Why many of our politicians go broke after leaving cabinet even though we think they are rich
THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | Last week, media reported that former Deputy Prime Minister, Henry Kajura, is in financial trouble. Three years after leaving cabinet, he is losing his house to a moneylender for failure to pay a loan. For a man who served in cabinet for 27 consecutive years, this is shocking. Yet Kajura is not alone. Our nation has a long list of politicians who move from cabinet/parliament to economic destitution. In a country where people see politicians as corrupt and therefore rich, this is viewed as a paradox of monumental proportions. But it is not.
We misunderstand corruption. We see it as a means of accumulating personal wealth yet that is just its most visible manifestation. Fundamentally, corruption is the way political power (in poor countries) is organized, exercised and reproduced. It is the grease that turns the wheels of politics, helping politicians build constituencies of support. To be successful politically requires one to accumulate resources and share them with constituents. This is the way through which the alien character of the inherited colonial institutional structure is domesticated.
Let us go to the bolts and nuts of how power is organised, how it is exercised and how it is reproduced in a poor country. How do political leaders and parties organise successful electoral and governing coalitions?
Most of our countries are ethnically and religiously diverse. They are also agrarian and poor. This combination creates strong moral and psychological attachment identity.
To build an effective electoral machine and/or governing coalition, a president and/or party must win over powerful and influential pillars of opinion in our ethnic and religious groups. They include traditional leaders, respected elders, articulate youths, successful businesspersons, accomplished professionals, religious clerics, influential intellectuals, etc. These act as the bridge between the president and/or ruling party and their ethnic and/or religious communities.
For the vast majority of people in poor countries, seeing their own in high government office is an expression of their presence in, and therefore having a share of, power. It also legitimises the state by giving the people a sense of belonging to the nation. President Yoweri Museveni has done this well, creating a vast patronage machine where very many of these influential elites are appointed to cabinet (81 strong), as presidential advisors (over 100), RDCs (240), ambassadors, board members of about 150 semi autonomous government agencies etc.
Patronage has been the main instrument Museveni has used to crowd the opposition out of the market for individuals with a profile, experience and organisational skills to rally a mass political base. It is the biggest challenge the opposition faces and explains why it cannot find enough high profile individuals to field in parliamentary elections – Museveni has coopted most of them.