Cancellation of Heads of State summit was the anti-climax of the bloc’s 20th anniversary
Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | On November 30, the East African Community (EAC) marks twenty years. A scheduled Heads of State Summit for the six EAC countries; Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan would have been the saving grace for a bloc that generally had a bad year politically.
Even if the summit had taken place, in Arusha, Tanzania, to mark the EAC’s milestone, it would have most likely been overshadowed by the growing rift between Uganda and Rwanda and Burundi and Rwanda.
Therefore the postponement of the summit to early next year was a respite from tension that has built up between the two countries in the last few months. Rwanda, the chair of the EAC, postponed the summit at apparently Tanzania’s request.
When Rwanda’s minister of state for EAC, Olivier Nduhungirehe, wrote a letter to the bloc’s secretary general, Libérat Mfumukeko, he did not reveal which head of state asked for the summit to be deferred, creating unnecessary speculation and mistrust.
However Julius Wandera Maganda, Uganda’s minister of state for East African Affairs, told The Independent that the country in question was Tanzania. He said the council of ministers will deliberate on the fraught diplomatic relationship between Rwanda and Uganda.
“The council of ministers is sitting. They will make their resolutions which will be passed onto the summit,” Maganda said and added that there should be no worry since there are other actors; Angola and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) involved in the conflict resolution.
On the agenda of the summit was the application of the DRC to join EAC, the stalled Standard Guard Railway (SGR), and other issues in the community.
“The celebration of the twenty years is a calendar event. What is anticipated is that there would have been a bigger pronouncement if the summit had taken place,” Maganda stated. “Tanzania requested for a later date saying they had a lot to deal with at the moment.”
The minister said the commemoration of the EAC’s 20 years is a public program which has been witnessed through events like the Eriya Kategeya Memorial Lecture. Kategaya was a deputy prime minister in charge of East African Affairs at the time of his death in 2013. He was also known for his stewardship of the East African integration process.
Other scheduled events like the East African Business and Investment summit held on Nov. 28 and 29 went on as planned. Two weeks before the planned Nov. 30 Heads of state summit, the EAC secretariat in Arusha was a hive of activity when The Independent visited as a conference for industrialists and manufactures was underway.
In a long and critical look at the year gone by, the cancellation of the Heads of State summit is a metaphor for the state of affairs in the bloc. Optimists had hoped that other presidents in East Africa, especially John Magufuli of Tanzania, would have used the occasion to publicly build harmony between the two long-serving leaders while at the summit in Arusha but it did not happen.
Earlier, Rwanda postponed a meeting scheduled for Nov. 18 aimed at resolving the stand-off with Uganda. Nduhungirehe, Rwanda’s minister for EAC, was quoted as saying “Some members of our delegation will not be available on due to other assignments. So we requested Uganda to postpone the meeting to a more convenient date.”
The meeting was to be a follow up from an earlier meeting held in Kigali on Sept. 16. These meetings were supposed to iron out the issues from the pact the two nations signed in Luanda, Angola brokered by host president Joao Lorenco and observed by Felix Tshisekedi, the president of DRC.
Just as Uganda was adjusting to these developments, a video emerged of Rwandan President Paul Kagame in a foul mood warning enemies of Rwanda from within and without. “We are going to raise the cost on the part of anybody who wants to destabilise our security. The cost is going to be very high”, the 62-year-old leader warned.
“And I mean it. And I know you know that I mean it,” he added while presiding over a ceremony where Rwandan government leaders were swearing in on Nov.15. Kagame’s remarks were a broad sweep and sparked varied interpretations. Some commentators said Kagame was partly targeting Victoire Ingabire, an opposition figure in Rwanda who contested against Kagame in 2010 and remains critical of him. Others meanwhile said he had aimed at either Uganda or Burundi because of the worsening relations between them and Kigali. Rwanda accuses Uganda and Burundi of harbouring armed rebel militias with an anti-Rwanda mission. Uganda has arrested Rwandans in the country accusing them of being security threats including possession of firearms.
Analysts say Kagame’s tone was a harbinger of doom for the upcoming EAC summit and it was no surprise according to some when the summit was cancelled.