President Yoweri Museveni has just been in Angola to participate in the International Conference on the Great Lakes region (ICGLR) part of whose agenda was to discuss the happenings in far-off South Sudan.
The ICLGR is a gathering of countries who beyond their close proximity have similar security and economic interests.
Just like the European Union, the organisation formalised its membership after the war in Congo at the beginning of this century, which pitted Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi on one side against DRC, Angola, Zimbabwe and Chad on the other. All the other 19 members were affected by association and were heavily involved in behind the scenes negotiations to resolve what was once dubbed, “Africa’s World War”.
Security remains top of the region’s agenda with the disfunctionality of the DRC causing nine of the members to forever keep an eye on the happenings in Kinshasa.
At the core of the continent’s problems is its arbitrary fragmentation a century ago. This fragmentation left many countries economically unviable, gave post-colonial leaders overinflated sense of importance that has served to accentuate instead of wipe away these artificial boundaries.
But faced with the challenge of growing poverty on the continent which will soon or is already rendering the region’s arsenals impotent, this wily veterans have come around to the realisation that
“It’s the economy, stupid!”
The group whose membership stretches from Egypt to Botswana represents a population of at least half a billion citizens, an economic force which if leveraged properly can have a transformative effect on the continent as a whole.
It can be argued that the perennial chaos in the center of Africa is holding the continent back. It these great lake economies that, are the least covered by economic infrastructure, account for the majority of the continent’s human misery from disease, war and general poverty and its I the region –less so lately, that was plagued with the greatest political instability.
Imagine if we had, a credible rail and road network from the Mediterranean to Cape Town, developed the region’s hydro-electric potential, which would have led to the easier exploitation of our vast natural resources for the benefit of our people and raised the quality of our human capital to be a more productive work force?
The potential is mind boggling. It is not by mistake that we have been running around like headless chicken for the last half century.
In a previous era the continent’s big men could not be bothered in trying to facilitate economic growth – after all the US or USSR could always prop up their anaemic treasuries in exchange for loyalty. The fall of the Berlin wall meant these handouts dried out and those leaders who could not see the writing on the wall got booted for their inability to deliver services.
More than 20 years of economic growth since 1989 and the region’s leaders are beginning to realise that total is greater than the sum of the individual parts, and greater collaboration on economic and security issues can keep the economy growing and wean them off irritating donor money.
Progress will not advance in a straight line, but as they say even if it means slowing to crawl progress should always be seen to be taking place.
A line up of the organisation’s leaders may not provide comfort to human rights activists, but all of them are survivors and pragmatism has dictated that they transcend their mutual suspicions to make this thing happen. Eventually the rest of us mere mortals will be the beneficiaries.