East Africa's Search for Sustainable Development
Prof. Kabwegere and Prof. Bakibinga
at the roundtable discussion on sustainable development in East Africa.

East Africa's Search for Sustainable Development

Roundtable held at Grand Imperial Hotel.

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: May 23, 2006

As leaders in the East African countries of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania draw and implement the timetable for the East African Federation by 2013, many East Africans are hoping that the integration of the three East African counties will bring about sustainable development in the region by ensuring continuous better life for East Africans.

Some people like Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere, Uganda's minister of Local Government are excited at the prospect of one East Africa government. Prof. Kabwegyere says regional integration is the best thing for the East African region to achieve sustainable development through collective harnessing and maximum utilization of the region's resources.

"The sooner Rwanda and Burundi join, the better," he said during the roundtable discussion to mark 40 years of Institute of Development Studies of Sussex University- taking place in Kampala, Uganda on Friday April 19, 2006.

Prof. Kabwegyere, who was giving a keynote address at the roundtable under the theme, "Sustainable development in the East African region: Which way 40 years from now?" also calls for a common citizenship for people of East Africa.

"Time has come for us to look at ourselves as insignificant in our little stations. We need one East Africa where our people handle issues that affect them as a region," he noted.

He also says that in the next forty years, the people of East Africa can achieve sustainable development if there is intellectual integration of the region where East Africans are able to share their intellectual resources and abilities by building institutions that cut across borders, where people of the region exchange ideas and knowledge on how to develop.

"We can develop East Africa better if we look at each other as a common race and resource in all aspects. Such integration should lead to higher levels of production, thereby creating more jobs and eradicate things like shortages of food for people to enjoy better health," Kabwegyere said.

According to Prof. Kabwegyere, it is intellectual integration that will lead to effective and efficient exploitation and utilization of natural and human resources of the region to achieve sustainable development. But some panelists at the roundtable were of the view that for East Africa to achieve sustainable development, there must be a mechanism to use available resources at the same time preserving natural environment for the future generation, something they say is lacking as a result of poor leadership in the current governments of the region.

Godber Tumushabe, the Executive Director of ACODE-Uganda says that the East African Region is bound to experience environment related conflicts that will negatively affect its quest for sustainable development. He says that conflicts over land and water use and allocation in East Africa is a result of environmental degradation casued by what he called poor and unforesighted planning by the leadership in the region.

Tumushabe points out the conflicts in northeastern Uganda where the Karimajong have been raiding their neighbors especially the Itesot and taking their cows while they (the Karimajong) are looking for pasture for their animals as just the beginning of conflict. Similar conflicts are common among Karimajong and Sabiny of Uganda and the Pokot and Turkana of Kenya where cross border raids have led to many deaths.

Tumushabe who spoke after Kabwegyere reminded the participants at the discussion organized by the Makerere University Gender Mainstreaming Division that environment degradation related conflict have begun manifesting themselves through the conflict between the Ankole herdsmen and the Teso community as well as the Banyoro and Bakiga conflict in Kibaale district over land. In northeastern Uganda, the Iteso want the nomadic Ankole herdsmen to leave the wetlands which they have occupied while in Kibaale district, the Banyoro accuse the Bakiga migrants of encroaching on forest reserves which the Banyoro were not allowed to encroach on.
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Tumushabe attributed all these conflicts to environmental degradation which is caused by policy makers who always go for short term politically motivated development goals rather than long term goals that favor the country.

He said that the energy crisis that Uganda is currently experiencing is as a result of poor political direction that dates back to between 20 and 30 years.

"What we are seeing or hearing about when it comes to the falling levels of Lake Victoria is due to drought caused by environmental degradation. The areas of Rwampara and Ntungamo (Southwestern Uganda) had tall trees and had streams running from the hills. Now the hills are bare," said Tumushabe, adding that this is the reason the water levels of Lake Victoria has continued to go down. Some people have said the East African countries may soon have a conflict on the utilisation of Lake Victoria, which they share.

In a paper "Environmental shocks and events and their impact on human development," Tumushabe also warned that the next shock the region is to experience will be climatic change and disasters which will come at the time when the East African countries will not have the technology and finacial muscle to deal with its effects.

His warning was re-echoed recently by delegates during a United Nations and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation organized conference in April in Geneva, Switzerland. The delegates concluded that policymakers in poor countries waste time and resources by abandoning desertification-combating tactics.

Liliane Ortega, Switzerland's representative to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification said that land degradation affects people's lives and livelihoods, and that as such it must be treated within the context of agriculture and its economic cost.

Tumushabe said that instead of standing up to the challenges, the state in East Africa is continously weakened because of opportunitstic tendencies. He said that Uganda has no legislative capacity to stop the calamities because those supposed to provide direction and punish the calprits always want to look at 'who is involved' before taking action. He told participants at the rountable that although there is need for political, legal and policy responses, East African governments may not help the region achieve the dream, because the governments tend to look at short term political development goals instead of long term sustainable goals.

"When the government fails in big policies, it goes to soft policies which do not help in responding to crises. Our leaders are obsessed with short term development gains which have no long term importance," Tushabe said.

He gave an example of the directives from the presidency of Uganda about the construction of hotels in wetlands. Many people have looked at the academia to provide answers on how people and governments can harness capacities to solve or surpass environmental threats and achieve sustainable development.

Dr. Josephine Ahikire, a lecturer in Makerere University's Department of Women and Gender Studies said that achieving sustainable development is hard because rural areas remain marginalised by policy makers and other people in areas of responsibility.

Dr. Ahikire who presented a paper on "How does research re-invent itself to offer significantly greater support to those seeking just and sustainable development," said that many researchers tend to assume that the people in rural areas are too ignorant and fail to tap their knowledge for development purposes and also to allow them (people in rural areas) the chance to ask and learn.

With the academia facing its own weakneses in generating knowldge to ensure sustainbale development, some people believe non governmental organisations can act as catalysts for development and checking governments to play a better role in development.

However, Delvin Mugisha from DENIVA Uganda says NGOs are facing many challenges in promoting good governance that is held to be a prerequisite for sustainable development. With their recommendations they are often reminded that they (NGOs) have no mandate of the peole unlike the leaders who are elected. Mugisha said that because the civil society organisations are not elected like the authorities, it is hard for them to enforce what they think is proper for sustainable development, adding that it is also not easy to organise the poor about demanding for their rights because people fear to question the authorities.

Kabwegyere however insists that the most important of all is the need for more research and expansion of the federation to encompass more countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo so that all people in the region can contribute to its development.

"This requires increasing the skills of the people and technology. We also need to produce enough power for the whole continent. And here Congo that I always consider part of East Africa has tremendous potential. When River Congo enters the ocean, it goes 70 miles without ocean interruption, giving potential for the river to produce a lot of hydro electricity power for the whole of Africa to use," Prof. Kabwegyere said.

He said this is the kind of potential that the region needs to join together and harness in the next 40 years by ensuring that issues of peace and security which daunt the region are handled by the countries together in order to achieve sustainable development.

The roundtable discussion held at Grand Imperial Hotel was part of events by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) of Sussex University, UK, to celebrate 40 years of existence of IDS. The University of Sussex was holding about 20-30 roundtable activities in different parts of the world, including Uganda where the event was organized in collaboration with Makerere University's Gender Mainstreaming Division.

Prof. David Bakibinga, Makerere University's Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Finance and Administration, chaired the discussion.

"The experiences gathered during roundtable events like this one will feed into the interactive discussions that will take place in September 2006 at Sussex University," said Evelyn Nyakoojo, a senior assistant registrar from Makerere University.

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: May 23, 2006
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Gideon Munaabi is a journalist and public relations practitioner with Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd. He has been and continues writing widely for different publication locally and internationally. He is a founding member of Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd and is currently the chairman of the organisation.