Corruption in Uganda

Corruption in Uganda. Even in the midst of devastating personal losses, tribal wars and threats on her life, a formerly sponsored child and Leadership Development student found encouragement in an unlikely place and the courage to face down some of the most powerful people in Uganda.

By Brandy Campbell   |   Posted: October 1, 2013


When Patience Namanya was 12, she came home from school with a bad report card. She was failing literature, history, civics and math. Her teacher had scrawled a note at the bottom.

Patience can do better than this. Should please put in more effort.

Patience sat alone, ashamed. She ached for her parents. She was afraid of her abusive aunt. Who would she show this wrinkled piece of paper to?

She knew one person who would understand. One woman who would both challenge and comfort her. Patience picked up her pencil and began to write.

The good Lord solves our problems even though they are big. This year was not wonderful for me because of the problems I had. I lost my grandma and my mummy in the same year and month, but I surrendered them to Jesus Christ.

Patience has surrendered a lot to Jesus in her young life. She grew up in Kyebando, a slum in Kampala, Uganda, mired in unemployment, alcoholism and malnutrition. In Patience’s own home, tragedy was relentless. Her father died of AIDS, the disease that would gradually take the lives of her mother and two of her younger siblings. While AIDS still ravaged her body, Patience’s mother enrolled her at Compassion’s Gayaza Road Child Development Center.

After her mother died in 1994, the 12-year-old moved in with her aunt and uncle. Though Patience was able to stay in the Compassion center, her home life was grim. Every day she awoke at 4 a.m. to prepare meals, wash clothes and care for her younger cousins. She rarely went to bed before 1 a.m., and was regularly denied food. Keeping up with her studies was nearly impossible. Her grades continued to fall.

But Patience still found time to write to her sponsor, Diane. Over the next 12 years, letters passed between Uganda and Arizona. Patience’s letters, written on thin, smudged paper, brimmed with joy and sorrow. She thanked God for the blessings even as her family endured death, disease and loss. In Diane, Patience found a provider and protector.

“She was always encouraging me to carry on. She told me that if I worked hard, there were better things. She told me that she was impressed by me. I always shared everything with her. She was and still is my prayer partner, encourager and Mum.”

That encouragement helped Patience improve her failing grades, and she began to rise in the ranks at school. At 18 she was accepted into Compassion’s Leadership Development Program and began attending Uganda Christian University, where she studied social work and administration.

To Patience’s delight, Diane continued to sponsor her through college. Patience began opening her letters with “Dear Mummy,” and she wrote personal notes to each of Diane’s children. In turn, Diane began calling Patience her daughter. Diane watched as Patience’s desire for justice became more pronounced. Patience saw corruption not just in her community, but in her own home where uncles and grandparents regularly tried to take one another’s homes and property.

“My uncle is harassing us,” Patience wrote in a letter to Diane. “He has even grabbed the little property Mummy left us with, that would help pay my brother’s school fees. As if that is not enough, my uncle is chasing us out of Grandfather’s home.”

That acute awareness of injustice gave Patience a purpose — but also put her life in danger. Upon completing her bachelor’s degree she began working with Volunteer Anti-Corruption Campaign Africa. At great personal risk, Patience hosted radio programs each week to educate people about corruption.

“The corrupt people in Uganda are very rich and have authority and powerful political offices,” she says. “They are almost untouchable and very dangerous. They intimidate, kidnap and often kill people who come out openly to expose their corrupt tendencies.”

After one radio program, an elderly widow visited Patience. The widow said she had been requesting her husband’s pensions for 11 years, but that the government ignored her requests.

“Every month she traveled more than 400 miles to the Pensions Department,” says Patience, “but they had told her to not show her face anymore.”

Patience filed a report on the matter that was escalated to the police. In less than 24 hours Patience and her team discovered that $72 million had been siphoned from pension plans across the country.

Police immediately arrested top-ranking government officials. Patience was proud of her team’s work, but she knew their lives were in danger. The threats that followed weren’t bluffs. After some of her colleagues were poisoned, Patience found herself in hiding, unable to eat food that she hadn’t prepared herself.

But Patience had learned long before not to give up. Diane’s words of encouragement echoed in Patience’s mind as she faced down some of the most powerful men in Uganda.

Patience was eventually promoted to the Anti-Corruption National Strategic Planning Team for Uganda. A job at the national level affords her both freedom and safety. Her team has appeared on radio and television in their efforts to protect fellow Ugandans from government corruption. Earlier this year, Patience helped reinstate 6,000 teachers who had been illegally removed from their jobs. She says she hopes to one day be appointed to parliament, where she can fight corruption from within.

Nearly two decades have passed since Diane received Patience’s wrinkled progress report. Years filled with death, danger and hope. Patience says she will never forget the kindness and inspiration of her sponsor.

“I don’t know how to thank Diane for investing her life in me and the people working in Compassion International,” she says. “I never stop praying for them.”

In Diane’s home, a manila folder holds more than 20 letters from Patience. Amid the drawings of mud huts and pineapples, Patience introduced Diane to a world of poverty, tribal wars and disease. But Patience also showed her the power of prayer and sacrifice. And though Diane has never met Patience, she knows that deep in Uganda, fighting corruption, lives her “daughter.”

  |   Posted: October 01, 2013