President Yoweri Museveni has termed as “suicidal” any attempt by any government on the African continent to block the free flow of goods and services across its borders.
President Museveni said for a long time, he has warned leaders including Ugandan government officials never to block goods from neighboring countries for political or nationalistic reasons.
Museveni’s comments on Wednesday at the Africa Now Summit in Munyonyo, came just hours after the Ugandan government through Foreign Affairs Minister Kutesa announced that the government of Rwanda had placed a trade embargo on all goods from Uganda.
Kutesa, in an update on the ongoing standoff between Uganda and Rwanda, which led to the closure of the border on February 28, said Rwandan officials were, “only allowing crossing into Rwanda trucks carrying transit goods destined for Rwanda or transiting through Rwanda to the Democratic Republic of Congo and other places.”
“In effect, this is a trade embargo on bilateral trade with Uganda,” the minister said.
President Museveni, treading cautiously not to name any names, warned at the summit that no country can stand by itself economically without trading with her neighbors. Prosperity cannot happen, he warned, without free trade.
“We must accept free movement of goods and services by removing taxes, that is, tariff and non-tariff barriers, border restrictions, roadblocks, complicated trade license procedures and hostility by the customs people,” he said.
“The issue of market access and free movement of goods and services is a matter of survival for Uganda, East Africa, and Africa.”
According to Museveni, Uganda itself in the past has fought the urge of blocking goods coming from neighboring countries.
“In 1986, Kenya was exporting goods worth 200million dollars to Uganda, and we were only exporting goods worth $12million. Some of the Ugandan leaders started talking of blocking Kenyan goods; I rejected that line because it is suicidal,” he said.
“Supporting one another’s prosperity by buying one another’s goods and services is the correct way.”
Besides free movement of goods, Museveni said African countries must aspire to ensure free movement of Africans citizens across all African borders.
This arrangement, he said however, should not be misused by some governments to antagonize other governments.
The president proposed that all African nationals should commit by treaty, never to use the free movement of people to send spies for instance, to other countries.
“Our party, the NRM supports the total free movement of people in Africa,” he said.
“However, we need to agree that governments undertake by treaty never to use the free movement of people to ever operate behind the backs of their host governments,” he said.
Museveni noted that this was once a challenge for the East African Community before it collapsed in the 1970s.
The President recounted that former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin exploited the open borders to send spies to neighboring countries.
“He used the system to send out spies. There was one (spy) who lived in the harbors in Dar Es Salaam and we all knew him,” he said.
“Governments therefore, should never use these structures for anything other than trade.”