“I want to see the political integration of East Africa,” Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni told Talk To Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Vall. “Our aim is to make East Africa one country, one state. It’s now integrated economically but together with our partners we want East Africa to become one country.”
He identified “the narrow markets of Africa” as one of “ten strategic bottlenecks that have constrained Uganda and Africa… Uganda is 40 million people but that’s not a wide enough market to support modernisation…. That has been one of the bottlenecks – the fragmentation of Africa into small markets because of colonialism… So one of our programs has been regional integration. It’s happening; a common market of East Africa.”
Museveni dismissed claims that armed guards and mercenaries have become Uganda’s biggest export. “The biggest export of ours is industrial products; the next one is tourism,” he said.
He did acknowledge the existence of “private security companies” in Uganda. “We know about them… Because of our liberation struggle, because we fought wars and defeated them, we have a tradition of fighting… Our people have that courage and experience.”
But he denied that his use of Ugandan troops in African conflict areas was financially motivated. “When we are in South Sudan, we were there at our own cost. It seems you have not heard of fraternal solidarity… When we fought the Portuguese in Mozambique and Angola, the frontline states – Tanzania, Zambia – who was paying them? When we stood against Ian Smith in Rhodesia, who was paying them? I am part of the African freedom fighters. Africans will defend their freedom, even though they are poor… We are helping each other.”
He denied that his support of South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir against Riek Machar had prolonged the civil war there. “Not at all. What happened is that when the fighting started, there was a regional meeting, which called for a ceasefire. Nobody should continue fighting so that we get a political solution. One of the factions [Machar] refused.”
He identified “ideological disorientation… where people emphasise sectarianism, of religion, of tribe” as another of the ten bottlenecks constraining Africa. “Those problems you are talking about in South Sudan, they are caused by that ideological disorientation. In Uganda we have fought that; that is why Uganda is peaceful.”
He denied using Joseph Kony and The Lord’s Resistance Army as a pretext to sending troops into other countries in the region and interfering. “For us, Kony is not a problem to Uganda. We defeated him. He cannot come back. If he comes back, he will be dead. But we had to help our African brothers to hunt. Fighting in the forest is not easy. We are doing it in the partnership with the Americans. The new American government did not want to continue, so we said OK.”
He denied Uganda was planning an imminent withdrawal of troops from Somalia. “No, they have stabilised Somalia. Our only concern is that Somalia has not built their national army; that is what we are encouraging them to do.”
He said Uganda’s involvement in Somalia in the fight against Al-Shabab was “moral and ideological” as “we don’t have a border with Somalia.”
“Al-Shabab is an extremist group contrary to our African culture of tolerance. We live and let live.”
In a tough interview, Museveni also fielded questions about why he’s served five presidential terms and 31 years in office; his succession plans; his jailing of opponents like Stella Nyanzi and opposition leader Kizza Besigye; rules preventing people rallying freely; and the recent killing of more 100 people by security forces in Western Uganda.