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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.

Conference proceedings

Following the formal opening session, the Joint Assembly reconvened on the following day to debate a number of important issues including the service sector, the situation in Southern Africa, the effects of the Gulf crisis, debt and the AIDS problem.

The proceedings began with what was supposed to be a discussion of the introductory report by Mr Agne (Senegal) entitled ‘Services - a new line of development’. Mr Agne, who spoke first, gave a lucid expose of the issues although he did take a somewhat different line from President Museveni. He did not raise the possibility of agricultural liberalisation as some form of quid pro quo for agreement on services, but argued instead for a progressive liberalisation of the latter which took into account the factor of development in the ACPs. ‘In an age of high technology’, he noted, ‘services become a factor of production which is equal in importance to labour and capital’. He pointed out that services were chronically underdeveloped in most ACP States and said that the challenge was to design a service policy to tackle this problem.

Mr Agne was also critical of the United States which, he claimed, bad refused to include air and maritime transport in the GATT negotiations and had insisted that the most-favoured nation clause should not automatically be applied to the service sector.

Unfortunately, the debate which followed did little justice to Mr Agne’s hard work. Although a number of ACP representatives and MEPs spoke, there was a tendency to ‘take the eye off the ball’ with contributions which had little to do with the subject matter under discussion. A precedent was set by Georges Wohlfart, President in Office of the EC Council who used the opportunity to give a more general overview of Community development policy.

Report from EC Council

He began by reassuring ACP countries that the Community would maintain and deepen its relations with its ‘partners of the South’. He spoke in positive terms about the implementation of LomV but made no commitment on the issue of debt, saying simply that the Council was examining the current Commission proposals on debt relief. On the GATT negotiations, Mr Wohlfart spoke of a ‘global approach based on balanced concessions in all sectors’. Perhaps not surprisingly, he chose not to indicate how far such ‘balanced concessions’ in the area of farm products would respond to the complaint voiced by President Museveni on the previous day.

As regards sanctions and South Africa, the position of the Council clearly differs from that of the ANC and many ACP States. Mr Wohlfart indicated that the changes taking place in South Africa, notably the proposed repeal of various ‘apartheid’ laws and other restrictive measures, was being met with an easing of sanctions and in this connection, the Council had lifted its ban on new investments in the country.

Avoid fatalism

For the European Commission, Vice-President Manuel Marin commended LomV as providing a ‘firm framework of solidarity for Community-ACP relations which will endure throughout the nineties, whatever the upheavals or unexpected events on the international scene’. Referring to major current events, including the Gulf crisis, the EC’s internal market and the opening up of Eastern Europe, Mr Marin cautioned against adopting a ‘fatalistic and thoroughly negative attitude. We must, at all costs’, he argued, ‘prevent the debate over the future of the ACP countries from degenerating into a sterile ideological confrontation’.

In respect of the implementation of LomV, Mr Marin revealed that preprogramming was well under way, the EDF Committee having already approved plans from 52 of the ACP countries. The position regarding ratifications was less satisfactory. In order to enter into force, the Convention must be ratified by all of the EC Member States and by at least two thirds of the ACPs. With some 40 ratifications, the ACPs are close to- reaching the necessary figure but only three EC countries had ratified so far. Mr Marin reiterated his support of the Joint Assembly’s call for national governments and parliaments to speed up the process.

Services debate goes off the rails

By this stage in the proceedings, it was clear that the services debate had implicitly been suspended, but its resumption brought little encouragement for those seeking enlightenment on the subject. Despite relevant interventions from Peter Pooley of the EC Commission and the Dutch MEP, Maartje Van Putten, the discussion deviated alarmingly to include an announcement about emergency aid to Sudan, a warning about the consequences of population growth, an expression of concern about the low rate of project implementation under LomII and a suggestion for the utilisation of counterpart funds. It was billed as a debate on the ‘general report’ but Mr Agne must have been left wishing for a little more specificity.

Southern Africa

Thereafter, the focus was mercifully restored with a lively discussion on the situation in South Africa and the Southern Africa region. There was considerable interest, and not a little alarm, expressed about the Commission’s decision to open a ‘technical office’ in Pretoria The representative of Zambia reflected the prevailing mood in welcoming the establishment of a Commission presence in South Africa but demanding that it should be in Johannesburg and not Pretoria lest it be seen as having a diplomatic function. The Commission has repeatedly stressed that the new office is not diplomatic in nature, and that it in no way implies acceptance or approval of the apartheid system. Indeed, one of the main functions of the office will be to coordinate Community programmes designed to assist the victims of apartheid.

Gulf crisis

In the debate concerning the consequences of the Gulf crisis for ACP countries, the view that the effects would be ‘devastating’ continued to have some currency, despite the stubborn refusal of the oil price to rise in line with the early apocalyptic predictions. The prevailing view, however, was reflected in the balance of the discussion between the economic and political implications, with considerable emphasis on the latter.

The representative of Djibouti whose country has directly suffered the economic fallout of the crisis, spoke of serious losses in the aviation sector and pressures arising out of the return of 5000 expatriate workers from the Gulf region. ‘We have retreated five centuries into the past’, he declared - ‘this was a war to destroy, not to defend’. Other speakers echoed this sentiment. David Morris (UK) said the conflict was both immoral and pointless and he accused the United States and Great Britain of having led the world to war. Henri Saby, who is President of the European Parliament’s Development Committee gave a less emotional assessment and suggested that the Gulf crisis could help the emergence of a new world order founded on ‘solidarity and justice’. Marie-Christine Aulas (France) strongly disputed this view, arguing that there had been a flagrant distortion of international law and the outcome was, in effect a ‘return to an old order’.

Although the economic consequences of the conflict are expected to be less catastrophic than originally feared, a number of speakers focused on the nonetheless serious impact likely to be felt by the ACPs. Developing countries have already experienced losses in the tourism sector and airlines are known to be under pressure. These were themes developed by Frans-Xavier de Donnea (Belgium), who also looked at the long-term problems of energy supply, high interest rates and the costs of reconstruction. Commissioner Marin took a similar line in warning that special attention would have to be given to the indirect repercussions of the crisis on the most vulnerable economies.

Debt crisis

The following morning saw a debate on the debt crisis facing the ACPs and Mr Marin again took the floor to explain the details of the Commission’s proposal for debt relief. He acknowledged that the plans could not resolve the problem of bilateral debt contracted by the ACPs but he saw it as an important political gesture reaffirming the Community’s solidarity with its developing country partners.

Maartje Van Putten (Netherlands) pointed out that the Commission proposal involved only 2% of the ACPs’ total debts and called on the Council, not only to adopt the measure but also to develop a common strategy with the EC Member States for debt cancellation. The Nigerian representative gave a graphic example of the problems facing the ACPs, in noting that whilst ten years ago, it took eight pounds of coffee to buy a wristwatch, it now took 15.

Other speakers calling for debt alleviation and cancellation included Maxime Verhagen (Netherlands), Brigitte Ernst de la Graete (Belgium), Christopher Jackson (UK) and the representatives of Zambia, Guyana and Cameroon.

AIDS crisis

The afternoon session was devoted to a public session on AIDS, which was addressed by a number of invited experts. The Ugandan Minister for Economic Development and Planning, Mr Rukikaire gave a frank assessment of the scale of the problem in his own country’ indicating that an estimated 1.3 million people were infected by the HIV virus (6% of the population). He said that since 1986, the Government had conducted a campaign, in liaison with the World Health Organisation. This was aimed at educating the people about the problem, controlling blood banks, developing research and ensuring that people who had been infected did not become marginalised. The Director of the Ugandan AIDS Programme, Dr Namara complemented the Minister’s contribution with further detailed statistics.

Dr Aby-Sy of the WHO supplied a global assessment of the problem and outlined his Organisation’s strategy for dealing with it. He stressed the importance of providing the ACP countries with the means to develop appropriate policies which would be decided centrally but managed locally.

Dr Fransens, Director of the EC AIDS Task Force, described the approach of the European Commission which had allocated ECU 39 million to the battle against AIDS in the ACPs. Since 1990, the Commission had implemented 61 programmes designed mainly to prevent the transmission of the disease by sexual means, or to establish safe are, rangements for blood transfusion.

Representatives who spoke in the subsequent debate expressed their gratitude to the expert speakers for their sobering and honest assessment of the AIDS epidemic. There was a general consensus that to discriminate against HIV sufferers was unacceptable and various calls were made to devote more resources to information and health infrastructures. The focus of this particular discussion was not on motions or amendments, but on learning more about the subject so that informed policymaking can take place in the future. Few were left in any doubt about the tragedy which AIDS has visited on the world in general and the ACPs in particular but as evidence of the increasing willingness to face up to the problem, the Joint Assembly’s decision to give AIDS a full hearing was the right one.

The final day of the Joint Assembly was devoted to a variety of issues, including discussions on transport, intra-ACP trade and structural adjustment. The members of a Joint Assembly mission which had visited Sudan reported on the situation in that country and various procedural questions were dealt with. The Assembly concluded with a lengthy voting session on a series of resolutions relating to the main issues which had been discussed during the week. The venue for the Autumn 1991 Joint Assembly was not decided definitely, but it is likely to be in the Netherlands. In the meantime, delegates left for home with a new respect for a renascent Uganda and an abiding memory of the warmth and hospitality of its people.