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Uganda's Pres Museveni: Not Yet Time For One African Government

President Yoweri Museveni wrote to the African presidents meeting in Libya recently. Below is the speech, read by foreign affairs minister Sam Kutesa...

YOUR Excellency Brother Gadaffi; Your Excellencies Heads of State and Government;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

I salute you all.

I promised to write a note about the African Integration process. By 1963, three ideas had emerged regarding the African Integration process. These were:

- Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s idea of forming a Continental Government immediately;

- Dr. Julius Nyerere’s idea of forming Regional Federations where possible; and

- The idea of the so-called “conservatives”, who wanted to maintain the status-quo – i.e. the continued political balkanisation of Africa.

As I reported when I chaired the Committee of seven in Sirte-Libya in July 2005, the reactionary position of maintaining the status-quo has now disappeared because it has proved unviable. Many of the small African states, even, find it difficult to pay their public servants. African countries have stagnated for a number of reasons, including the continued balkanisation of the African Continent.

After the cold war, the sponsorship that used to come from the rival camps stopped. Therefore, many of these small African countries woke up to the realisation that African countries needed each other. This discredited the position of the so-called “conservatives” and enhanced the position of the progressives. We are, therefore, remaining with the two positions of the progressives:

- Those who think that Continental Political Unification is possible now; and

- Those who think that Regional Political Federations are more viable.

Since 1963, I have always belonged to the latter school – the school of Regional Political Federations. There are two top-most reasons for this: First and foremost, the cohesion and compatibility of the communities. At the regional level, you have more potential for cohesion and compatibility than at the continental level. The whole of Africa has got four linguistic groups: the Niger-Congo, including the Bantu; the Nilo-Saharan (Cushitic and Nilotic languages); the Afro-Asiatic (Arabic, Tigrinya, Amhara, etc); and the small South African language group spoken by the people the Europeans used to call the “bushmen”. If we take East Africa, for instance, it is comprised, mainly, of the Bantu and Nilotic language groups. Besides, a dialect of the Bantu languages, mixed with a bit of Arabic and other Asian and European languages, evolved over thousands of years. This is a de-tribalised dialect, belonging to no particular ethnic group, Swahili. This makes it acceptable to all the groups of East Africa, Congo and parts of Mozambique, with a total population of about 190 million people.

Apart from language, the cultures of these groups are very close. In fact, many of them belong to the same nationalities. If you take the interlacustrine Bantu (the Bantus of the Great Lakes region), for instance, many of them constitute same nationalities. In spite of this, reactionary opportunists never fail to try and divide them as well as presenting them as different groups. Similar linkages can be found in other parts of Africa.

Therefore, since, 1963, I have been supporting African Political Integration through regional federations. When we were part of the student movement in the 1960s, fighting Amin in the 1970s, fighting Obote in the 1980s and, when we had the chance to run the Government of Uganda, we have always stood for the East African Federation.

However, East Africa is and has always been part of Africa. There is strong evidence of linkages — ancient linkages — between East Africa and the rest of Africa. Certainly, East Africa has got linkages with ancient Egypt, including the use of hierogliphics. There are linkages between the East African Coast with Arabia (Yemen, Oman, etc.), Iran (Shirazis), India, etc. Apart from geography, therefore, there are ancient cultural, linguistic and historical linkages between East Africa and the rest of Africa. These linkages, however, are not as pronounced as those among the East Africans, except for the neighbouring regions: Congo, Southern Africa, Southern Sudan and the Horn of Africa.

One of the obstacles to Continental Political Unity is lack of a common language. You cannot have a country without a common language — indigenous or borrowed. The US uses English; India uses English, their own huge linguistic groups (Hindu, Gujarat, Tamil, Bengali, etc.) notwithstanding; the Soviet Union used Russian; Brazil uses Portuguese, etc. What language will the Federation of Africa use? Will they use English, French, Portuguese, Arabic, or Swahili? Will this not be a source of tensions and even conflict as was the case in some countries?

In addition to the language barrier, there is almost total absence of infrastructure (rail and road) linkages. That is why we took, from early on, the position of supporting the setting up of an economic community for the whole of Africa because it is a less ambitious task. That is why we signed the Abuja Treaty. Economic Integration does not demand the same degree of cohesion as Political Integration.

A federated East Africa could, for instance, be part of this Common Market. East Africa would, eventually, be a very cohesive part of Africa, using Swahili enriched by the other Bantu and Nilotic/Cushitic dialects. Such a cohesive African State would become the strategic backbone of the African peoples. I would not like to miss this historic opportunity by undertaking more complicated tasks that, in our view, have little viability.

The break-up of the Soviet Union could give some lessons regarding huge political units without sufficient internal cohesion. The Russian Empire had kept under domination these huge populations of Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turks, etc. These huge populations were Asiatic, not even European, Muslim, etc, while the Russians themselves were European and Orthodox Christians. Even the Russians’ cousins in the form of Ukrainians and Belarussians also withdrew from the Union.

I, however, think that the problems between the Russians, on the one hand and the Ukrainians and Belarussians, on the other hand, are different from those between the Russians and the Asiatic peoples of the former Soviet Union. We fear that trying to treat the whole of Africa as one political unit could run into similar problems. This is not wise.

In the Bible, in the book of Matthew, chapter 7:26, it says that ‘it is not wise to build a house on a foundation of sand’. We do not want to build such an ‘expensive house on a foundation of sand’. Yet there is a better option of moving cautiously — Regional Federations and a Common Market for the whole of Africa.

In the debate among the Committee of Seven, President Wade convinced us that we should keep the continental unity, at least, as a longterm goal. Longterm means not short or medium-term. It means long-term. I supported this position because my hope was that in the long-run, especially if we worked deliberately, the factors that were denying the whole continent sufficient cohesion could have, possibly, been addressed. These, as already pointed out, included lack of a common language and total absence of infrastructure. The mistake since the AU was formed in July 2002 out of the OAU has been the attempt to change the long-term into the short-term.

Nevertheless, the Committee of Seven also identified some areas that cannot easily be handled at either the national or regional levels, even when regional federations are formed where feasible. These are areas like trade negotiations with foreign countries, dealing with the desert (the environment), possibly inter-state security issues, etc. Our view was that these could, even now, be handled at the continental level through the commission, more recently, the AU Authority.

Uganda, therefore, supports a three-tiered-integration process: Regional Political Federations where possible; a Common Market for the whole of Africa; and areas of joint or common action, even today, that do not involve transfer of sovereignty to the continental level.

As far as Uganda is concerned (and we already have a rough authorisation for this through the recent consultations throughout East Africa), we are prepared to transfer sovereignty only to the Regional Federation level.

Therefore, we appeal to colleagues to adopt this three-tier integration formula for Africa that had been the proposal from the Committee of seven. We have wasted a lot of time by insisting on changing the position of the Committee of Seven. Obviously, there is no consensus for this and, as far as Uganda is concerned, with good reason.

I thank your Excellencies.

Yoweri Kaguta Museveni

Tags:Uganda, Museveni
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