The causes of corruption are many and affected by the peculiarities of the place and moment but a combination of stagnating university enrolment in the 1970s and 80s and the AIDS pandemic may have conspired to accelerate the theft of public funds.
In 1965 about 900 students were enrolled at Makerere University, this jumped to 2,581 in 1970 and then to 4,045 by 1980 before doubling again to about 8,000 students at the beginning of the 1990s. Over the next decade enrolment more than tripled to just under 27,000 in all universities and before ballooning to more than 200,000 in the more than 30 universities nationwide.
The eight year reign of Idi Amin and the contracting economy easily accounts for the slow expansion of university enrolment in the 1970s. This continues into the 1980s when there were greater priorities than pandering to pampered students at the Makerere.
The Amin years reduced the aspirations of the average Ugandan to that of bare survival, higher values were sacrificed at the altar of expediency and a consistent assault on the moral fibre of society was opened.
The insecurity drove many of the elite into exile, if it did not kill them first.
In the 1980s in addition to the general insecurity the AIDS epidemic reared its head decimating more of the middle class. The young and virile students at Makerere University, which was one of the most liquid communities in Kampala at the time, was easy prey for the AIDS pandemic.
Apart from the low enrolment figures, with graduating classes of less than a 1000 students at a time upto the end of the 1980s, in hindsight a few students from the era report a difficulty in accounting for all their classmates many of whom are dead – casualties of the insecurity of the time, felled by AIDS or marooned abroad.
It is no secret that some of our wealthiest citizens today benefitted from the chaos and lack of formality that begun in the Amin era and went on into the 1980s. But many of these forwent a formal education for the streets and to their credit were able to come out the other side better off than they went in. Some who failed to adopt to an increasingly formal economy have fallen on their swords and remain in the realm of legend.
For the young graduates coming out of Makerere in the 1990s this posed a dilemma. On one hand they admired and marvelled at the fortunes of some of these mafuta mingi, but were unable to join the in the unpredictable world of business out of some mistaken sense of superiority or inadequacy at their ability to operate in an area that did not operate according to the text books.
On the other hand the ranks of their predecessors at the university were terribly thin and they were few people who through long and diligent service had grown sustainably wealthy, to look up to.
It did not help that the new rich in town provided no honest, credible or sustainable template for wealth accumulation. If anything they made being “sharp” and leveraging position to accumulate wealth, an acceptable endeavour.
With these three contradictions, 1990s graduates aspirations to wealth lacked proper bearing and is it any surprise that they are the ones that fill the docks of the anti-corruption court today.
Some people have written off the current generation of middle level managers as lost to the corruption bug and look forward to the next generation of university graduates – the class of the 2000s to restore some sanity to the situation, but who are their role models?
Fortunately jobs are better paying than they were in the past, allowing people a living from one job.
This only reduces the incentives to mass prodigious amounts of wealth but it is a start.
Seeing as we can’t quarantine all our corrupt – actual and potential, some other compulsion has to come into play to stop this problem dead in its tracks.
I have my thoughts on what those maybe but we will keep that for another day.