Graft in Tanzania steals from the land, in Uganda from the people

The election season in Tanzania has burnt out while in Uganda it is just picking up. In both countries, there seems to be a consensus that the time to fight corruption using the ballot is now.

Usually, the incumbent or the party in power has a hard time telling voters about corruption since the vice tends to be associated with control of state power.

But the ruling CCM in Tanzania managed to turn this conventional perspective on its head, saying they were cleaning up and the corrupt guys were fleeing the party to take refuge in the opposition.

The claim was convincing because the CCM presidential candidate was a known no-nonsense operator with a track record of zero tolerance to corruption and laziness.

In Uganda, both the opposition presidential candidates and the incumbent are vowing to fight corruption. But here, fighting corruption means a lot more than just cleaning up.

Unlike Tanzania where the country’s vast wealth is largely in potential form requiring exploitation and management by a transparent administration, Uganda already has enough cash entering the state coffers to deliver a dramatically higher quality and quantity of services if it wasn’t stolen.

In Tanzania, corruption delays exploitation of natural wealth and involvement of a large part of the population in profitable economic processes. And Tanzania is also an investor’s paradise as far as tax holidays and exemptions are concerned, denying considerable revenue to the state. 

But while Uganda collects a small portion of GDP as tax, it is already enough to provide good services, but does not because unfortunately an unacceptably high portion of it gets misallocated and a lot more simply gets stolen.

Opposition candidates are currently putting the figure of cash stolen from the annual budgetary outlays at about $650 million, against expected tax collections of about $3.5 billion this financial year.

So why should theft of  ‘a mere’ $650 million or 18.5% of the revenue collection cause a whole difference between good services and scandalously hopeless services?

Well, it is not only direct theft that takes resources away from the taxpayer. The capacity of the Executive to use resources as it wishes that takes resources away from the people.

For example, Uganda’s cost of public administration is blatantly high. The country supports over 70 ministers and some 400 Members of Parliament each of whom takes home half a million dollars by the end of the five year electoral term.

Added to these are an unbelievable number of elected officials – over one and a half million across the population, all of whom require allowances of one form or another. Then there are presidential aisers, resident district commissioners and so on and so forth.

But most immoral is the portion of the health budget that is spent on taking a few powerful families abroad for medical tourism.

The annual national health budget is about $500million but some estimates put the portion the few powerful families take for medical tourism at $150million. In public maternity centres, midwives are said to hold mobile phone torches between their teeth to deliver babies. Reason? No light.

So that is the difference between management of public resources between Uganda and Tanzania. In both countries, corruption is powerful negative factor. With Tanzania, it delays the conversion of potential into cash, in Uganda, it takes cash away from the intended beneficiaries.

Joachim Buwembo is a Knight International Fellow for development journalism. E-mail: