By: Ismael Kasooha
President Yoweri Museveni has called for the political and economic integration of the African continent to address challenges relating to the ongoing refugee crisis.
“It is crucial, especially on the African continent that we accelerate the processes of political and economic integration,” the President said in a statement delivered by Prime Minister Robinah
Nabbanja at the ongoing Global Refugee Forum (GRF) in Geneva on Wednesday.
He added that most of the new and old conflicts that continue to exacerbate the refugee crisis in Africa are caused by “opportunists and parasites” who are exploiting weaknesses in the governance system on the continent.
“These weaknesses can be wiped out once we form a strong super-national government,” Museveni said.
He appealed to heads of state and government in Africa to construct a powerful political unit that can address challenges being faced by the continent.
“I appeal to my African brothers and sisters to take full responsibility for their situations by constructing a powerful political unit capable of eliminating cracks of weakness,” Museveni added. “It should not be fashionable for Africa to be a theatre of humanitarian crises, one after another. We have a potent cure to the misery and suffering of our people,”
The 2023 GRF has been convened by Uganda together with France, Japan, Colombia, and Jordan. It is hosted by the Government of Switzerland and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
Prioritise common interests
The President explained that “our experience in modern times” has proved that no country is immune from the effects of the refugee crisis, which continues to grow in magnitude and intensity.
“We must learn to prioritise our common interests above superficial differences in colour, gender, religion and political affiliations,” Museveni added.
The President noted that other continents such as America, Europe and Asia have powerful economic and political entities despite their differences.
He added that by the time NRM assumed power in 1986, there were 500,000 Ugandan refugees in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Largest refugee-hosting country
Uganda, Museveni said was then the fourth largest “exporter” of refugees behind Cambodia, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia, but is now the fourth largest refugee-hosting country worldwide and the biggest in Africa.
He said that the solution to the refugee problem is democracy and creating stable living conditions in every country. The President said Uganda is currently hosting 1.6 million refugees because of Pan-Africanism and Ugandans’ commitment to the principle of Ubuntu.
“Accepting African refugees is part of the solidarity with our African brothers and sisters,” Museveni added. “It is also a component of our Pan-Africanist strategy to work for the unity of Africa, in order to ensure our prosperity and the prosperity of our African brothers and sisters,”
He added, “Therefore, Uganda caring for the African refugees that are brought here by adversity, is not just charity. It is also a good strategy,”
However, the President said Uganda faces resource constraints when it comes to looking after the refugees, adding that the displaced persons have placed enormous strain on “our meagre economic resources”
“The refugees come with understandable human needs like feeding, clothing, shelter, clean water and water for production, education, and skills, etc,” Museveni stated. “These are critical needs that must be addressed by all the concerned stakeholders.
They should not be left to the host countries,”
He called upon all partners in the refugee response to join hands in upholding the human rights of refugees.
Museveni added that there is a need for comprehensive and coordinated efforts that prioritise humanity above politics, that value compassion over indifference.
“It is also crucial, that we prioritise programmes geared towards empowering the refugees to be self-reliant by helping them turn their time in exile into an advantage, by learning a skill that can transform them into productive members of society,” the President said.
He noted that the five thematic areas that informed Uganda’s pledges at the GRF –-increasing resilience and self-reliance; environment, climate change and energy, localising the refugee response; securing durable solutions for refugees; and transition management – are very critical to efforts to enable refugees to become self-reliant.
However, Museveni cautioned that in a bid to create self-reliance among refugees, especially through agriculture, “we should avoid creating conflict with the indigenous people of Uganda”
“Therefore, the refugees can use the small plots of land in the refugee settlements, around their houses, to grow small quantities of seasonal crops and vegetables, preferably using irrigation,” he added. “They should never grow perennial crops such as coffee because those would give a durability that could provoke the locals into hostility,”
He said that “what is not controversial, is the imparting of knowledge and skills – i.e. School and University education and skills training”
“Education and skills can be availed to the refugees without conflicting so much with the locals as rural agriculture would do,” Museveni said. “Yes, you need more teachers in schools and technical colleges, which means more budget resources that create more pressures; but it is not as conflict-laden as rural land for agriculture,”
On the environment, the President said that the International Community should work with Uganda to enable the refugees to use solar power and bio-gas. He noted that “grid electricity” may be too expensive but other forms of energy clean present the right solution.
“The thematic area of localising the response is clear enough and will be done, but, preferably, with consultations with the local people,” Museveni stated. “The durable solution for refugees is to go back to their countries of origin. We normally discuss countries of origin. The fifth thematic area is transition, whose contents we need to clarify in this conference,”