I greet you and bring you good wishes from your Ugandan brothers and sisters.
I have been very fortunate on account of being old enough to know what was happening when African countries started getting Independence ─ the Sudan 1956, Ghana 1957, Uganda 1962, etc. It is, therefore, now 60 years since African countries started getting Independence from the Colonial Powers. During the 55 years of this period, I have been either actively involved or, at least, informed of what was going on. I have noticed three major problems. The first being the failure to balance the issue of identity vis avis the issue of interests.
What is more important identity or interests? The answer is that interests should always be paramount and that identity can be sometimes important. What are interests? The summary for the interests is prosperity for a community or a group using legitimate means within their rights.
What does prosperity entail? It entails legitimate access to natural resources, access to education, access to health services, access to market, enjoying security, ability to create wealth through legitimate means and access to means of sustaining life (food, shelter, clothing, etc). Many of these elements are clear to many people. There is, however, one element that isn’t clear to many people. This is the issue of market. When somebody buys what I produce, he is supporting my prosperity and vice versa. When I buy what you produce, I am supporting your prosperity. I am helping you to create jobs for your people, to earn incomes and to expand the tax base for your country if you are from another country.
The people who emphasize identity are many times enemies of everybody including their own people. How and why? It is because normally people from the same group do not easily trade with one another; most often, they produce similar products. A cannot buy from B and vice-versa because they are producing similar products on account of having a similar culture. Most often, it is the other group that easily trades with the other group.
That is certainly the case with the symbiotic groups in Africa. The cattle keepers always do barter trade with the agriculturalists and vice-versa. The respective groups do not easily trade within the said groups because of limited complementarity.
If I take Ugandans for example, the people in the South West of Uganda, produce bananas, milk, beef, tea and coffee. Certainly the people in the country side do not easily trade among themselves. It is the people from the towns, especially Kampala which is in the centre of the country, that support the prosperity of the people of the South West of Uganda by buying their products. Other products are bought by the international community (coffee, tea). Therefore, the prosperity of the people of the South West of Uganda depend for their prosperity on the Ugandan market (mainly the other parts of Uganda) and the international market. There is, however, also the regional market. Today, Uganda produces 2.2 billion litres of milk per year up from 200 million litres in 1986. The Ugandans, however, only drink 800 million litres per year. That leaves us with a surplus of 1.4 billion litres.
If it was not for the regional market, that industry would have collapsed by now. The same applies to maize. In 1986, Uganda was producing only 200,000 tonnes of maize. We are now producing 4 million tonnes but we consume only 1 million tonnes. Who are our saviours that consume the other 3 million tonnes? It is the regions of EAC and COMESA. The need for prosperity compels us, therefore, to be patriotic within Uganda and Pan Africanist in Africa.
Identity is, of course, important but; in a healthy political situation, identity should be taken as a given, automatically respected and sacrosanct. Who has got a right to interfere with one’s identity? Absolutely nobody except God. Nevertheless, on account ideological disorientation, you find that identity, sometimes, becomes an issue. Opportunistic or chauvinistic groups discriminate, marginalize, oppress or manipulate certain groups based on identity ─ i.e. religious sects, tribes, clans, races or gender (e.g. male chauvinism). The groups that promote chauvinism or opportunism of one type or another, first and foremost, hurt the interests of their own people.
If the people of South Western Uganda were to promote chauvinism or sectarianism in Uganda to the annoyance of other Ugandans, they would be the first casualties of their scheme because those who support their prosperity by buying their products would, possibly, back off. Who would be the losers? The authors of the sectarian schemes. Marginalizing, suppressing, oppressing or manipulating groups on a sectarian basis by the South Western Ugandans would lead to the blockage of the means of prosperity, i.e. the markets of the other parts of Uganda, for them to their chagrin. Also the transport routes for their products going to international markets (e.g. coffee, tea, tobacco and other products) would be blocked. Tourism, which is part of the endowments of that area would dry up. The people of the South–West of Uganda would suffer first and foremost but so would the other Ugandans who have been buying the products of South Western Uganda. May be they would have to buy those similar products from the more distant sources. Those products may be more expensive, etc. Many of the hotels in Kampala thrive on account of the tourism in the South West ─ the Rwenzori Mountains, the Parks, etc.
Therefore, manipulating identity for opportunistic reasons suppressing people on account of identity, marginalizing them is wrong and must be resisted because, in the end, it harms both the author of the mistake and the victim. That is why, quite often, these wrong positions are pushed by people who are divorced from the production of wealth ─ who are divorced from modern farming, divorced from manufacturing, etc. In otherwords, people who do not have the microscope to know that prosperity is maximized if diverse groups interact through buying and selling. It is very rare, if not unheard of, to hear to an efficient modern farmer or manufacturer talking of identity chauvinism. Sometimes, innocent bystanders are harmed by the mistakes of others.
Since 2013, the price of tea has gone from US$1.79 a kilo to US$ 1.31 a kilo at present. Why? It is on account of the “Arab spring”. Or was it “Arab winter”? Apparently, much of our tea was being consumed by the Arab countries ─ Egypt, Iraq, Syria, etc. We were not the authors of the chaos in the Arab world but we became the victims. That chaos is affecting our prosperity.
Going back to the author and victim of identity chauvinism, we have seen how the author could harm his prosperity by that erroneous ideology. How about the victim? Of course, the victim’s prosperity is also affected because the trade links are disrupted, sometimes it results in war and everything is disrupted ─ health, education, properties, infrastructure, etc. Lives are lost and opportunities are lost. The victims may lose their culture, including language. Causing the death of indigenous languages, for instance, is a loss to the victims but is also a loss to the whole of humanity. Some of the African languages are very rich; much richer than, for instance, English which I know quite well. I will give a copy of the thesaurus (Katondoozi) of my dialect, Runyankore-Rukiga, to your Chairman which I authored along with some academicians at Makerere University. I doubt that there is any language in the world that can be richer in vocabulary than some of this African dialects. Therefore, their suppression or neglect is a big disservice to humanity. During the colonial times, when I was in the primary school system, we would be punished on account of speaking our dialects in school time!! What a crime against our heritage!
Today I speak my dialect and yet I am a Pan-Africanist. What, then, was the purpose of that suppression?
Before I leave the issue of identity, I must tell about the practices of the Tropies where some of us come from. I once told Field Marshal Bashir that my list of harams is much longer than his. This is because you Moslems regard the pig as haram. Being a cattle keeper of the Savanna, I also regard the pig as haram (ekihagaro). Nevertheless, my list of haram does not stop there. It includes fish. I regard fish as “snake” and do not eat it. It includes sheep, chicken, etc. I do not each chicken because in my tribe we thought that if you eat chicken, you will be unstable because birds are always flying, not staying in one place. The difference, however, is that we in the Tropics do not seek to interfere with other people. Our neighbouring tribes that eat fish, chicken, etc., are not only respected but are, actually, assisted to get what they want. I will assist my neighbour to fish in my dam although I do not eat the fish myself. That is the culture of the Tropics: “Live and let live” Those who stick to this culture avoid trouble.
Instead when the tribes focus on commonalities, trade symbiosis, security, infrastructure etc.
They maximize shared prosperity and even enrich one another. When some Moslem youth in Uganda, therefore, tried to import Middle-Eastern intolerance in Ugandan, I gave them that example and they shut up. Many of them did not know our ancient heritage.
I sometimes compare integration to when we were in schools or universities. In some of these institutions, each student would have his or her own room. There are times he/she would keep in his/her room such as bed-sheets, blanket, tooth-brush, etc., that he/she would never bring to the common room. The common room would only have items of common use e.g. some games like chess, TV in those days when the TVs were still rare, newspapers, magazines, etc. In that way, we were able to wisely handle the particularities of each individual and the general interest of everybody without either interfering with the other. Countries need to be handled in similar ways. The general should not suppress the legitimate local but the local should not interfere with the legitimate general.
Having spent alot of time on the issue of identity versus interest, let us look at the second major point I have noticed in the last 55 years. This is the issue of socio-economic transformation. Since the Middle Ages, European societies have metamorphosed from pre-capitalist societies to middle-class and skilled working class societies. They have gone through the industrial revolution. As a consequence, the structure of the society has changed. You, therefore, find that only 2% of the population are in agriculture as far as the USA is concerned out of a population of 325million people. 18.3%are in industry, 80.2% are in services, 2.99% are in ICT and 3.8% are in the public service. Hence, when you get communities fighting over agricultural land, etc., it is because the society has not metamorphosed. With the metamorphosis of society, you may have to pay people to remain in agriculture as they do in the East (through subsidies). Social-economic transformation means education for everybody and the whole spectrum of society joining the monetary economy, away from subsistence.
The third big problem I have seen is the problem of infrastructure being undeveloped ─ roads, the railways, electricity, etc. There is a measurement known as kilowatt hour per capita ─ meaning the average electricity per person. Here below is the Kwh per person for the countries of the world:
Uganda – 130 Kwh per capita; Burundi – 25 Kwh per capita; Zambia – 540 Kwh per capita; Canada – 14,350 Kwh per capita; Nigeria – 149 Kwh per capita; Germany – 7,190 Kwh per capita; etc., etc.
You can see that the African countries, other than South Africa and Gaddaffi’s Libya, have very low Kwh per capita. This affects the ability to attract investments. Without attracting investments, the society cannot change. You remain with a pre-industrial society with too many people in agriculture, fighting over agricultural land, causing environmental degradation through cutting trees for fire-wood and encroaching on the wetlands and forests in search of more agricultural land to use sub-optimally.
These 3 points are omnibus points. Within each, there are many other points that we have talked about elsewhere. I, however, thought that for today I should highlight these three points. May be I shouldn’t end without pointing out the danger of indentifying majoritism. I met the former President of Egypt, Mohammed Moursi. I knew that he had a Party known as the Moslem Brotherhood. I asked him the following question: Your Excellency, don’t you think that you are endangering your country Egypt by politically exploiting identity in a diverse country like Egypt? You talk of Moslem Brotherhood. In Uganda, the Christians are 86%. What would happen to Uganda if I started talking of “Christian Brotherhood? What would happen to my 14% Moslems? What should they do? Uganda is their only country for which they sacrificed just like the Christians. It is, obviously provocative. Mohammed Moursi told me that he would give me the answer next time. There was to be no next time ─ between me and Mohammed Moursi.
I would like to know your thoughts about these observations.
I thank you.