The NRA, Murky Waters in Adventurous Journey Towards East African Federation

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OPINION– Gazing through an explorer’s binoculars, my appetite for a better and clearer view of the events that continue to shape the aspirations of the different centers of power in the Great Lakes Region is whetted by revelations that continue to occur to me of late. And this gives me more sleepless nights than the ravaging and disastrous effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

True to one of its founding objectives, the National Resistance Army (NRA) led by its all-time commander Gen. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni is still pursuing the dream of the East African Federation. And the ideology has never been any simpler: there is no way the people in East Africa will pull themselves out of menacing poverty without the uniting effect of togetherness.

That the people of East Africa are working together under a single market, a single economy and most importantly under a single political and defence system, is a fact that could create a new power center which would spur the socioeconomic transformation of the African continent. And the struggle is on, but rather more discreetly.

But you know very well achieving such a dream is not an ordinary fit. The generic divisions that come up amongst us as a people, fueled by petty differences of tribe, religion, etc. on one hand and selfish fears of loss of political and economic control of small territories by most of our leaders especially with the direct or indirect support of those most threatened by such a bold step – the benefactors of our continued disunity – on the other hand are threats that only require wit, cunning, resilience and the work of great skill to manoeuvre.

Historically, two paths have been trodden in order to achieve that end which would be, at least ideally, the beginning of a new era in Africa’s thrival. The Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, before he was overthrown, tortured and assassinated, had been working together with Kwame Nkurumah, Gamel Abdel Nasser, Sekou Toure among others towards the formation of a united political Africa.

Africa would have a single political leadership, army, capital, economic system, central bank, currency, central command of the armed forces etc. They wanted an Africa with a meaningful independence that would benefit all the peoples of Africa both contemporaneously and futuristically. Sooner it would become futile due to the divisions and selfish interests I’ve already talked about, but more greatly due to the efforts of Western powers. And it failed.

The NRA has sought a totally different approach. Recognizing how hard or even impossible for the different forces  to sit and agree on unification, it has taken an approach even slightly different from the ones used in the formation of the United States of America and the former Soviet Union, the USSR, where unity was achieved through violent confrontation.

The NRA has strived to influence Uganda’s neighbours especially the leaders to believe in the creation of the federation, or even to make sure that those who believe in the unity of East Africa are the ones in charge. The exception is the neutral leader who is not ready to oppose the unification of the people of this very resourceful region. In a bid to achieve this, the NRA has intervened in the formation and running of systems in the neighborhood to reduce the opposition to the formation of this entity when the time is ripe.

Conversely, Uganda’s longtime involvement in Congo starting with the removal of Mobutu Sese Seko to now constructing major roads in Eastern Congo; the Sudan assault that even resulted to the birth of South Sudan and UPDF’S subsequent participation in quelling rebel tensions against the South Sudanese government; the Somalia expedition where Uganda has been involved in quashing terrorist activities, are all chessboard moves by Uganda to create an East African ’empire’ through determining the geopolitical structures in the neighborhood. You may also note that Uganda’s relations with Tanzania and Burundi are at their best.

But two questions remain contentious, even as Gen. Museveni promises to execute this agenda in this, his 6th term in office. First, Rwanda has in the last few years severed relations with Uganda with many fearing the outbreak of violence between the two longtime allies. Without the stabilization of these tensions, the East African dream still seems a great distance away.

The second is the Kenya question of who gets to take leadership after the polls set for next year. This is even more disturbing now that Kenya’s Deputy President and a likely contender for the presidency, Dr William Ruto has asked Gen. Museveni to quicken the process of the formation of the East African Federation, even as a handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga makes his (Ruto’s) ascension to the highest office a big huddle.

I must say that the path the NRA and Gen. Museveni have taken is one for the brave and courageous. And as an ardent admirer, I still look through my binoculars to see how events unfold.

By Seith Kangume Barigye, Commentator on Strategic Social and Political Issues.kangumeseithunym@gmail.com