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By: Joseph Rwagatare
My brief sojourn in Egypt ended two days ago. I am back in these milder climes. It has been baking hot out there, but much better compared with farther north across the Mediterranean. There it was roasting.
And in the middle of the heat wave, nature did her thing: brought down rain and hailstone and landslides and interrupted the Tour du France.
But baking or not, people here still go to work, and work hard, in factories making things that are driving the economy, on farms (yes, even there) and on construction sites.
Cairo is one huge construction site. Cranes stick out everywhere, in the middle of the rubble of old and dangerous buildings that have been pulled down in crowded risky areas, the equivalent of amanegeka here, or the desert sand where new ones are being erected. But Cairo is so congested that this alone cannot fix it.
So a completely new administrative capital is being built. It is a huge city, on an area four times the size of Paris according to officials of the company building it.
Apart from marvelling at the amount of work done in the stifling heat, I discovered (actually confirmed) how Africa is so divided by our different experiences as to make its parts so distinct from each other.
Yes, we live in Africa and are proud to be identified as Africans but we also live in such different parts of the continent and know very little about other parts that we might well be from different continents. That is true even for journalists.
The programme that brought us to Cairo drew participants from different parts of the continent: east, west, south and the horn. Priority concerns and viewpoints about one another were strikingly diverse.
Take the example of the extreme weather conditions. East Africans linked them to climate change and expressed worries that it is bound to get worse if action to reverse conditions that contribute to it is not taken soon.
For those from north, west and the horn of Africa that was not the biggest worry. They have lived with extreme and harsh weather for a long time.
They are more concerned with a different sort of immediate and violent extremism: religious radicalism and terrorism.
Participants from these regions raised this sceptre hanging over them at every opportunity and implored Egypt as the current Chair of the African Union (AU) to place it at the centre of the AU’s agenda.
Very likely Egypt will oblige considering they have concerns of their own in Sinai and with the Muslim Brotherhood.
For participants from southern Africa, that seemed to be far from their thinking. It is happening far away and does not directly affect them.
They appear to be satisfied with the level of political stability in their region which is guaranteed by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in ways that, for instance, the East African Community (EAC) does not.
SADC leaders seem to operate in a collegial manner, and because of this it is difficult to imagine a quarrel between them or their countries breaking out and threatening the stability of the whole region. Any such attempt and the others will all come down hard on the one trying to get out of line.
This approach has its roots in the solidarity built during the liberation struggle against a common enemy. And even if some of them preside over stronger economies and command more powerful military, none wants to appear superior or demand deference.
That is probably why southern Africans are rather amused at the way East Africans conduct their public affairs and inter-state relations, in a quarrelsome, noisy and fractious manner.
They see a fierce and unusual competition for power and dominance among leaders who do not meet as colleagues (as in the South) but more as rivals.
For some this rivalry is rooted in the different liberation experience in East Africa, whether for independence or from bad rule. Here each struggled on their own, dictated largely by the different colonial situation or post-colonial experience in each country.
For instance, in Kenya it was determined by settler colonialism, in Tanzania a United Nations Mandate and in Uganda protectorate rule. There was already a separateness which influenced the way each responded to the particular circumstances, unlike in the south where there was more liberation coordination.
East Africa is situated between the south, west and north. Its people’s attitudes also stand somewhere between. They are near enough to the terrorism-threatened areas to experience some of its impact but still feel it is far off.
They are close enough to the south to understand their puzzlement with what happens in the rest of the continent without necessarily sharing their detachment.
Regional peculiarities determine how people view others and what their priorities are. What happens in other parts appears distant and none of our business.
That may perhaps explains why even at the AU urgency and consensus about certain issues is difficult to reach.
It falls on the media to break these barriers of information and understanding among Africans about themselves. The first task in this is to stop relying on others to inform us about us.