“There is no scientific proof,” Mwenda said once during a Twitter debate, “that corruption is not an impediment to economic development except for moral concerns”. Corruption, according to Mwenda could inflate cost of goods but “if the stolen money is invested well, it may help drive dynamism in other sectors”.

Seduced by an extreme case of materialism, many of us place money over all else. Indeed, most of us would condone corruption by blaming our “need to survive.” Besides, we would add, if we aren’t corrupt, somebody else will be. So it is better us than some already over-fed government official. 

Although humans have always been greedy and acquisitive, this “modernist” moneyed worldview was glorified in the U.S. of the 1980s. In the 1987 film “Wall Street,” Gordon Gecko’s “Greed is good” slogan struck a chord with many. America being the chief supplier of cultural goods to the world ensured that this slogan was adopted globally in popular culture. 

The 80s was a decade of corporate greed defined by hostile takeovers and leveraged buyouts. It was a time when corporate raiders leveraged productive assets to bleed them dry of cash and equity while raising a middle finger to financial propriety. U.S. president Ronald Reagan unveiled “Reaganomics” and this set in train a virtual conga-dance of policies which waltzed a soft-shoe around deregulation to give free rein to the so-called banking buccaneers and junk-bond pirates. 

In this decade, Donald Trump became a billionaire. 

In the early 1990s, the Academy Award-winning film “Jerry Maguire” foisted yet another slogan upon us: Show me the money! This slogan was more enduring than Gordon Gecko’s and it seemed to subliminally ingrain the notion that money was king. Anything else would go against the grain, so to speak.  

Each person was assessed for their price instead of value. Again, money’s stepchild being Corruption meant our values were going to be commercialized or dumped like bad stock. So we all dreamed of getting our turn to “eat.” Morality, like the devil, took the hindmost. 

Come 2019 and Covid-19, the Great Leveler, shaking us out of the somnolent imagination of a dog that doesn’t see its day coming. People around us started dying. With the multiple new variants now in Uganda, hospitals are charging 5 million Ugandan shillings, or $2,000, per day to care for a Covid-19 patient. This, in a country where the per capita income is less than $800. One gets the honor of being charged $2,000 only after paying a one-time “admission fee” of 10 million shillings, or $4000. The Guardian reported that due to corruption Covid-19 vaccines have been diverted and sold. 

We have now come full circle. 

Mwenda’s scientific evidence shall be provided by a dramatic increase in death tolls. Our acceptance of corruption will be a case of chickens coming home to roost. 

The columnist Matogo can be reached via mugashop74@gmail.com

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