In his essay “Finishing off with the Idea of the Third World, The Concept of the Political Trajectory” Jean Francois Bayart argues that politics must be understood as a moment in a very long-term story. This can be a story of a civilization, of a culture and of a system of inequalities. Out of a people’s experience of this past, a past involving external and endogenous forces, people construct various “discursive genres” through which politics is understood and participated in. Bayart gives examples of such genres as the British system of representative government and civil liberties, Islamic thought, etc.
In Uganda, and indeed across most of Sub Sahara Africa, the “discursive genre” about political power is “eating.” From inception, the colonial economy was built as an integral part of politics – economic resources flowed to those with power. The benefits of modernity (jobs as chiefs, civil servants, teachers, etc. or allocation of land and trading licenses) went to those who collaborated with the colonial state.
Thus control of state power became a means of controlling economic resources and in turn control of economic resources became a means of reproducing power through neo-patrimonial networks. African elites did not fight for independence to dismantle the colonial state but to inherit its privileges. Listening to them, it becomes clear that People Power is the embodiment of this popular expectation. Given power, it would reproduce exactly what Museveni has presided over – massive corruption and patronage – but most likely (and sadly) without his finesse.
We have a rich history from which to draw such a conclusion. In 2002, Kenyans voted Daniel arap Moi’s KANU out of office because of its massive corruption. The new president, Mwai Kibaki, even appointed the indefatigable John Githongo as ombudsman. Githongo had been a leading anti corruption campaigner working with Transparency International – at one time I worked under him as a consultant. Under Kibaki, corruption skyrocketed. Within two years, Githongo had run to exile because the “looting mafia” was closing in to kill him. If Kenyans thought this was it, today they find the corruption of the Uhuru Kenyatta government to surpass everything they have witnessed before.
This is the story of Zambia, Malawi, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Benin, DRC, etc. Change of power, whether violent or peaceful, has led to more, not less corruption. The lesson is simple but fundamental: corruption is the way the system works, not the way it fails. People Power supporters accuse anyone who defends Museveni/government of being paid. This is because their “discursive genre” of politics is the cash nexus. Give them power and cash in politics will cease to be king and become emperor.