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Covid-19 fight exposes danger of corruption

How paying lip service to fighting corruption tendencies is undermining surveillance systems in East African region

COMMENT | NATHAN WERE | East Africa, like the rest of the world, is battling one of the most challenging pandemics in history – the Coronavirus. East Africa’s over 170 million people are under some form of lock-down with borders closed as health workers work tirelessly to test and treat the infected. The pandemic has not only exposed our fragile health care systems but also demonstrated how paying lip service to the fight against corruption over the years can undermine efforts against serious pandemics such as this one.

According to the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), 2019 report published by Transparency International, South Sudan is ranked the most corrupt country in East Africa followed by Burundi. Kenya and Uganda tie in the third position while Rwanda is rated the least corrupt country in the region. Rwanda is the only East Africa Community state to score above the global average rate of 43 out of 100 points after garnering 53 points. The CPI report measures the perceived levels of corruption in the public sector, drawing on 13 expert assessments and surveys of business executives.

The East African Community (EAC) countries have put in place measures to contain further spread of the virus, among them; limiting people’s movements except in an emergency and life-threatening situation, closure of none essential businesses, ban on public transport, ban on the region to region movement within the same country among others. However, most of these efforts are now being undermined by weak surveillance systems and corruption tendencies.

In Kenya For example, it has been reported that people are paying bribes to get out of mandatory Covid19 quarantine facilities. Similar cases have also been reported in Uganda. There have also been cases of inflated food prices and irregular tender awards for relief food supplies in the office of the prime minister in Uganda and cases of people bribing those charged with border security to cross borders. All these efforts undermine the effectiveness of measures put in place to protect the EAC people against this deadly pandemic.

But how did we get here? Over the years, the fight against corruption has been weak with institutions mandated to root out the vice undermined by other state organs. In most cases, the corrupt have been let off the hook as they bribe there way out prison sentences, scatter evidence against them – sometimes aided by those supposed to be prosecuting them. The institutions mandated to fight corruption are sometimes not well facilitated, poorly resourced and underfunded. It has almost become normal to pay to get a service which should be provided free by the state. In Uganda, as part of the efforts to facilitate the movement of people offering essential services, the government through the ministry of works printed stickers that those under the essential services category such as medical workers needed to use to carry out their duties during the covid19 lockdown. A few days later, nearly all motorists in Kampala had stickers – although some had been forged, a few had been issued to these motorists not under essential services – irregularly. In Kenya, even though the government has stopped the county to county movements, some people are still bribing to cross-over.

Our own systems are returning to fail us! It is almost impossible to enforce anything in some of the East African countries as people will always find a way out of the enforcement measures. As the ministry of health professionals work tirelessly to keep everyone safe, broken systems will continue to undermine their efforts and will be one of the failure points in the covid19 fight.

Post Covid19, governments across East Africa should critically think about corruption and put in place measures to effectively deal with the vice.


Nathan is the President of the Nathan & Christine Were Foundation


One comment

  1. I acknowledge all what the reports have indicated and that’s what is happening on ground.

    As volunteers are struggling to donate resources to help in the fight of COVID 19 in Uganda. Members of the parliament are struggling to gain from the donations. And the unfortunate thing is the Speaker is shamelessly the one heading embezzlement of such donations

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