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UGANDA-CORRUPTION: Where ‘Kitu Kidogo’ is Cheaper than Facing the Law

Evelyn Matsamura Kiapi

KAMPALA, Dec 22 2009 (IPS) - You are driving through the streets of the Ugandan capital and suddenly a traffic police officer waves you down. He immediately notices that the side-mirror on the passenger’s side is missing. He threatens to give you a penalty ticket that costs 50,000 shillings (25 dollars).

But because you understand ‘the policeman’s language’, you automatically dig into your purse and discreetly squeeze a 10,000 shilling note (5 dollars) in to his palms. They call it ‘kitu kidogo’ a Swahili word for a bribe, literary meaning ‘something small.’

And that solves the problem. But an act of corruption has just occurred; an act that has become a way of life in the East African country where bribing a traffic policeman is cheaper than facing the long arm of the law.


Corruption in Uganda is the most serious unethical practice undermining trust and confidence in most public institutions including the police. Indeed, the third National Integrity Report (NIS) 2008 produced by the Inspectorate of Government rated the police as the most dishonest and most corrupt public institution at 88.2 percent and 87.9 percent for general police and traffic police respectively.

“The corruption scourge not only undermines good governance but also retards the economic development of a given country,” the NIS report said.

According to the report, the most prevalent form of corruption is bribery at 66 percent. The survey found that demands for and payment of bribes were no longer secret in society and many treated corruption as “a useful means of accessing services”.

However, this is having a negative impact on service delivery, the NIS report said. Respondents who sought services from selected public institutions in a countrywide study were asked what effect they thought corruption had on service delivery.

The results showed a consensus on what respondents said; that corruption retards development, limits access to services, worsens poverty, causes resentment of and loss of confidence in government.

“When the police are perceived as corrupt, then you will have very many incidences of mob justice and gender-based violence. Administration of justice then turns to the citizens because they think when they report a crime to the police, nothing is done,” says Jasper Tumuhimbise, National Coordinator, Anti Corruption Coalition of Uganda (ACCU), a local NGOs in Kampala.

Poor welfare

Poor welfare is the major cause of high levels of corruption among police, analysts say. A Police constable here earns as little as 200,000 shillings (100 dollars) a month. The police also have inadequate and poor housing conditions.

Most police barracks built before independence in 1962 are now too small, dilapidated and with broken sewerage systems. For instance, Nsambya barracks, one of the largest, built to accommodate 300 police officers now houses over 3,000 officers and their families. This is because accommodation there is free and the majority cannot afford to rent their own houses.

However, some officers have now turned to renting rooms outside the barracks at their own cost. It is also not uncommon to find a police officer constructing his own mud and wattle shelter and toilet within the barracks premises during working hours. Over two decades ago, government introduced ‘uniports’ (single-roomed aluminium huts) to improve accommodations. However, often, two families still share one uniport.

“This affects my concentration at work especially when I am out on night duty,” says 27 year-old Constable Albert Vuchiri*. “I keep worrying over the safety of my wife because I have left her in the same uniport with another man,” he tells IPS.

Coincidentally, HIV/AIDS prevalence in the force is 10 percent compared to the national figure of 6.4 percent, recent statistics from the Commissioner of Medical Services in the police reveals.

Besides, the police have no medical schemes. Many times, officers have to meet their own medical expenses. Although there are free state hospitals, patients usually have to buy their own drugs as lack of supplies occur frequently.

Furthermore, police stations lack stationary, furniture and even computers.

“Sometimes they (the police) even ask you to facilitate them to serve you, including photocopying police report forms. And when you do so, then you become a donor. Therefore, they will begin judging the case depending on how much one has contributed. This is compromising and a disaster,” Tumuhimbise says.

Government responds

National Police Commissar and Assistant Inspector General of Police Asan Kasingye acknowledges the situation, describing the state of police welfare as “appalling”.

“On one hand it (the accommodation facilities) is appalling and on the other hand it (accommodation) is just not there. So police officers use their meagre salary to pay for accommodation yet it is government supposed to accommodate them,” Kasingye says.

Kasingye also agrees that poor welfare has affected service delivery and exacerbated corruption levels.

“As long as police officers are not well enumerated, and they have to meet their needs in terms of medical, food and accommodation from the meagre salaries, they will be forced to indulge in corrupt tendencies and these tendencies affect service delivery 100 percent,” Kasingye admits.

“It also affects attitude and motivation. It actually makes a police officer perform as if he has been forced to do the job and we all know what that means. A police officer is supposed to have the right attitude to perform his job effectively because we are supposed to be on duty 24 hours.”


However, government is putting efforts to improve police welfare.

“Our welfare slate is not good. We could do much more and are working on it…We have not got to even a quarter of where we want to be (in terms of improved welfare). The welfare of the police officers in Uganda is really bad,” Kasingye says.

Interventions include the introduction of schemes – police welfare shops geared at ameliorating the situation of household incomes of the police officers. These welfare shops will provide food stuffs and building materials at discount rates for only police officers, he says.

“We have already secured two billion Uganda shillings (one million dollars) from government and within next month, the welfare shops will be opened at least within Kampala.

“There is also a cooperative Saving Scheme where officers can save or borrow money at only one percent interest per month,” Kasingye says.

CSO’s speak

“We are saying police are corrupt, but we as the community also facilitate this corruption. Police is part of our society; a society that says ‘okay, lets steal because nobody will punish us’. Because we have not punished police and others, they have become part of a process that promotes corruption rather than good governance. There should also be community policing,” ACCU’s Tumuhimbise says.

Gerald Werikhe Wanzala, Team leader Africa Leadership Institute, a local policy think tank and NGO in Kampala said most CSO’s have been dwelling on issues like HIV/AIDS and disasters and have ignored the fight against corruption. “People at the grassroots lack information about corruption. They do not know what corruption is and do not even know that they have the responsibility of fighting corruption themselves.”

* Not his real name

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