Whose idea is East African integration and federation?

East African economic integration and political federation is again very much in the air. This time it is neither the British nor Tanzanians pushing but Ugandans with Museveni as champion. Museveni has made it his top priority. He is not only pushing very hard but he has reversed the order putting political federation ahead of economic integration. It is like building a house starting with the roof! Some commentators are beginning to wonder what has triggered this rush in Uganda’s state house. Before examining Museveni’s rush, let us briefly examine the background to East African economic integration and political federation.

The idea originated in London. Since the Second World War, one of long-term ambitions of London had been the achievement of closer integration of its East African territories in a federal arrangement or political union probably under the leadership of Kenya (Butler 2002). To this end the three colonial territories developed common economic structures, a common market and a common currency. Britain hoped that by creating East African High Commission and the East African Common Services Organization the three territories would unify or federate into one larger nation (Grenville 1994). In the early 1950s, the colonial office intimated that it might consider an East African federation (Diamond and Burke 1966).

Museveni wasn’t born to rule, but to destroy

People who know Museveni well will tell you that during his secondary education life he exhibited restless rather than leadership behavior. Two developments appear to have disoriented him fundamentally in the late 1950s and early 1960s. First, during negotiations for Uganda’s independence, Bahororo (Museveni is a Muhororo) of Ankole demanded a separate district to recover part of former Mpororo kingdom. Bahima refused. It is believed that in retaliation, Museveni, as president, has refused restoration of Ankole kingdom. Second, Bairu’s political ascendancy in Ankole kingdom as independence approached was disturbing. Until then Bairu had been treated like slaves by Bahima and Bahororo. Bairu – a term coined by Bahima according to Speke (1863, 2006) – means slaves.

Realizing that numerically, Bahororo are insignificant and could not change Bairu’s political trajectory democratically, Museveni opted for a military solution: to stop Bairu’s political advance and restore Bahororo’s lost glory. His military participation in the overthrow of Amin was supposed to catapult him to Uganda’s presidency in 1980 election which he lost. He used the excuse of rigged 1980 elections which had been certified by the Commonwealth Observer team (which he has used to certify his rigged elections since 1996) to start a devastating guerrilla war. Museveni was aware that he would not win the next elections – hence the military option.

Ugandans must begin to think dialectically

Dialectics is the art or practice that helps to understand that we are not always told the truth. Dialectics therefore helps us to get to the truth by making sure that the absent is made the present because the greater part of the truth is in that which is absent.

Since colonial days Ugandans have been largely conditioned to obey what the teacher, or priest and increasingly Museveni says. Our history is still based on what John Hanning Speke (1863) and his aristocratic European and African followers connected with the royal courts wrote. They came up with the Hamitic Myth that Bahima and their Batutsi, Bahororo and Banyamulenge cousins are ‘white’ people, more intelligent, physically attractive and born to rule and that they brought civilization to the ‘Dark Continent’ then occupied by Negroes (black people).

By contrast, they emphasized that the Negroes were short with round heads and thick noses, unintelligent and born to be ruled and to serve as slaves (Bairu) of the ruling hamitic people. Although these stereotypes have been discredited with scientific evidence and performance at school and at work, Bahororo and their cousins of Nilotic Luo-speaking ancestry from Bahr-el Ghazel in southern Sudan (not Ethiopia as Speke wrote) have insisted they are superior and will rule in perpetuity wherever they happen to be, hence the idea of Tutsi Empire in the Great Lakes region.

British indirect rule in Uganda is still alive and well

The British colonial policy in Uganda was to maximize outcomes for the British people and her industries at minimum cost. Besides strategic interests related to the source of the Nile and Egypt, Britain colonized Uganda to obtain raw materials for her expanding industries, food for her growing population, a market for her surplus manufactured products and a home for her excess population.

After several years of agricultural experimentation with white farmers and informed debate between Entebbe and London colonial officials it was decided that Uganda should be left in the hands of Uganda peasants and loyal chiefs – traditional or appointed – supervised by a few British officials at the central, provincial, district and local levels to ensure that law and order was maintained, taxes were collected and public projects such as roads were constructed.

The cost of governing Uganda would be met from local resources to reduce pressure on the British treasury. Using Buganda as an example of indirect rule model, Chretien (2006) observed that “The kingdom of Buganda was a notable example of the colonial combination of economic calculation, missionary activity, and political strategizing. In this process, the African actors played as decisive a role as the European imperialists”.