The events surrounding the admission of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) into the new East African Community (EAC) tell us one thing clearly: East African regional integration will to be one kind of experience for State House elites and their cronies, and quite another experience altogether, for ordinary citizens.
On the same day of the announcement, thousands of Congolese citizens fled to the Ugandan border district of Kisoro to escape a new outbreak of fighting.
Between April 2 and April 8, they were caught in a cycle of flight and return, only to flee again with their cattle and bedding as new fighting broke out.
The first two clashes were blamed on renewed activity by M23, an on-and-off rebel group that the DRC government accuses the government of Rwanda of supporting, a charge Rwandan leaders have consistently denied, saying any Rwandan armed action in the DRC would be in pursuit of another military group drawn from the defeated forces of the previous Rwandan genocidal regime that they deposed more than 20 years ago.
On the day of the official signing ceremony in Nairobi, more citizens fled again, with the fighting this time blamed on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) which are believed to be linked to the Islamic State.
On both occasions, it was Ugandan armed forces that entered the DRC – citing an invitation from its government – to confront the militants.
So we have the interesting situation of an organization inducting a new member who comes preloaded with an accusation and complaint against an existing member. The new member is also subject to repeated armed visits from another member who has an unpaid debt to him, as established by the United Nations and sanctioned by the International Court of Justice.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a very important economic and geographical development. The DRC is in fact the physical heart of Africa: it borders nine other countries, as well as the Atlantic Ocean. Its scale places it in southern, eastern, central and even western Africa. And of course, it is reputed to be rich in natural resources.
Just by adding this one country, the East African Community doubles its geographical size and increases its population by more than 30% to reach 314 million inhabitants.
Echoing the four key elements that African leaders have historically called for as solutions to the challenge of African development—free movement of persons as labour; free movement of commercial goods; joint security initiatives; and integrated communication and infrastructure to support all of these things—it’s a great price, by any measure.
The challenge of African reconstruction after the immense damage of colonial conquest and occupation, which itself followed the first three centuries of depopulation through slavery, was above all a challenge of finding a method. A general consensus, historically and today, is that “pan-Africanism” is the solution.
In 2018, I pointed out on these pages that there is no one way to bring Africans together, and even then not all types of Africans coming together meant that Pan-Africanism was in the interest of the African. Pan-Africanism is not one thing: there are Pan-Africanisms.
There is the cultural, the state, the popular and the corporate.
The first consists essentially in freeing oneself from the organizational logic of the current states, merged or not, as a starting point.
The second could also be called Nkrumahist after his best-known lawyer. It is entirely based on the idea of using these states as a building block to unite Africans into a new modern identity and then propel them rapidly towards industrialization and “development”.
The third means rejecting, of course, the colonial model, but also its offspring. It is centered on the idea of bringing indigenous knowledge (available freely in the community) to the issue of improving people’s lives through sustainable production, health care and education. It envisions interaction on a largely horizontal, community-to-community basis.
The fourth is the longest and most established. The European powers of the 19th century had already united vast regions of the continent into spaces ultimately falling under political authority and economic authority. Many of the countries they founded began life as trading companies, and corporate profit remained the essence of their usefulness to the West.
This resulted in a two-pronged enclosure. First, indigenous nations were forcibly incorporated, in whole or in part, into the conquest units of the colonial order. Today, these same units, disguised as independent states, are combined into market units. There is little essential organizational difference between this model and that of Nkrumahist: bringing Africans together under a new economic culture.
But between the four approaches—cultural, state, political and popular—there does not appear to have been much progress beyond achieving political independence.
It is well known that you cannot serve two masters, yet the needs and demands of ordinary Africans are in direct conflict with the desires and intentions of Western businesses. Thus, the crucial question is whether trading blocs such as the EAC are built in opposition to these imposed restrictions or in favor of them.
This East African Community is not the same one that existed between 1967 and 1977. And even that one was not quite suited to the pan-Africanist objective. However, with the original East African Community, these were economic units somewhat more oriented towards organized production, as opposed to extraction and plunder.
But as long as we are organized within the structures of the colonial units, remain indebted to the financial institutions of Western countries and locked into the trade treaties of the European Union, then this integration will do the opposite of what we are told. .
The needs and demands of ordinary Africans are in direct conflict with the desires and intentions of Western businesses.
How does the new expanded CAE address this legacy? Much practical and conceptual confusion has flourished, and at the center of this web is the National Resistance Movement regime in Kampala, woven around the person of President Yoweri Museveni.
Since Pan-Africanism could not decide what it was, President Museveni happily redirected it in favor of Western power. Installed 35 years ago by a Western corporate circle, it has developed a masterfully deceptive concoction of suitably twisted pan-African, neo-Marxist and anti-imperialist ruminations to justify the very things these arguments were meant to combat.
Museveni fundamentally reinforced the 19th century Western model of regional corporate integration, disguising it as Nkrumahism (for what that was worth).
What has been done is to create a hierarchy for looting, in which everyone understands their place and is presumably paid accordingly. Kenya’s financial elites (by far the largest in the region) were already prepared and, just days after the signing ceremony in Nairobi, announced an initial initiative of $1.6 billion in the mining, manufacturing and building the Congo.
Regarding the wananchithis will make it cheaper and easier for them to move around as citizens of the wider free trade area, rather than as refugees who need all sorts of permits and procedures from the host country. Home and United Nations.
In 1964, the United States Congress used reports of a partly fictitious attack on its Navy units in waters near the Republic of North Vietnam to pass legislation “legalizing” deeper US involvement. United in the then escalating Vietnamese Civil War.
This “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution” formalized the attempted occupation of South Vietnam by the United States, and the destruction of North Vietnam, over the next decade. Americans lost the war, but many American corporations became very wealthy as a result.
With its shadow-boxing ADF, Uganda has been “Tonkining” in the Democratic Republic of Congo for decades.
Therefore, the inclusion now of the DRC in the new, wider East African community is only a formalization of this reality and a tightening of the grip of Western corporations on the wealth of the DRC. It is also the fulfillment of lumpen explorer Henry Morton Stanley’s dream of connecting the Indian and Atlantic Oceans under a single economy. It could also give Kampala the upper hand over Kigali in their private elite rivalry over the DRC, and could well lead to further border drama.
With better intra-continental communications (road, rail, air and electronics), some of our ordinary citizens will no doubt be able to use their famous “resilience” and “ingenuity” to see opportunities in these changes and draw new life from them. . However, there is no guarantee that the expanded free trade area will not simply become a bigger playing field for the usual predatory economic forces from outside the continent.
With the original East African Community, these were economic units somewhat more oriented towards organized production, as opposed to extraction and plunder.
If the foundations of the state remain the same, it is unclear how the merging of seven of the same kinds of indebted and exploited economies ruled by rulers who have difficulty in holding fair elections (to determine what their people) can bring better results than us. already lived. And a single EAC-wide border will always be a colony-defined border.
There will definitely be greater aggregation of wealth and more elite business opportunities. But until historic trade restrictions are addressed, this will not alter the central dynamics of the crisis in African trade and development.
The only window of some kind of hope is if leaders stick to their pronouncements on using the larger scale of the economic bloc to demand better terms of trade globally. If the economic dominance of the United States and the wider Western European Union is waning (particularly due to an escalation of their ongoing war with Russia in Ukraine), then perhaps those in control resource-rich trading blocs such as the EAC are becoming more general brokers of these resources on the global stage.
Either way, the Greater Community is likely to prolong the already damaging experience suffered by ordinary people, with elites controlling the various capitals fighting over the scraps thrown at them by the Western corporations that are driving the wealth extraction that fuels endless conflict in the Great Lakes region of Africa.
In short, this risks being, and remaining, an integration of economic territories, and not of values or cultures. It is the lack of respect for the indigenity of the detainees, now reclassified as “citizens”, that has allowed the easy plundering of minerals, the creation of “nature reserves” without natives and the widespread environmental damage throughout the region.
Freedom of movement is in fact the freedom to go and be poor elsewhere, as the plunder of their fertile lands and mineral resources intensifies where the indigenous people once lived.