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African continental integration is long overdue  

African leaders after an OAU summit in 1963

COMMENT | Besi Ndereya | The 1960’s press clippings and portraits of African leaders still linger in the thoughts of many. Here was a generation of men standing at the precipice of an African renaissance. More often, each had courageously fought off the yoke of colonialism; liberating his people in the process. Men like Osagyefo Nkrumah, Mwalimu Nyerere and yes even Dr. Milton together with Ethiopia’s Tafari Makonnen Woldemikael better known as Emperor Haile Selassie represented our aspirations as Africans.

Indeed, Selassie’s internationalist views led to Ethiopia becoming a charter member of the United Nations in 1945. His political thought and experience in promoting multilateralism and collective security have proved seminal and enduring. At the League of Nations in 1936, the emperor condemned the use of chemical weapons by Italy against his people during the Second Italy–Ethiopian War.

Africa’s perennial weakness of “disunity” however, was to work against her. Many of these heroes of liberation had by 1975 been overthrown by “Western backed coups” or yes, as in the case of the emperor, Soviet backed coups. For a while, it looked like ‘Revolutionary theory had frozen to a dogmatic cult, with a simplified, easily graspable catechism.’

The East African Community, originally formed in 1967 did not survive this “turmoil of ideology”. It folded in 1977 and was only revived with the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community signed in 1999 by Kenya, Uganda and United Republic of Tanzania. This was nearly 18 years after Yoweri Museveni publishing his famous “NRM 10 point program.” Together with H.E. Benjamin Mkapa and H.E. Daniel arap Moi, president Museveni had at last changed East Africa’s “face of history”.

The year 2019 began in much the same way as 1999. Yoweri Museveni addressed the 32nd Heads of State’s meeting of the African Union in Addis Ababa. In his address aptly titled ‘integrate or perish’ delivered on 11/02/19 he stated: “There are 2 issues that are crucial for our future. These are political and economic integration of Africa. Our view is that African integration means 3 things; prosperity, security and fraternity.”  Africa is now home to 8 regional economic blocs.

A 2017 article by Ms. Karen McVeigh – ‘World is plundering Africa’s wealth of billions of dollars a year’ observed “African countries received $162bn in 2015, mainly in loans, aid and personal remittances. But in the same year, $203bn was taken from the continent, either directly through multinationals repatriating profits and illegally moving money into tax havens, or by costs imposed by the rest of the world through climate change adaptation and mitigation.” – In other words, African integration means prosperity, security and fraternity.

Aisha Dodwell, campaigner of Global Justice – one of the authors quoted by McVeigh opines “This research shows that what African countries need is for the rest of the world to stop systematically looting them. While the form of colonial plunder may have changed over time, its basic nature remains unchanged.”

Sadly, Regional Integration remains low in Africa. The 2019 African Regional Integration Index (ARII)- released in Morocco – findings show SADC is Africa’s most integrated region in terms of trade. South Africa is Africa’s most integrated country.

The five areas analysed by ARII are: Trade Integration, regional Infrastructure, productive integration, free movement of people and macro-economic integration.

Though significant challenges do exist in strengthening Africa’s regional economic blocs in terms of implementation and pushing the agenda forward to meet the goal of increasing intra-African trade to 25% by 2023- it still is possible for Africa to secure her prosperity, security and fraternity.

On a recent countrywide tour of military barracks, Museveni – as commander in chief of Uganda – while praising Uganda’s benefit from East African Community success – said: “I have come to check on the units and the service they extend to our people in terms of security. We want politics of patriotism. It’ll help give us a bigger market. Without African integration, there can never be prosperity. We’re lagging behind in science and technology. Uganda can’t survive alone in a modern age.”

The querulous monologue of political and economic affairs as discussed by Ugandan opposition politicians therefore MUST never be listened to.

Economies do not grow by stockpiling inflows and preventing outflows but by enabling people to invest and learn, adapt technologies and access markets. Integration is our gateway and therefore Museveni deserves our support to push this cause.

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Besi Ndereya is a Communications Assistant at Government Citizen Interaction Centre (GCIC), Ministry of ICT & National Guidance.

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