Academic journal article African Studies Review

Of Extensive and Elusive Corruption in Uganda: Neo-Patronage, Power, and Narrow Interests

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Of Extensive and Elusive Corruption in Uganda: Neo-Patronage, Power, and Narrow Interests

Article excerpt


This article explores the prevalence of high-level political and bureaucratic corruption in postindependence Uganda, with particular focus on the narrow interests it serves and its impact on development and service delivery. It argues that high-level political corruption endures largely because it is situated within the framework of "neo"-patron-clientelism and skewed power relations. The article shows how institutions have not been able to effectively engage the inner-circle ruling elite due to a skewed power structure that serves narrow political interests. Grand bureaucratic and petty forms of corruption are equally extensive and challenging, though only the former have been affected by "zero tolerance" policies. The article concludes, however, that through its interplay of inclusion and exclusion, political corruption has generated contestations which undermine it and challenge the National Resistance Movement (NRM) regime.

Résumé: Cet article explore la prévalence de corruption bureaucratique et politique à haut niveau en Ouganda depuis l'indépendance. Il se concentre en particulier sur les intérêts limités que la corruption sert ainsi que son impact sur le développement du pays et la qualité du service public. Cet article soutient que la corruption politique à haut niveau perdure principalement à cause du "nouveau" contexte de patronage/ clientélisme en place et de relations de pouvoir biaisé es. Il montre aussi comment les institutions n'ont pas été capables d'engager de manière efficace l'élite interne au pouvoir à cause d'une structure de pouvoir qui sert des intérêts politiques étroits. La corruption bureaucratique systémique côtoie une corruption quotidienne mineure, toutes deux sont vastement répandues et difficiles à combattre, bien que seule la première aie été affectée par des mesures de "tolérance zéro." Cet article conclut cependant que la corruption politique, par l'intermédiaire du phénomène d'inclusion et d'exclusion, a généré des contestations qui la remettent en question et qui lancent un défi au régime du Mouvement de Résistance Nationale (MRN).

Key Words: corruption; National Resistance Movement; zero tolerance; patronclientelism

This article focuses on high-level political and bureaucratic corruption in Uganda and the narrow interests that it serves. It argues that political corruption on the part of the inner-circle ruling elite and filtering down to the middle levels of the state bureaucracy has thrived within a framework of "neo"-patron-clientelism and a skewed power structure that enables institutional and social manipulation. While some low-level bureaucrats, outercircle actors, political opponents, and scapegoats have been ousted through a policy of "zero tolerance," other politically known and well-connected actors have been able to maneuver and go scot-free. The prevalence of corruption has been blamed for poor service delivery, persistent poverty, capital flight, and a constraint to development in African countries like Uganda (see Mbaku 2007; Kaufmann, Kraay, & Zoito-Lobaton 1999; Ndikumana & Boyce 2008). Corruption has also been blamed for faltering market reforms and operations, uncertainties, and high operational costs (see Szeftel 2000; Smith 2008; Wrong 2009). Uganda's anticorruption strategies have had success only in combating some forms of petty corruption (Asiimwe 2009), and a culture of corruption has tended to mutate into a tolerance for nonmonetary forms such as absenteeism, inefficiency, and the misuse of resources in the workplace. This article argues that any attempt to fight corruption must be accompanied by deeper democratization within institutions and strong checks and balances, as well has improved livelihoods for all citizens, fair remuneration, and job satisfaction to reduce their vulnerability to corruption.

Conventional discourses tend to attribute the problem of corruption to a number of problems: to overall "bad governance" in the global South; the failures to consolidate democracy and hence the problem of holding leaders accountable; and a weak "civil society" (see Gyimah-Boadi 1996; Hadenius & Uggla 1996; Birdsall 2007). …

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