Why Africa Needs a Common Market


June 26, 1991|By YOWERI K. MUSEVENI

KAMPALA, UGANDA. — Africa's economic role, as ordained by colonialism, has not changed after 20 years of independence. Most African countries still depend on the export of raw materials or crops in their basic form to Europe, Asia and North America. In these markets, it is the buyers who determine the prices. Yet, for the manufactures we need, it is the sellers who determine price.

The terms of trade are always against us, while, at the same time the industrialized countries are themselves keen competitors in agricultural commodities.

The whole question of loans and aid has trapped Africa into slavery of a different kind -- debt peonage. This began for Uganda with the World Bank mission of 1960, which introduced the aid virus.

Now we are in the position where the economic plans of many African countries are merely a collection of bilateral and multilateral projects. Structural adjustment programs sometimes provide temporary relief but they do not provide permanent solutions.

Behind this lies the problem of transplanted models. At independence we heeded gurus from the developed world; we failed to develop models relevant to our circumstances.

So we have adhered to the doctrine of comparative advantage, producing more and more commodities, even when there is a glut on the market. Accompanying this was the concept of trickle-down: wealth and well-being would trickle down from the top.

All these remedies for our conditions were conceived elsewhere. Yet as long as we remain dependent on other people in economic planning and ideas, Africa has no hope of getting out of the economic crisis. We have to pull ourselves out by our own bootstraps. Our thinking in Uganda is that we should try to develop integrated and self-sustaining economies.

We must bear in mind that the developed world does not owe us, Africans, a living. The developed world only spends 0.3 percent of its gross domestic product on foreign aid, and with the Eastern European countries taking on the ideology of the West, Africa can expect to become more marginal.

Unlike Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Africa has no technological base to speak of; whatever technology we acquired in the past, we have lost. It is therefore critical that we devise and adopt an all-Africa agenda to help ourselves.

The priorities are clear: we must exploit the economies of scale on our continent. We know that most national African markets cannot support large-scale industrial enterprises.

In Uganda, for example, we have huge phosphate deposits, but cannot build a viable medium-sized fertilizer plant because of our tiny domestic market. We would require the whole of East Africa to make such a project viable.

What this means is that Africa must move quickly toward full economic and, ultimately, political union. Through the joint deployment of our resources and skills, we should get out of the vicious circle of poverty and dependency.

Achieving integration will not be easy, but a small beginning has already been made. We have regional blocs like SADCC in southern Africa, the PTA in East Africa, Ecowas in West Africa and the Maghreb Union in North Africa.

There are also about 60 small ad hoc economic groupings which should be rationalized to avoid the duplication of effort and the squandering of our meager resources. Early this month in Abuja, Nigeria, the African Economic Community was established.

We have a way forward. When we look at our position in relation to Europe we can see that Africa needs regional integration more desperately than does Europe. The 1980s was a lost decade in Africa -- we can't afford to lose another one.

We must develop our continent by developing our human resources, by adding value to what we produce and through economic and political union. Our economic problems will not go away until we begin to use our own models.

Yoweri Kaguta Museveni is president of Uganda. This commentary, distributed by Pacific News Service, first appeared in Africa Analysis, a London-based newsletter.

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