Under the glaring sun of a recent Monday, an unusual group of protesters marched on the streets of Kampala, Uganda’s capital, all dressed in black “to mourn the loss of Uganda’s public money through corruption,” as some of them pointedly explained to reporters. “Return our money and resign,” read one of the slogans they brandished. Since November 2012, on the first Monday of each month, the Black Monday Movement—a coalition of local NGOs and civil society groups—has taken to the streets to highlight the effects of corruption in Uganda and to press public officials to act.
Coincidentally, a month before the movement’s launch, a corruption scandal rocked the country. Media echoed a damning report by Uganda’s auditor general accusing public officials—including some in the prime minister’s office—of diverting some $15 million. The money had been intended for development projects in the conflict-affected northern region. “Massive theft” occurred, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi admitted at a press conference.
Uproar ensued among foreign donors. Ireland, Britain, Norway and Denmark suspended financial aid. Ugandan authorities ordered an investigation and handed administrative dismissals to those allegedly involved. “This government is determined to clamp down on corruption,” Prime Minister Mbabazi forcefully declared, adding, “What we are beginning to see is the beginning of a cleanup that will happen. We will look everywhere; we will turn everything upside down until we discover what may be wrong.”
For the Black Monday activists, however, this case is only one among many. They allege that the more than two dozen high-profile incidents of corruption over the past decade have led to the loss of millions of dollars in public money. Rarely have culprits been brought to court, they claim.
Although its popularity remains limited, the movement has emerged as a remarkable feature in the country’s public sphere. Through astute tactics and media strategies, it has managed to generate coverage and spur heated debates. The movement follows in the footsteps of a number of civil society groups fighting corruption across Africa: it is a phenomenon that has gathered steam in recent years and led to the emergence of new approaches and tactics.