500 UGX is equivalent to a cup of black tea, or dry tea, as it is referred to colloquially; any amount between 500 – 1000 UGX amounts to a mandazi or doughnut while 10,000 UGX amounts to three bottles of beer – Nile or Bell, and on promotional offer perhaps. For a cup of tea, I have been allowed to park any one of the cars I own in any spot in town courtesy of the borrow-borrow syndrome. Uptown or downtown, the Askari manning the place will help me navigate my reverse parking once I facilitate him with a cup of tea. For one or two mandazis I have also been granted access into the bank a few minutes after five o’clock. While people dread the five o’clock hour, I have not found it a hindrance at any one branch of my bank – the name of which will remain anonymous.
Last year, while returning from a night in Nkozi, I, along with a group of friends, got intercepted by a traffic officer who was reporting for early morning duty. The car we were travelling in had started malfunctioning on the way back and had suddenly stopped half-way through the journey. We didn’t panic initially but once we caught sight of the officer we started saying all kinds of prayers. We entered into a bargaining war with the traffic officer, with his asking price starting from heaven, and all we had to offer being our liquor filled breaths. In the end, he went from demanding for ninety bottles of beer (about 300,000 UGX) to settling for three mandazis (at most 3000 UGX).
These are a few of the incidents I have had ‘giving’ custodians of the law tea, mandazi and a beer’s equivalent. It has happened before and I am sure it will happen again. I do not know how many Ugandans out there are honest enough to confess to having bribed someone in exchange for a favour but the numbers are high. At least according to corruption reports. This kind of corruption has always been swept under the rug while we crucify civil servants who dip their hands into state coffers. It is understandable that we would be incensed about that, after all, it is our money which they are pocketing. But what I would like to know is: has anyone ever bothered to know how much money is going down the tea, mandazi and beer channel?
We need to factor in a few things. Why is this trend of corruption even more prevalent than that practiced at the political level? What do we risk as a state? This is my biggest worry: if we have rotten tomatoes at both ends of the stick, shall we ever win the war against corruption? We the public are dangling what we assume to be mundanities like mandazi in the faces of those who are supposed to be protecting the law, who are so desperate that they cannot resist the offer. So where should the battlefront be placed ? I suggest in the midst of the public where it is becoming a vicious cycle. People simply graduate from giving tea, mandazi and beer to receiving it. We may have as many anti-corruption courts as we can afford to crucify public figures but that will not rid society of the disease unless the rotten tomatoes on at least one side of the stick are taken out.