Does East Africa need a war to end wars?

Author: Okodan Akwap. PHOTO/FILE.

What you need to know:

There’s no better way to do this than to get rid of these troublesome cassava republics of ours and replace them with a stronger, more viable East African entity

Eventually, the intervention of the East African Community (EAC) in the conflict in DR Congo will silence the guns. Peace will come. But there will be no lasting peace. There’s a fundamental difference between peace and lasting peace. The sooner we realise this the better it will be for the region to embark on the process of sorting out the mess in that mineral-rich country once and for all.

One of the reasons there will be a lull in fighting, but not lasting peace, is that there are many armed groups – some dormant – lurking in the jungles of that vast country. People there carry arms with the ease with which they carry guitars. Indeed, the Congolese seem as eager to shoot their guns as they are delighted to twang their guitars.

A history of tension, anger and suspicion between DRC and Rwanda could trigger a fierce intra-EAC war. An angry Congolese woman told AFP (Daily Monitor, November 8): “I want to fight against Rwanda.”

Now, imagine Uganda and Tanzania entering the war on the side of Rwanda. Imagine Kenya and South Sudan balancing regional power by backing DRC. And imagine Burundi staying out of it but saying, “Go ahead big brothers!” That would be the war to end wars. That would be the key to lasting peace, not only in DRC but in the entire East African region. This is not idle thinking. A new world order is imminent. We must prepare carefully as a viable player in this emerging global order. Thinkers in the field of international relations have for some time now been sounding a warning that great-power conflict is a real and present danger. They say that a new Cold War looms in the horizon as the United States of America on one hand, and Russia and China, on the other hand, are firmly on a collision course. The face of the new Cold War will not be a bipolar world. It will be a multipolar world in which China takes its place alongside the US and Russia.

A multipolar world will be a more dangerous place for struggling Third World countries such as those in the EAC. To prepare to enter such a mine field, it’s important for our region to establish stronger guardrails to protect the people of East Africa and their interests. Undoubtedly, the superpowers will sponsor destabilising wars among weaker states. So, building capacity for constructive global engagement is unavoidable.

There’s no better way to do this than to get rid of these troublesome cassava republics of ours and replace them with a stronger, more viable East African entity. A single political-economic union (an East African Union) destination is reachable. But this won’t be easy.  We must be prepared to pay the ultimate price – unquantifiable loss of life and property.

This war would simultaneously sort out the enduring conflicts in DRC and South Sudan. By the time we are done fighting – weary, wounded and (to many) homeless in ruined economies – we would then start the difficult journey of region-building as opposed to state-building. Europeans laid the foundation for nation-state building (ancient Greece had city-states) after they emerged exhausted and ruined from fighting a 30-year war (1618-1648). They complemented state-building with regional unity. Americans also built the United States of America after a ruinous civil war (1861-1865). 

The American civil war was fought between northern and southern states over slavery and states’ interests. It was the costliest and deadliest war ever fought on American soil, with nearly 650,000 soldiers killed, millions more wounded and much of the South left in ruins.

At the Independence Day celebrations, President Museveni praised America’s formula for political and economic integration. But he didn’t mention the cost of achieving that formula. Can EAC emulate Europe and America? Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, what do you think?

Mr Okodan Akwap (PhD) is an associate consultant at Uganda Management Institute.