Is the African Union committed to its objectives?

On the evening of 2nd February 2015, on Spectrum on Radio One FM90, I had the honour to debate two distinguished African leaders – Ambassador Kintu Nyago who is the Deputy Head of the Uganda Mission at the UN and Mr. Godber Tumushabe who is the Associate Director at the Great Lakes Institute for strategic studies; which debate was moderated by Mr. Edmond Kizito. This is a transcription of my submissions during the debate.

Like I often say, I am a cultural anthropologist, I like to discuss from a perspective of things I can see. When discussions are abstract I am unable to cope. Your question was, what did we get out of the most recently held African Union Summit? The purpose of the African Union summit was or is still to have visibility of Africa. More and more, visibility of Africa as a unit is important because we are in a situation where we have economic dependence on the global world. We are not an isolated unit – there is an African continent and this continent is also part of the international global order. Now how does Africa present itself on the international stage? We cannot present ourselves as tinzy winzy little countries, and therefore, once in a while we need to use symbolism. One of the greatest leaders who used symbolism is Dr. Martin Luther King. You have to have a symbolic showing. So on those grounds, African leaders meeting, and by the way Africa is the only continent where you probably have such a unit, where they are all together and they are meeting, it is a very good thing. What they discuss in those meetings has to be debated. An achievement yes, regular meetings of African leaders; showing that we are united – is a very important thing for Africa. I am talking as an African. As an African I am contextualised within the global world order. This is an unjust global order and I cannot but recognise that when African leaders meet, they actually send a message and say there is a unit called Africa.

My own misgivings are how the African Union likes to model itself on other unions, like the European Union. If you quantify the expenditure that is incurred for our leaders to meet in relation to our standards of living, it then begins to put questions to the moral – there is the morality as well. It puts a moral questioning to our leaders. Writing in 1985 about the Organisation of African Unity Mwalimu Julius Nyerere (Rest in Peace) – he indicated that Africa must work so hard to raise the standards of living of its people. He stated that it must be done through agriculture and it must be done with a focus of food production. If you look at the different African countries, how much of their budgets are actually allocated to Agriculture? In comparison to the expenditure of the summit; morally, I begin to question how our African leaders are taking decisions; are prioritising things. But that they meet is a very important thing. We have to show ourselves as existing, we have to remind the rest of the world that we are there.

What we need to do better is to do what the African Union is set up to do – greater integration amongst ourselves. It costs more and it takes longer for one to travel within Africa than one to travel to Europe. It is expensive for me to move from Uganda to West Africa. In fact I don’t even know if there are flights scheduled sometimes. It is extremely expensive for me to trade with Africa and it is easier to trade with the EU. Look at how wide open our borders are – we are flooded with EU products, we are flooded with products from the United States of America, but our products are constantly facing all sorts of funny little things of you-can’t-bring-it-here. It has nothing to do with quality. For example, the Ambassador is here, they say we cannot export fresh matooke to the US. Why, because they are blocking markets for importers of bananas from Latin America. And they say our bananas are problematic, really how problematic are our bananas. And then we get engaged in dealing with them on their terms, instead of also insisting on dealing with them on our terms and then we end up with the Presidential Banana Initiative which is doing powdered matooke. Who is going to eat powdered matooke in Uganda? What is that? The taste of powder matooke is culturally unacceptable to us. It is a white elephant. There are very many countries which have developed on agriculture – Denmark, Netherlands; they are exporting their stuff here.

It is important that we not look at the small internal things that each country is actually supposed to deliver. The African Union is supposed to be engaging at an international level and therefore we should necessarily judge the African Union by its effectiveness at the global level. So, for example, correctly so, the Ambassador has shared that the African Union often attempts to and gets involved in peace keeping and negotiations. But when President Museveni and many other leaders authored, in the name of the African Union, a communiqué to the global world that please do not intervene in Libya the way you want to intervene, they were just ignored. The global world just ignored them and went ahead and bombarded Libya. What is the real power of the African Union? On term limits, UK does not have term limits. In UK change of leadership is based on elections. The term limit thing is just a red herring. Why is the global world not respecting Africa, why is Banki Moon feeling that it is okay for him to lecture the heads of state of Africa? Those are the questions we need to be debating and those are the questions we need to answer. Why, it is because of the way we allow them to do so. Why are they undermining us, if we know what we are doing?

Looking at the score card, I think that as the Ambassador has already said, they have achieved solidarity and unity in African Countries. They have to a great degree defended their sovereignty and territory. To some degree they have achieved greater solidarity. Even though that unity and solidarity might be questioned by some, the unity and solidarity that they showed when His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta was facing the whole ICC business, they refused to shun him – that is solidarity. And at the end of the day, the charges were dropped and by sticking with him, that is solidarity, it is unity, for better or for worse, it is solidarity. Territorial integration – many years ago, when I was a little girl it was very rare for us to enter what you call a supermarket, moreover that are owned by East Africans. For me, as a small farmer, those days it was unheard of, my Alinga Farms is supplying dried mushrooms and hibiscus sabdariffa to Nakumatt; Nakumatt is owned by Kenyans. We must celebrate some of those achievements. Uganda in the past did not have anything that we were producing (for sale in super markets) and we thought that Colgate was the only tooth paste, but Colgate is not the only tooth paste, now we have very many tooth pastes. We must celebrate that. But we must not forget that we have failed in the most important one. Africa is people and therefore when I look at Africa’s people is where I judge success. In order for us to celebrate people, we must look at the basic needs. Food is a determinant of health. If you can feed your nation you can talk. If we are unable to feed our own nations and we are busy importing things from the US from subsidised farmers of the US or from subsidised farmers from the EU, our African Union is not succeeding. Our African union needs to do exactly as the EU does and stop certain produce from entering our borders. If the wheat which is making chapatti is not being produced here, we should eat kabalagala – cassava and banana to make kabalagala.

I do agree with the Ambassador that fixating on term limits is really not going to help as very much. The term limits – if there was despot who wanted to cling to power, you think they would stop because there are term limits? No, they would use the gun and they would come in and take power. What we need to be concerned about, and this is what frustrates me the most with the so-called elite of Uganda and of Africa, what frustrates me the most is that we get fixated discussing non-issues, like term limits, and not discussing the real problems. The real problem we have in Uganda and probably in most of Africa is the quality of participation of all Africans and Ugandans in debate. We have not had LC elections for LCI (village) and LCII (parish) held for the last 13 years – a gross violation of the Uganda Constitution. We should be saying if there are no LCI elections held, we shouldn’t have presidential elections, because the LCI includes a wider population in engaging in debate and in determining debate. As the Ambassador was saying, when the Constitution was amended to remove term limits LCI elections had not been held at that time – we cannot know whether at that time the popular view at village level was the view of these so-called members of parliament who are not consulting with their constituencies, because if they were consulting with their constituencies they would know that it is important to have local council elections. Why, through the local council elections we demonstrate who we want to be in our leadership in the village. We have never had that done – we have never tested the NRM system, because all the LCIs now are NRM. We have never had LCI elections at village level (under the multiparty dispensation). These Godbers, they come here at national level, make these very nice policies, these very nice debates, but they are so removed from the grassroots. They (the current administration of the Government of Uganda) wanted to do the elections by lining up as we have normally done, but elitist people said: No we cannot line up, it is violating our rights, the women will be beaten – that is a false hood. The freedom to participate through LCI elections is absolutely important.

This is the end of what I said on air, but perhaps to contextualise my submissions, I share herewith an extract from a speech that was given by His Excellency Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere, while he was the Chairman of the Organisation of African Unity; which he gave on Africa Day in Stockholm in Sweden on 25th May, 1985; and as published in the book: “Freedom and A New World Economic Order” published by Oxford University Press.

“Famines are now raging through very many parts of Africa, with millions of people threatened with death from starvation. They are the result of successive years of drought, coming on top of the extreme poverty derived from technical backwardness, primitive agriculture, and ECONOMIES DEPENDENT ON THE WORKINGS OF AN UNJUST INTERNATIONAL ECONOMIC ORDER – all exacerbated in some cases by civil conflict … It would be immoral to allow anyone to die from hunger and its effects, while there is surplus food elsewhere which could be made available. We have cause to be grateful to all the famine relief donors. I think I speak for the whole of Africa when I say that we are. But this is not enough. It is vital that Africa should be able and, be enabled, to feed itself. Yet, for this to happen, radical changes have to take place within our countries, within Africa and also in the world economy … We must give top priority to increasing agricultural output, with the first emphasis on food. But we need to do so in a manner which, as far as possible, does not further increase our import dependence … We must wean ourselves away from the attractions of large and centrally controlled schemes for which we can get aid in the form of tractors, vehicles, harvesters and other equipments, all of which need imported fuel and spare parts. We must give priority to helping the African peasant to get simple improved tools, which are useful on his land-holding: to giving him better seeds, to increasing his knowledge of modern techniques: to giving him access to water supplies and reliable transport services. The peasants must also have incentives for still more hard work. This means not only good prices, but also access to the consumer and domestic investment goods, on which their money can be spent … The basic national decision is that we should reform our approach, so that it is oriented towards decreased dependence on imports from developed countries; and towards building, as a matter of urgency, economic cooperation with other African and Third World Countries … Implicit in such a re-orientation, however, is a new emphasis on agriculture, ON LABOUR-INTENSIVE PRODUCTION METHODS, and on the building up of national, sub-regional and African self-reliance as a method as well as an objective of advance … But even as we reorientate our economic thinking and practice, it is necessary that we should at the same time, pursue, with increased vigour, the struggle for a New International Economic Order. The world is one. Even if we wanted to do so, the economic south could not cut itself off the ‘economic North’.”

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