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View the documentKampala Joint Assembly puts Uganda in the spotlight
View the documentConference proceedings

Kampala Joint Assembly puts Uganda in the spotlight

The Ugandan capital, Kampala, played host at the end of February to its first major international gathering for many years, when ACP and European Parliament representatives came together for the latest session of the Joint Assembly. Like Rome, Kampala is a city which is built on seven hills and one is immediately struck by its scenic setting, its abundant greenery and the spontaneous warmth of its people. One is also struck by a sense of optimism and renewal in a city which still carries many economic and social burdens.

There must be few people who are unaware of the anguish suffered by Uganda in recent decades - the civil strife which over many years halted economic development, disrupted social services and provoked widespread human misery. What is perhaps less widely known is that since 1986, Uganda has been rebuilding from the wreckage. It was in 1986 that the National Resistance Movement (NRM) of President Yoweri Museveni, took power. The legacy they inherited was an unenviable one and in the last five years, they have had to grapple with the challenge of reconstruction in an increasingly hostile global economic situation and in the growing shadow of the AIDS epidemic.

It is a tribute to the human spirit that despite the scale of the problems significant progress has been made on the road to stability, reconciliation and reconstruction. While it would be foolish to underestimate the problems which Uganda still faces, it would equally be unjust not to give credit for the achievements of the last five years.

Delegates who attended the Joint Assembly were impressed, both by the outstanding hospitality which was offered and by the smooth and efficient way in which the event was organised. It takes time for a country to overcome negative perceptions based on past events but in Kampala at the end of February, the Ugandans went a long way towards doing just that.

The Joint Assembly began with a formal inaugural session attended by President Museveni and members of the Ugandan Government as well as by Mr Enrique Baron Crespo, the President of the European Parliament. The opening speech was delivered by Mr Matthew Rukikaire, the Ugandan Minister of State for Planning and the Economy. Welcoming the Assembly to Kampala, Mr Rukikaire expressed the pleasure felt by Ugandans as hosts to so many visitors from abroad. He noted that delegates had travelled a long way ‘not just in distance, but also in terms of fulfilled expectations’.

Gulf preoccupations

Given that 3 000 kilometres to the north, events in the Gulf conflict were reaching a climax, it is not surprising that the subject dwelt heavily on the minds of many of the speakers. Mr Enrique Baron Crespo emphasised, in his presentation, the central role of international law in the global order and suggested that if the European Community had had a common security policy and an appropriate instrument for controlling the arms trade, ‘it could have acted in a coherent and united way and that it might have been possible to avoid war’. As to the fears of ACP countries regarding Community aid to Eastern Europe and, following the war, to the Persian Gulf region, the President of the European Parliament reaffirmed that any new engagements ‘must not be made at the expense of pre-existing obligations’. Mr Baron Crespo also spoke of the financial assistance provided by the Community to victims” of apartheid, the progress of democracy and human rights, and the problems of famine and development.

External burdens

The Co-President of the Joint Assembly, Mr Mamadou Diop (Senegal) appealed to the Community to take further measures to help the ACPs in the light of the dramatic situation facing them as a result of events which were beyond their control. He pointed out that development was continually being affected by external burdens with increasingly destabilising effects. As regards South Africa, Mr Diop welcomed the ‘spectacular transformation’ of recent months but emphasised that a solution could only finally be reached once apartheid was dismantled. He also focused on the debt issue and on the deterioration of the terms of trade, pointing out that these had resulted in Africa losing $200 billion in recent years. This figure would climb to $500 billion by the year 2000 unless steps were taken to relieve the burden.

A new order for Africa?

Mr Diop’s European counterpart, Mr Leo Tindemans (Belgium) delivered a characteristically visionary speech in which he hailed the dismantling of the Iron Curtain as an opportunity to carry forward the ‘dream of mankind’ as expressed in the UN Charter. He continued: ‘With the disappearance of East-West tensions, it is finally possible to base international relations on international law and on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’. Referring to Africa, Mr Tindemans commented ruefully on the number of conflicts taking place - conflicts which prompted one to wonder sometimes whether Africa was ‘committing suicide’. He then spoke of his dream of a new order for Africa. ‘If, in the world order’, he stated, ‘the United Nations Organisation provides a model, what is there to prevent the Organisation of African Unity from playing its full role at regional level? If it agreed to take on the job, enjoying uncontested and uncontestable authority, peace could reign in Africa’. Mr Tindemans drew his listeners’ attention to the success of the European Court of Human Rights and went on to suggest ‘a similar institutional procedure’ for Africa in the context of the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights.

ANC appeal

Originally, the Assembly was to have been addressed by ANC Vice-President, Nelson Mandela, but commitments in South Africa prevented his attendance and the ANC’s Secretary-General, Mr Alfred Nzo spoke in his place. Mr Nzo took the opportunity to remind the assembled delegates that South Africa continued to be run by a white minority regime, that the majority of political prisoners had not yet been freed and that the repatriation of exiles had still to commence. The ANC’s objectives, he stated, were the adoption’ before the end of the year, of a new constitution which would transform the Republic into a nonracial democracy, and the restructuring of the South African economy, including the creation of a modern manufacturing sector. Mr Nzo insisted that sanctions should be maintained, pointing out that obstacles, notably the repeal of the apartheid laws and the opening of negotiations leading to an interim government, a new constitution and elections, had not yet been overcome.

Presidential address

The concluding speech of the formal opening session was delivered by President Yoweri Museveni of the host country. The President, who has the remarkable and enviable ability to address an audience of a thousand as if he were conducting a small-group seminar, delighted his listeners with a stimulating and witty presentation. He frequently departed from his prepared text to give illustrations or analogies but the overall effect was always to reinforce the serious points he had to make.

Nor did the President steer clear of controversy. Speeches at formal events such as these have a tendency towards the anodyne but there was no need on this occasion, to decipher coded messages. The approach was refreshingly direct.

Why build houses for cows?

In an uncompromising criticism of agricultural protectionism, the President noted that previous GATT rounds had always tended to leave agricultural trade intact. The abolition of farm subsidies, he claimed, would result in a $50 billion increase in foreign exchange earnings for third world countries. He illustrated his point with a story about a visit he had made to Canada. There, he was taken to a farm, where he was surprised to find cattle ‘shivering in their own houses’ - ‘Why build houses for cows?’, he queried. ‘Here in Uganda, we don’t have to build houses for cows and we don’t have heating costs’. The free market lesson, of which Adam Smith would doubtless have approved, was not lost on the audience. President Museveni went on to link the agricultural issue with the question of liberalisation in the field of services - an item which is currently high on the GATT agenda. He pointed out that complete free trade in this area would badly hit service industries in the third world and proceeded to deliver an unequivocal message. ‘We shall not accept liberalisation of services unless there is liberalisation of farm produce’.

The President also focused on the debt problem facing developing countries. He appealed to the international community to ‘spare no efforts in the search for more imaginative and comprehensive solutions to the debt crisis’ arguing that if this issue was not tackled, the ‘lost decade’ of the 1980s would be followed by a ‘decade of catastrophe’ ill the 1990s.

Ideological independence

Among other issues discussed in his wide ranging speech, the President referred both to South Africa and to the Gulf crisis. He urged the ACP’s cooperating partners not to relax their pressure on South Africa’s apartheid regime and questioned whether it had been necessary to use force in the Gulf. Commenting on the African political scene, he bemoaned the ‘lack of ideological independence’ in the continent. He then took a side-swipe at both ‘market party’ and ‘one party’ systems, suggesting that an African model of democracy which reflected the continent’s pre-industrial stage of development was more appropriate. ‘Political pluralism will come’, he argued, ‘but in good time, not at a forced pace’. The President also objected to being cast in the role of a ‘consumer of political thought’ and commended the Ugandan model, based on a mass movement, as being highly democratic and a positive contribution to the evolution of political thinking.

It is doubtful whether everyone in the hall agreed with everything President Museveni said, but he succeeded in establishing a remarkable rapport with his audience. Although few were aware of it, his speech lasted a full 75 minutes, and it became a talking point for the remainder of the conference.