The case for the political integration of East Africa
The case for the political integration of East Africa.
I left Uganda to study abroad, in Asia, in 2008. When you leave Africa, it changes the way you self indentify. I had always considered myself a Ugandan. I also knew I was African and a black person. This identity had no real meaning to me. It was another fact of life, like the Sun rising, or the Earth being round. Leaving Africa changed this. I began to identify as an African and as a black man. This change in attitude happens because you realise that that is the identity that the world places on you. More than anything else, being a black person from Africa defines you.
You also come to understand the low opinion of you the world has, due to the fact that you are a black man from Africa. The world places this low opinion on all black Africans. You see the love of white people and white skin the world has. You also notice the outsized influence Europe and the USA have on the mindset of the world. I also noticed the utter insignificance of my country, which almost no one knew of, in the world.
The question could be asked, why is this so problematic? This is a problem because you will be denied access to many places, solely based on your color and country. Because I hold a Ugandan passport, it is difficult to acquire a visa to many countries. Because of the color of my skin, it is possible to be denied access to many places across the world. Because of the foreign nature of my name, my job application will not be considered. Because of the color of my skin, law enforcement will feel comfortable bullying me, safe in the knowledge that I must be a criminal or there’s no one to protect me, least of all my country’s embassy.
This awareness raises the question of self preservation. How do you improve your situation in the world? How do you ensure that your children do not face the same unequal world? Getting individually wealthy will help, but it will not solve many of the issues you are facing.
Luckily, I have a place to call home, Uganda, East Africa, Africa. In sub Saharan Africa, black people have equality. But Africa on the world stage is insignificant. Uganda, more so. In a world where Britain is afraid of leaving the EU for fear of being insignificant, you can only imagine the status of our country. Why is Africa insignificant? Because it is weak, poor and divided. However, Africa is a huge land mass with a population of over 1 billion.
On the other hand, Uganda is poor and small.
Uganda cannot remain as it is and hope to survive and thrive in the 21st century. Even if we were to get significantly richer, as rich as Singapore, and this is not a very likely scenario in the foreseeable future, we would not be able to guarantee our security and independence. What is true for Uganda, is also true for the majority of African countries.
There is one readily available route to fixing this problem, this problem that threatens our future and our children’s future. That is the political integration of East Africa.
Africa was divided, shared among European powers at the Berlin Conference of 1884. This, more or less, defined the present borders African countries have. These borders, arbitrarily drawn by the white man, can as easily be erased by the black man. With the borders question answered, this raises the question of the people of East Africa. Are they compatible?
There are only two major Ethnic groups in East Africa, the Bantu and the Nilotics. The predominant language is Swahili. This is very convenient because it is not a tribal language. The Bantu tribes also have many similarities in culture and language and so do the Nilotics. This points to a fairly recent common ancestry, another reason to integrate politically.
I have many Kenyan, Tanzanian, Congolese and Rwandese friends. You can hardly tell one East African from another. We should integrate politically because we are the same people. If Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan integrate politically, we’ll have a land mass close to that of India, with a population of over 130 million. This is the start up kit of a world power.
I have specified political integration here because economic integration alone does not address strategic security. This is the fundamental reason for political integration. We cannot guarantee our people’s future without militarily and economically strong countries. We cannot advance in technology without having a big rich country. Research and investment in technology requires significant resources. The European countries formed the ESA (European Space Agency) in order to afford space flight. These are considered rich, technologically advanced countries. Technology is the foundation of a strong military. If your technology is backward, your military will be backward too.
If the rich European countries have to integrate to advance, what chance does a lone Uganda or Kenya or Tanzania stand? To be competitive, we must integrate politically.
The United States has robots exploring Mars. They are planning a manned mission to Mars by 2030. They are exploring asteroid mining. They put men on the Moon in the 1960s. Uganda needs Chinese experts to help build a railway. This puts into clear contrast our predicament.
Our situation might appear hopeless. However, history shows us that a big, secure country, with a large population can close this economic and technology gap fairly fast – in a generation. China and India did this. South Korea and Japan did this too and they did not have the advantage of a large land mass. A unified East Africa gives us these factors and there’s no reason why we too would not be able to close this gap fairly fast.
This, however, should not lull us into complacency, a sense of comfort, the idea that we shall at some point in the future integrate. In the present, we are living in a world of plenty. There is no food, water or land shortage in the rich powerful countries. Therefore they do not need Africa at the moment.
We do not know how long this state of affairs will last. With the advent of climate change, the polar ice caps are melting. Rising sea levels will cover a lot of coastal areas. This will force a lot of people across the world to migrate. The change in climate might make parts of the world less ideal for humans to live. Pollution in China, might make Chinese look elsewhere to settle.
In the past, when Europeans were setting up colonies across the world, Africa’s germs, animals and jungles gave us some protection. Many peoples across the world were less fortunate. Many were killed off like the Aztecs of South America, Maori of New Zealand, and went extinct. When the Spanish arrived in South America in about 1500, conservative estimates place the South American population at that time, at 70 million. By 1900, the native population was around 15 million, 80% had died from a mixture of guns and small pox. Today, they are almost extinct.
It was the same in North America. Today, the Red Indians live in reserves. Africans survived the slave trade. Slavery ended only about 150 years ago. The transatlantic slave trade might be the only time in human history when an entire race of people were considered sub human and enslaved. That race was the black race. What have we done to prevent this from happening again?
Our immunity protected us from the diseases of the foreigners. Our jungles and diseases protected us from settlers. What will protect us this time if the world comes for our land, our people and our resources?
We are currently protected by a fleeting set of factors. A world order up held by the West, when it suits them. Obama called it “enlightened self interest” – when our goals are common, they help us. Like when Ebola became a global threat. Otherwise we are on our own. Like in the case of Kony or the Rwandan genocide. This world order is crumbling. There is a rise of white nationalism in the West. The election of Trump in the US, Brexit in UK, the rise of Le Pen in France – these are not isolated incidents. Africa cannot afford to waste time.
We are like animals in the parks, the West can intervene at will. Whether it is the assassination of Lumumba, or the toppling of Gaddafi, or the sanctions on Zimbabwe or supporting apartheid or summoning Uhuru Kenyatta to the Hague, the West intervenes in African affairs at will. They can do this because we are weak and divided. The East African political integration would be the first step in addressing this.
The argument could be made that a black man, as President of the United States was, until recently, the leader of the free world. Therefore the attitude of the world towards the black man is changing. One only needs to look at the United States to see that this is not true. The black race in the United States is still systematically oppressed. In Uganda, you do not have to worry about being shot by a cop while crossing the street. Or that you might not be allowed a job or a house because of the color of your skin. This is still true in the United States.
African citizens and African leaders who accumulate wealth ahead of building their countries should look at what happened to the wealthy chiefs when the Europeans came to Africa. Wealth was no protection. You either became a collaborator and lived at the mercy of the invaders or lost your wealth. Wealth did not save the Jews from the pogroms or the Holocaust. The Jewish people realized that building wealth without a secure country to call their own was pointless. And so they formed Israel. Africans should learn from this.
Technology is advancing fast in areas such as space exploration, Artificial Intelligence, stem cell research. Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, SolarCity and SpaceX said Artificial Intelligence might be as few as 10 years away. If we do not start moving as a continent, we might be left so far behind that catching up becomes very difficult. We then might find ourselves in a situation similar to that of our ancestors when the Europeans came with guns to Africa.
The only way to change this set of circumstances is for the countries of East Africa to integrate politically into a big, populous nation that can rival the great nations of the world. This way we can work to ensure our survival in the 21st century. The individual countries of East Africa cannot survive or thrive in the 21st Century without political integration. If they survive, it will at the whim of more powerful nations. Without political integration, the people of East Africa will be placing their future, the future of their children and grand children into the hands of foreigners. Without political integration we risk enslavement, we risk extinction.