Uganda President Museveni: These are the dividends of integration

Sunday May 19 2024

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni makes his remarks during a state visit to Kenya on May 16, 2024. PHOTO | NMG


President Yoweri Museveni, who toured Kenya on a State visit, shared his vision for Africa in a speech that charmed many Kenyans.

President Museveni and his host William Ruto held a joint press conference at State House, Nairobi, where they announced their plan to patch up trade differences between the two neighbours that have been simmering for almost a decade.

In his speech, the veteran Ugandan leader blamed Africans for their failure to take advantage of the continent’s comparative size and geography to industrialise.

“I am grateful to President Ruto for the invitation to discuss important issues affecting our two nations and East Africa. The agreements we signed during my visit carry the weight of historical context, aligning with our long-awaited missions. Over 60 years ago, Africa gained independence, yet the true depth of our historical mission remained unexplored Uhuru na Umoja. We must fulfil the historical mission of the EAC by uniting to form the East African Federation, which would make us Africa’s centre of gravity.”

Read: Talks for EAC political confederation in high gear

He compared Africa to a house divided into many rooms, each representing a country, highlighting the need for African unity.


"Africa is amazing because Africa is one house, one building. Now, the sitting room is another country. The bedroom is another country.

The other one is another country. Now, to go from the bedroom to the outside, you must go to another country. We must get a visa. What is this now? When I travel to any part of Africa, I don't focus on our differences; instead, I seek our connectedness as one people.”

He pointed out that smaller countries in Latin America were rich in natural resources yet poor due to their inability to “organise themselves”.

Yet countries in Europe, such as Denmark and Belgium, benefit from the protection and support of larger allies, in this case, the United States.

"Who is the head boy in Africa? We are all small people, small people. That's what we are really trying to deal with."

President Museveni reiterated his vision in creating a larger market under the EAC, insisting that protectionism was not the way to go.

“Part of the problem like in northern Uganda, which is endowed with a lot of natural resources, is that many people are outside the money economy. I was telling His Excellency President Ruto that even as recently as 2013, 68 percent of the Ugandans were outside the money economy in what they called subsistence economy. Just growing food, eating and drinking alcohol, not earning money. And the danger is that the richer the countries are in natural resources like, for instance, the DRC, the bigger the danger — that people just staying in the forest eating honey and monkeys and so on and they are not bothered. So, in our analysis we said no, we must create prosperity in the modern way by everybody joining the money economy”.

Read: East Africa big three out to save integration agenda

He said the region should eliminate barriers, which hinder the implementation of a common market, which calls for free movement of goods and people.

“The question of ‘soko’ comes in. Nani atanunua bidhaa zako kwa wingi na kwa uhakika?” he said in Kiswahili, wondering who’d buy whose goods.

While using analogy of a baby learning how to walk, President Museveni said he asked his government not to ban rice imports from Tanzania ostensibly to protect Uganda’s rice farmers, explaining that the move would have granted Ugandan farmers a false hope for a market.

“These vikwazo (non-tariff barriers) are not good for the Common Market. Like somebody was telling me to stop the rice from Tanzania. Why? Because I have inefficient rice growers in Uganda. So, the answer is nikatae mpunga mzuri tena wenye bei nafuu kutoka Tanzania, kusudi nitetee hawa wavivu ambao hawawezi kujipatia mpunga kwa gharama nzuri. I said no. I cannot do that because if I do that I would be committing three sins.” He meant “lazy” Ugandan farmers were hoping for protection against imports, which came cheaper and of better quality.

“First, I will stunt the Tanzanian rice grower. In our language we call it “kuzigamia”— to make a child not grow properly. So that Tanzanian rice grower will not grow as much as he would have liked to have done.”

“So, if he gets a market on merit in Tanzania, because the market is not protected, he adds the one in Uganda and Kenya, he’s got enough market that will enable him grow and grow. So, if I lock him out, that opportunity I will have killed.”

He said by banning the importation of Tanzanian rice into Uganda, he would be punishing Ugandans who would be required to buy the locally grown rice at a higher price.

Read: Uganda scraps tax on imported rice from Tanzania

“I am also oklemaza — if you understand our bantu dialect, which is to cripple or to disable somebody — my own rice growers because if I protect them they will not struggle to become efficient. So na hao nitawaua kwa kuwabembeleza na kuwapa soko ya bandia.”

“So when a child is growing up and the child is beginning to stand up, they stand up and fall down. So, our Baganda say ‘Tegerera’. So I don’t know how our Kikuyu and Waswahili say that. If a child is trying to stand up, you encourage them to stand up. Therefore, I was delighted today to witness the gradual crystallisation of the three historical missions.”

“First, it’s the Prosperity for our people: When His Excellency invites me to Kenya and we sign all these agreements, we are working towards the prosperity of our people, through wealth creation and market access. Secondly, strategic Security of Africa through Political Integration. And third, Undugu (brotherhood): If the EAC had done what they were supposed to do, Federation would have been established many years ago. We would have made significant progress and possibly avoided challenges like the poor governance in Uganda, genocides in Rwanda and Burundi, and so on.”