This week was a hectic one as far as regional diplomacy goes.
In Khartoum erstwhile enemies President Yoweri Museveni and his Sudanese counterpart Omar El Bashir brought together rival leaders of South Sudan, President Salva Kiir and Riak Machar to sign a peace deal, which it is hoped will bring the near five year blood bath in our northern neighbour to an end.
Meanwhile Ethiopia and Eritrea opened talks after almost 20 years of hostilities. The two countries went to war in 1998 over disputed land along their common border, cutting off Ethiopia from its most convenient route to the sea.
In Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta hosted his counterparts on the Northern Corridor Integration Projects Museveni and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame. The body language of the latter two did not betray any unusual tension between the too which was a relief given the rumours that have been swirling around in recent weeks.
During the Nairobi leg Museveni said that Uganda was benefitting massively from the East African common market, reporting that the dairy and maize industries in Uganda would have long been dead had it not been for the free access they have to the region.
This last point is crucial and is one our leaders should focus on rather than any parochial of perceived slights.
The Dairy Development Authority reported this week that dairy exports more than doubled to $130m in 2017 from $60m the previous year. It would not be a stretch to assume that this jump in export receipts has something to do with regional demand.
Uganda’s ambition to be a middle income country in coming years will be greatly aided by open markets, because our market is too small. The same goes for our neighbours.
"The population of the East African Community (EAC) stands at about 170m. The urban population of the region is 34 million or just about the size of Uganda’s population...
However to unlock the potential of this market, billions of dollars in joint infrastructure investments have to be put in place. The nature of these investments and the long term obligations that come with them means that as region our leaders cannot be seen to be bickering among themselves.
For example Ethiopia has invested massively in power generation. It has more than doubled generation capacity to 4200 MW from 1800 MW, which is double their 2000MW peak demand. SA if that is not enough there is an additional 7000 MW of power generation capacity under development.
Ethiopia needs to exports its power otherwise be saddled with these white elephants. So it needs to mend fences with Eritrea, ensure South Sudan cools down and demand its power. Ethiopia has also dialed down its language in negotiations with Egypt, which is concerned about Ethiopia’s damming of the Nile. Egypt too can be a massive market for its power.
Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda need to be pragmatic about their dealings since investments in power, rail and road are critical for all three and none of them can go it alone.
Clearly our mutual dependence, for decades blurred by artificial borders, is now at the fore of driving the geopolitical agenda. Which is as it should be....
Centuries of war in Europe came to an abrupt stop after the Second World War with the creation of the European Coal & Steel Community (ECSC), the precursor to the European Union. The ECSC was a recognition that to rehabilitate Europe resources – physical and human had to be pooled for the benefit of every one.
The politicians can maintain their little fiefdoms but the economy should transcend the borders.
The people of the region have no issues. Our borders are really only on paper if one were to see how border communities interact. It is often that our leaders have their own issues that are extrapolated to the rest of us.
However increasing dependence means that our leaders will have to shelf their issues or resolve them personally to maintain their relevance in our lives. We first approaching irreversibility on regional integration and they are being forced to seat up and take notice.