Mid this week presidents and ministers from 26 African countries assembled in the Ugandan capital Kampala todiscuss the economics of integration and the need to create a large trading bloc that harnesses the huge market that is SADC, COMESA and EAC combined.
Going by the speeches of the leaders that assembled in Kampala on Wednesday, it is evident that they have a clear understanding of where they want to lead their people to.
Indeed a number have clarity of how to get there. The consensus on the entire African continent is for greater integration to be realised.
But what has always been contentious is the issue of how to proceed with this process of integration. Some, like Libya’s 'brother leader' Muammer Gaddafi, have advocated for a United States of Africa modeled along the lines of the United States of America.
This is something that seems to be a cause Gaddaffi holds dear going by the efforts and money he has invested in the venture.
He has tried to sell this idea to other leaders on the continent but they apparently shot it down. Leaders led by Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and former South African President Thambo Mbeki turned a cold shoulder on Gaddaffi as regards this issue.
After failing to convince the national leaders of the viability of his dream, he has lately invested his hope in traditional leaders. Indeed, according to media reports he recently hosted a gathering of all kind of traditional African leaders in Libya.
As far as integration is concerned, most prefer that it happen on a regional level like we are seeing through COMESA and the EAC.
In a way, the tripartite conference in Kampala is a triumph of the regional integrationist camp, against the pro-Gaddaffi continental dream. What the leaders that gathered in Kampala are preaching or attempting to do is not new.
In fact Tanzanian independence leader Mwalimu Julius Nyerere at one time proposed to delay his country’s independence so that all the other East African countries namely Uganda and Kenya gain independence at the same time and become one country.
For whatever reason those countries missed that opportunity. But never the less they went ahead to form the East African Community in the sixties. Shortly after its formation ideological and personality differences led to the collapse of the community.
The schism at the time emanated from the fact that whereas Kenya was pursuing free market policies, Tanzania was experimenting with Ujaama - something Nyerere termed African socialism.
Ujaama collectivism failed miserably leaving Nyerere to admit that it was a mistake. At that time Uganda was under Idi Amin and the economy was in disarray.
The economy was run informally leading to the emergency of the black market (Kibanda market). This coupled with the fact that Nyerere could not stand Amin, set the stage for the collapse of the community.
But even during the process of forming the community in the sixties, sub nationalities were opposed to the process of integration. For example Buganda in Uganda was at that time opposed to the possibility of the East African integration.
So as African leaders try to maximise the benefits of bigger blocs, they ought to realise the possible road blocs and devise mechanisms of overcoming the same.
More over, many African had gotten used to the reality that such gatherings of heads of state were unproductive. Indeed Uganda’s independent Daily Monitor noted in an editorial that the tripartite summit should not be another “talking shop”.
In fact many, especially in the intelligentsia, have come to have a low opinion of past summit conferences of African leaders.
This reminds me of my Makerere Universirty international relations professor, Paul Omach, who used to send us into bouts of laughter when he would tell us that the OAU summit meetings were like “an old boys” club, where Mobutu would meet with Bongo and the Bokassas of this world to catch up on old times and congratulate each other on their longevity in power and ability to survive numerous military coups.
But we now realise that a new generation of rare leaders, have taken the reigns of power and have a great vision for their countries. Our own leader always stands out as a “beacon of hope” and source of inspiration both in Rwanda and beyond our borders.