Let me begin with three points of clarification. First, there are some people who are wondering how one person can write as prolifically as I am doing without assistance. I want to assure everyone that I have never received one dollar in assistance; I have never hired a consultant or even a secretary to type my manuscripts. I have done all the research, all the writing and all the typing by myself and paid all expenses from my own resources. I have not been influenced by anybody or any ideology but my own conscience. It is a commitment to my country that has driven me to do what you have read. If unsure you are free to investigate.
Second, I became an author and co-host of an English program on Radio Munansi for various reasons. One of them is that many decision makers in Uganda used to tell me and still do that more often than not they take decisions they would avoid if they had enough information. Some of them urged me to share my thoughts with a larger public. I focused on the Great Lakes region because it has had a far greater impact on Uganda than any other African region, and it could even have more in the days ahead. Notwithstanding human imperfections, I have tried to be as factual as possible, at times examining both sides of the issue before drawing conclusions and offering recommendations.
Third, the information I have shared with readers is to form a basis for discussion. Some of it is a synthesis of what I get from readers which I share with a wider public for information and reaction. When you don’t agree with an idea give your constructive opinion instead of rejecting what others have suggested without giving an alternative. Nobody should expect easy answers when dealing with Uganda’s political economy. Some become skeptical and throw in the towel. While inclusive debating is necessary and has happened among Ugandans at home and abroad, we should not debate indefinitely because perfection is untenable. Good medical doctors begin with a thorough diagnosis but if they take too long they may lose the patient. Similarly while a thorough understanding of Uganda’s political economy is vital, we should not debate forever. We have to take decisions and move on. Thankfully, an alternative to NRM’s failed policies has emerged as contained in UDU’s National Recovery Plan which incorporated many suggestions from Ugandans at home and abroad and will continue to be refined along the way. Let’s return to today’s topic.
When our leaders talked about metamorphosis and fundamental change; regional economic integration and political federation, many of us thought that these slogans were emphasized to strengthen the nation state within a larger economic and political framework. We thought that coming together would strengthen our influence and impact at the continental and global levels. By speaking with one voice and negotiating as one would enable us to extract more benefits than acting individually. We thought we would retain our nationalities within the East African Community as Ugandans, Kenyans, Tanzanians, Burundians and Rwandes. We believed that supranational institutions like research would strengthen national institutions to deliver better services.
What we are hearing and reading about the future of East African Community has given cause to pause and reflect. I don’t know how many Ugandans expected that the new community would lead to the abolition of national borders, creation of one nation and people would settle anywhere, abandonment of Uganda’s seat at the United Nations and African Union etc; surrender of foreign affairs responsibility; abandonment of all languages in favor of one East African common language. We were under the impression that we were by and large following the European Union model of building from the bottom, sector by sector and ending up with a political union or federation. European countries would form the United States of Europe similar to the United States of America with state and federal structures. We thought East Africa would follow the same model. The idea that has come from a member state of the EAC that in the not too distant future national borders will be abolished and one nation forged out of five separate states is new and may torpedo what has been accomplished so far because we may need to suspend negotiations until these fundamental issues have been resolved at the national level. We would like to hear the views of other member states.
I have written at length on economic integration and political federation issues including in East Africa. All the articles are posted at www.kashambuzi.com. It has been shown worldwide how difficult integration and federation processes are. These are matters that cannot and should not be rushed. We rushed into the East African federation in the early 1960s and failed. Then we rushed into the first East African Community (EAC) which did not survive to celebrate its tenth anniversary. We have now started with political federation ahead of economic integration. This is clearly a recipe for serious problems ahead. Similarly abolishing national borders, forging one nation out of five, speaking one language and residing anywhere are things that cannot come about over night through a resolution (unanimous, or by consensus or vote) of the East African Legislative Assembly.
Safeguarding national sovereignty must remain the pillar of East African negotiations. Nation states must be strengthened first, moving step by step and sector by sector. Starting with political federation and then moving to economic integration is the wrong way to go and must be recast. How do you even proceed when the challenges like trade inequalities and disagreement over industrial location that broke the back of the first EAC still remain unresolved? Uganda continues to register trade deficits, her industries cannot compete without temporary protection until they have matured. This is not the kind of EAC that Uganda seeks.
We are already forcing our people to reduce family size because of shortage of land, education, health and other public services. How then can we afford to naturalize millions that entered Uganda illegally or as refugees and allow other East Africans to settle in Uganda permanently? Raising these questions is not being sectarian as some would want to paint it. This is leadership in the interest of the people. Uganda and Ugandans must come first. Proceeding along the current trajectory is a recipe for conflict, insecurity and instability and must be handled with utmost care.
Uganda cannot and must not remain a country producing staple foodstuffs as its area of comparative advantage. This comparative advantage of crop cultivation may even be lost. With the environment deteriorating very fast, Uganda is likely to become a semi-desert and desert within 100 years as FAO has warned suitable only for herding cattle, goats, sheep and possibly camels. In Rukungiri district, we used to have two growing seasons. Due to climate change the two seasons have virtually merged into one and productivity has declined because rainfall pattern has adversely changed in amount, timing and duration. Soon it will be a semi-desert unsuitable for crop cultivation. We cannot afford to specialize in livestock at the cost of crop cultivation. We need both. Therefore the government must put a priority on environmental regeneration. If leadership in the ministry of environment can’t do the job it should be replaced by capable people. The supply of water to urban areas by gravity also under this ministry has created tremendous problems for upstream and downstream residents. A visit to Rukungiri district will show you the extent of damage that has been done. The gravity method of supplying water to urban areas from rivers needs to be revisited.
Uganda cannot transform its economy without a dynamic manufacturing sector. Developed countries that had abandoned the sector in favor of services have reverted to manufacturing because it creates jobs and adds value. Uganda must develop a manufacturing sector in order to transform the economic structure. Starting with services as NRM has done is a wrong strategy and has led to an economic enclave centered on Kampala without any meaningful linkages with the rest of the country.
To sum up, Uganda leadership especially the legislature needs to be clear about what is needed from the East African community to strengthen Uganda as a nation state, not to be swallowed up into a new country called East Africa. Two things need not be stressed: national boundaries and land ownership. National boundaries must remain unchanged (inviolable). Uganda has two factors of production namely people and land. People are being weakened by disease, hunger, poverty, illiteracy, physical and mental disabilities because of NRM’s failed policies. They are virtually unemployable outside agriculture. They therefore need land in order to survive. That is why land should remain firmly in the hands of Ugandans – this is not and should not be negotiable. Land should therefore be taken out of EAC negotiations and should not be parceled out to large scale farmers as the prime minister has suggested or decided. To prevent land from slipping out of our hands Ugandans need to come together and demand that land belongs to Ugandans and not available for sale to the highest bidder be it foreign or indigenous. In the present circumstances, this is the right thing to do.