How Africa Can Create Its ‘Centre of Gravity’

Part XVI of these series is the fourth and last segment of a speech delivered in Kampala on July 10, 1998.

In the previous segments, President Museveni explained the factors that he says led to the stagnation of Africa, which some 500 years ago was at the same level of development as Europe, and offered four solutions to Africa’s development questions. In the last segment, Museveni explains the mechanisms for uniting Africa.

Having seen that it is feasible and desirable that we should have a union of Eastern and Central African states, we should now examine the mechanisms that can ensure its existence. The most important is sharing of powers, responsibilities and financial resources. I suggest that the union government should be responsible for the following areas: external defence, foreign affairs, common market affairs, common services (especially railways, harbours, posts, and telecommunications) and scientific research.

All other matters should belong to national governments. The national governments should also share these powers and responsibilities with district levels. These are: education, health, justice, internal security, roads, wildlife and tourism, minerals, agriculture, etc. To illustrate the aantages inherent in this arrangement, I would like to quote the question of defence.

Very few countries in sub-Saharan Africa have got a credible defence against a modern enemy. The air-forces are minuscule and not viable, so are the navies, air-defence forces and tank forces.

Manufacture weapons:

Very few African countries manufacture their own weapons. The sub-Saharan African countries normally use discarded systems from Eastern and Western Europe. Without an independent defence, one cannot have an independent foreign or domestic policy. However, by pooling together the resources of several African countries, we could have several squadrons of good air defence system and some credible tank capacity.

One may say that the situation is improving in the world and there is, therefore, no need for armies. I do not share this belief. The relaxation between East and West does not mean that the problems of the African continent will be resolved peacefully because most of them pre-date colonialism. All the activities mentioned above need to be financed.

Therefore, sharing of finances is very crucial. I would like to suggest the following formula: If a kilogramme of coffee is produced in Mukono district, the tax from it should be shared in the following way: Mukono district takes 10, Uganda takes 50 and union Government takes 40. These percentages are randomly selected just to illustrate the point. There could be different variations depending on more detailed studies to be carried out by experts. However, I would like to maintain the principle of ensuring that the producing area gets an automatic share of the tax proceeds from the product.

This will obviate possible problems arising out of productive areas subsidising non-productive areas. It will stimulate everybody to work. As far as political bodies are concerned, they are easy to work out. I do not have to go into them now. There are various examples in the world that could be emulated for example, USA and others. We also need to point out that size alone does not mean progress. You could have huge but backward countries Zaire and Sudan are such examples. On the other hand, you could have small countries like Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, Monaco, etc., that are prosperous with GDP many times that of Zaire and Sudan.

However, ultimately, it is the size and development that matter as far as independence and influence are concerned. While Belgium, Iceland, Denmark, Luxembourg, and Monaco are small but developed, they are all under the protective shadow of the USA. They are secure because of the USA which is the centre of gravity of the Western alliance. What is the centre of gravity of the African alliance? There is none. That is why racist South Africa was bullying the countries of Southern Africa.

The big and developed USA is the anchor of the Anglo-Saxon-Latin civililisation. Which state is the anchor of Africa? It was the United States and the Soviet Union that saved the European countries from Hitler’s menace. Who would save Africa? Africa is a continent of weaklings. Even Nigeria is not sufficiently large in terms of territory and diversity of resources to compare with the USA, Canada, the Soviet Union, India, or Brazil. We must create that centre of gravity.

Who could join this union? I think the most convenient countries that can start as a nucleus are: Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. Later on, the other countries could join as long as they are geographically contiguous to the union. However, to start with, the first five countries in my list are the most convenient. They all happen to use Swahili language to some degree. They have got a shared history they are geographically contiguous and many people in the area also speak English and French.

The five (5) would have a population of approximately 92 million and a combined land area of 1,822,944 square kilometres (703,842 sq. miles). Overnight, these countries would be transformed into a medium power in political, diplomatic, economic and military terms comparable to Iran which has size of 1,648,000 square kilometres (636,296 sq. miles). I have already spoken to most of the leaders of these countries, and the majority of them have not dismissed the idea. This is a good beginning.

Regional trade:

In the preceding pages we have demonstrated the value of unity as a means of enhancing and consolidating sovereignty, uniting cultures that are historically linked and causing development through integration of markets so that costs per product unit are lowered, enabling us to sell more competitively. While concluding, however, I would like to emphasise the role trade could play in emancipating the African people from poverty. This is crucial in the present debate on COMESA and SADC.

There are two tendencies in the thinking of this area these days: there are those who support COMESA completely, without any reservations on account of the aantages already mentioned in this document. There are, however, other colleagues who are pouring cold water on this emerging co-operation among African states of this area. Recently, SADC passed a resolution recommending the breaking up of COMESA into North and South.

We understand that a number of reasons are being cited for this position. First of all, it is being said that many members in the present COMESA are not serious about cooperation and the perennial requests for derogation on tariff reduction obligations is being cited as one example of that lack of seriousness.

Secondly, it is also being said that there is such great chaos in the Northern part of the PTA that trade is not possible, citing such examples as Sudan and Somalia. Thirdly, some colleagues also talk of the cultural gulf between the Southern area of the PTA and the Northern one, the Southern area being Bantu-speaking, with some Nilotics, while the Northern areas are either Semitic or Hamitic.

Unserious govts:

Dealing with the three reasons one by one, it is true that some of the regimes are not serious. However, others in the North are quite serious. I could cite the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea as examples. In any case, joining a trading bloc is not because of membership fee but, rather, because of markets. On the question of turmoil that militates against trade between states, it is not difficult to show that in recent times this has not been a problem of the Northern PTA areas.

Countries in the Southern PTA area like Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe (at one time Matebeleland) have seen turmoil. If Zaire was to be part of the southern PTA, she could not be mistaken for being an epitome of tranquillity. Besides, increased prosperity through trade would be a contributing factor towards the eventual stabilisation of these troubled countries.

Coming to the question of cultural incompatibility, I must say that this is a matter that does not bear immediate relevance to the benefits or otherwise, of trade between our states. A market is a market irrespective of the culture of the citizens. That is why we have been having associated membership with the EEC who cannot be said to be our kith and kin in any way.

The bigger the market we have, the better. It so happens that the Northern PTA countries are more populated than the Southern ones. As an example, the combined population of Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana and Namibia is roughly equal to the population of Ethiopia – approximately 55 million people.

However, the issue is not to find out who has got more population it is to use the combined populations of the two zones of the PTA, to develop our economies. For 12 years now, the economy of Uganda has been growing at a rate of 6 of GDP per annum. In some years it has grown at 10 per annum. The industrial sector grew at a rate of 30 [per cent] per annum in some of the years. We, therefore, badly need outlets for this growing capacity. We have got g hopes in an African market. Nobody can say that the African market is too big.

The Chinese, with 1.2 billion people, still need external markets in addition to this huge internal market of their own. How can the 300 million people of COMESA say that their market is too big?

Regarding the question of cultural diversity in the COMESA zone, actually, sometimes, differentiation in production patterns coincides with cultural boundaries. As an example, the people of Uganda have, as part of their culture, the traditional art of growing bananas, looking after cattle, and fishing. On the other hand, Ethiopians and Sudanese rear horses and grow sorghum known as Dura.

The Arabs and Ethiopians tend to drink a lot of coffee and tea, both found in Uganda, while Ugandans drink milk, porridge (made out of millet) and banana beer. These different cultures could convert these different communities into complementary trading zones.

However, trading is not the only need for cooperation among our countries. We need co-operation in the political, security, cultural and social fields. It is in these four fields that cultural compatibility and historical linkages are most needed. One can trade with anybody with a desire to buy and means to pay for the product. However, politically, one should only unite with somebody that is quite identical with one, especially culturally.

Therefore, my proposal is that we do two things at this juncture: first of all, we should trade with everybody in Africa who wishes to trade with us. We should create the necessary infrastructural linkages in the form of roads, railways, and harbours so that we can actualise this wish to trade together.

I have, for instance, been dreaming of a road that could link Ethiopia to northern Kenya so that Uganda could export to this fairly big Ethiopian market or better roads into eastern Zaire to expand our present considerable trade between Uganda and Zaire. The physical infrastructure should be in addition to the institutional framework to allow trade to grow rapidly by dealing with tariffs, licensing, cross-border mobility, etc.

Formation of a union government:

Secondly, the Bantu- Nilotic-Sudanic peoples of central and eastern Africa should form a powerful union of African states with one union government and one army. This is a most opportune moment for forming such a government. The expulsion of colonisation from Africa creates the opportune moment. We should not dither.

The thirteen American colonies which had the vision to unite into a confederation to form the USA have created one of the most powerful countries in the history of man. Such leaders responded appropriately to their historical mission. We should not fail in ours. Before colonialism, we could not unite because of the chiefs, and the need was not as compelling. During colonialism, we could not unite because we were not free. After independence, we could not unite because of the bankrupt politicians that wanted to remain big fishes in small ponds, not to mention their lack of vision. There is no reason now except ourselves.

The Bantu-Nilotic-Sudanic-Nilo-Hamitic states of this area start from Southern Sudan, Zaire and Kenya and go southwards through Uganda, Rwanda-Burundi, Tanzania, on to South Africa. Of course Southern Sudan is, in modern times, not able to join such a union. However, all the others, provided their leaders wake up to their historical missions, can form such a union immediately.

Earlier on in the text, I had to show the responsibility areas of the union government and the resources that could be considered. I would, therefore, not like to repeat myself. Suffice it to repeat that we should enhance the power and security of the African people by creating a political union of the states mentioned. At the same time, however, we should use every opportunity to trade with whoever is willing so as to strengthen our political union economically. Thank you.

Source : The Observer

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