Tuesday, September 29, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
September 29, 2009

I have followed the contributions of African leaders at the just concluded UN General Assembly in New York and a follow up meeting in Venezuela at which the South –South talks centered on Africa’s close cooperation with South America.

When I heard that African Heads of State, led by their AU chairman were heading to Venezuela, radical Chavez’s home country, I thought it was a mere cocktail to welcome brothers next door before they crossed the Atlantic back to their homes.

However, when international news feeds started relaying what were being discussed, my mind raced back to what my African leaders’ contributions were at the UN Assembly.

For starters Yoweri Museveni took the opportunity to tell the world what he has been telling us for the last 20 years. He was pleading for regional integration so that Africa could be self reliant. Many more African leaders that spoke before him and after were of the same opinion though with little variations here and there.

The Venezuela talks raised my interest a notch higher when I heard of the South –South talks. They rekindled my fond memories of one Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the last African leader I remember to have had a passion for South- South cooperation. But the fact that it seemed to have died with Nyerere’s peers, I was curious to know what these new comers were going to say.

To tell you the truth, I was disappointed. Let me tell you why I was disappointed.
I could not understand how the present leaders, with half the zeal and commitment of the Nyerere group could finally make the dream come true. Then I remembered Gaddafi’s tireless crusade to unite Africa that has come to nothing simply because we now have” gradualists” and “Africa Unite Now” camps at every AU summit. Then I asked: If we as neighbors in this continent cannot open our borders to each other and unite as a people, what benefit would unity between leaders across the Atlantic bring to our people?

If it has taken us in East Africa 20 years to negotiate the Common Market protocol within the EAC, why do we even bother cooperating with South America?

The desire to cooperate with South America can only serve two purposes: The first purpose is to make Chavez feel like he is clipping the wings of a powerful neighbor up in the North, a neighbor that has breathed down their necks for more than a century. The other purpose is to indulge in diversionary tactics when one has failed on the local scene. In this case, the biggest beneficiaries of this South-South new found spirit are the two oil producing countries of Libya and Venezuela that have been fighting tooth and nail to have control of their respective regions with little success.

The other reason is perhaps to go on an ego trip by believing in greener pastures across the hill when in fact the grass is equally greener on our side of the mountain.

The way I see it is simple. There is absolutely nothing wrong with getting Africa to work with South America. After all, Mozambique and Brazil are already very close for historical reasons. However, let us succeed in commercially integrating our regional economic blocks before we venture to play big ball with other players from outside or region.

It would have been more pleasing to see East Africa as a unit signing oil exploration protocols with Venezuela, Argentina or Brazil rather than Kenya doing it alone. It is these lone ranger behaviors that have been and will continue to be our ruin.

Let us do business with South America but for heavens’ sake let us not do it because Chavez wants to prove something to the Americans. Let us by all means trade with our brothers in South America but for the sake of our dignity let us not do it because Qaddafi wants to prove something to his political rivals in the Middle East, Western Europe or his opponents within the ranks of the Africa Union.

Let us use all our available energies and resources to promote trade and regional integration among member states in Africa first. More urgently let us realize our Common Market, Common currency and a common political union in East Africa before we engage in talks of cooperation with distant lands that some of us have only met on the world map.

Come to think of it, when did we last see a South American head of state or even a foreign minister on our shores? Tell me when you next remember. I’ll be interested to share in the knowledge.