East African Community Partner States have no option but to accelerate the integration process if the region is to become competitive in the global economy, President Yoweri Museveni has said.
President Museveni said that failure by the EAC Partner States to form a stronger, more cohesive bloc with a bigger market would be disastrous for the region in the long run.
“Integration is not really something we will do or not do. It is a must. If we don’t, we shall end up in a very bad situation. The question we should be asking ourselves as we seek to integrate is why need to integrate. If we can answer that question, the how will become quite easy,” he said.
President Museveni was speaking at State House, Entebbe in Uganda when he met the Committee of Experts on the Drafting of the Constitution for the EAC Political Confederation. The Committee which sought the views of the President on the Political Confederation was led by its chairperson, retired Ugandan Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki.
Accompanying the committee of experts to the meeting with the President were Uganda’s Minister of EAC Affairs, General Kahinda Otaafire, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Prof. Kamuntu Ephraim, and Minister of State for EAC Affairs, Hon. Hon. Julius Wandera Maganda.
President Museveni pledged that the Government of Uganda would give US$600,000 to the EAC Secretariat to support national consultations on the Political Confederation being conducted by the committee in the Partner States. This was in addition to the US$150,000 Uganda had given to the EAC Secretariat in November 2019 to fund the process.
EAC Affairs Minister Gen. Otafiire had earlier informed the President that US$3.5 million was required to complete the consultations in all the Partner States.
President Museveni cited prosperity for the region, strategic security, and the fact that East Africans were peoples of the same origins as the three major reasons why the region needs to integrate faster.
On prosperity, President Museveni said that economic growth comes from the production of goods and services and not foreign aid noting that development partners can only help a developing country in small ways.
“Prosperity must come from work. Integration is, therefore, a must to create a bigger market for the goods and services produced by our people. Just ask yourselves why a huge country like China which has a domestic market of 1.4 billion people is still struggling for more markets despite the huge domestic market. It is the same case with India which also has a very big market,” said President Museveni even as he urged the EAC Partner States not to rest on their laurels.
“Before 1978, China was not moving economically due to its socialist system. Then they started bringing in investments and selling to the global market. Their economy grew and now Africa is simply supporting the prosperity of China by buying their products and services including expertise in infrastructure development,” he said.
“The huge conglomerates undertaking infrastructure development in Africa today were originally Chinese government and army companies that were building infrastructure in China. They went abroad after developing China,” he added.
President Museveni compared the Spanish colonies in South America that chose to remain sovereign states vis-à-vis the British colonies in the present-day United States which united to form a federation.
“Today, the US is a superpower, and people from South America are migrating to the US to look for jobs. This is despite South America being very rich in natural resources. Natural resources cannot help you if you have no strong economic framework,” he said.
President Museveni said that EAC Partner States markets operating individually were small and therefore need to integrate into a bigger one.
“We need to solve the issue of market or else we shall continue enriching other countries,” said the Head of State.
On the issue of strategic security, President Museveni said that EAC and Africa require the ability to defend themselves and their economic interests.
“Our borders are a problem because we are not united. Security is fragmented due to sovereignty. Rebels have been in eastern DRC for decades and are now in Mozambique. The lack of cooperation on security matters engenders instability. Lack of a unified command means that you cannot solve security issues easily.”
“Superpowers are engaging in space exploration while we are still concerned with basic survival. The question we should ask ourselves is: can Uganda develop a space program sustainably on its own?”
On similarity or common origin of East Africans, President Museveni said that the African continent was composed of four groups linguistically, namely Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharan, Cushitic and Afro-Asiatic languages in addition to minor clusters such as Khoisan which is spoken in Southern Africa. He added that Kiswahili can be used to unite the region.
He said that businesspeople in East Africa were in full support of the integration because they were very much inconvenienced by national borders and other non-tariff barriers.
While pitching for the formation of a Political Confederation as a transitional model to a Political Federation, President Museveni said that focusing on the common market only will likely lead to imbalances in intra-regional trade as has happened in the European Union.
“You need to unite the market with other elements especially the free movement of persons, labor, services, and capital. Under a federation, citizenship becomes one in a contiguous territory. As we integrate our markets, the other crucial thing to consider is citizenship,” he said.
The President, however, said that free movement of persons must have controls with sectors such as land tenure and agricultural production being protected for locals while people from other Partner States focus on skilled jobs in offices, business, and public service.
On funding for the Political Confederation, President Museveni suggested that taxes levied on goods sold throughout the region should go towards financing the Confederation.
President Museveni said that contributions by constituent states of the confederation should not be equal because some countries especially the bigger economies would benefit more from the union through trade.
“No single country should feel oppressed or bear the burden of running the bloc. The EU established compensation funds for smaller economies so I urge you to consider this,” he advised the experts.
On adoption of the constitution of the Politica Federation, President Museveni said that the principle of variable geometry where those Partner States that would like to adopt be allowed to move as others join later.
Justice Odoki informed the President that based on national consultations conducted throughout the country, the committee had arrived at the view that the people of Uganda were eager to be part of a federation in East Africa.
The retired CJ told the President that people had, however, expressed concern over issues of governance, challenges in crossing borders, and harmonization of systems as matters that need to be addressed as the region moves towards a confederation.
Justice Odoki told the President that the process had not been able to move as fast as initially planned due to the shortage of funds and the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The 14-day consultations in Uganda have seen the committee of constitutional experts for Drafting the EAC Political Federation Constitution to hold consultations with civil society, local leaders, opinion leaders, and the business community among other stakeholders to seek their views on what kind of a Political Confederation they would desire for the EAC.
Apart from the capital city Kampala, the team of experts held consultations with a cross-section of stakeholders in Entebbe, Arua, Gulu, Mbale, Mbarara, and Kabale.