Is Bujumbura boycotting EAC summit?

Burundia President Pierre Nkurunziza. Bujumbura is boycotting a final round of peace talks to end a political crisis that erupted in 2015. FILE PHOTO | AFP

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Burundi government officials have been conspicuously absent in pre-EAC Heads of State Summit meetings in Arusha, raising fears the country may boycott regional leaders’ session.

Arusha. Fears are mounting here over the likely boycott of tomorrow’s (Friday) East African Community (EAC) leaders’ summit by Burundi.

Until last evening, Burundi senior government officials were conspicuously absent from a series of pre-summit consultations involving all the six partner states which began on Sunday.

Diplomatic sources reached by The Citizen intimated the country may not be represented at the 20th ordinary summit of the regional bloc.

EAC summits are normally preceded by the meeting of Council of Ministers, a powerful policy organ of the Community which recommends what the leaders should discuss and agree on. EAC officials confirmed late yesterday that none of the Burundi delegates had joined those from Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan since Sunday when the meetings started.

One senior official cautioned, however, that Burundi can still be part of the summit even if its officials have skipped the advance meetings.

“You can’t rule out the participation of Burundi until the last day. It may send a minister to represent President Pierre Nkurunziza,” he pointed out.

However, another official who requested anonymity hinted Burundi may, after all, not feature in the summit set to take place at the Arusha International Conference Centre (AICC).

He said the Bujumbura authorities have communicated with the secretariat they may fail to be in Arusha as there would be an important national event in the capital (Bujumbura) on Friday, requiring presence of high level politicians.

None of the executives of the EAC could be reached to dismiss or confirm rumours circulating here on the possible complete absence of an EAC partner state to the key talks. The two deputy secretaries general were seen busy consulting officials from the partner states and the EAC staff members to ensure everything went well.

The ministerial session prior to the summit convened late afternoon yesterday at the EAC headquarters with information swirling on the likelihood of absence of one partner state in the summit.

A Tanzanian cabinet minister told The Citizen that he had heard on the possible absence of Burundi but added that it would be too early to conclude that.

Burundi, which joined the EAC in 2007 alongside with Rwanda, had been attending the EAC summits regularly although President Nkurunziza had not attended in person since 2015.

The only time Bujumbura played host to the summit was in 2011 around the time when President Nkurunziza assumed the Chair of the leaders’ summit.

Bujumbura also used to host the routine sessions of the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala), the last of which took place there in 2015. Uncertainity over Burundi’s participation, notwithstanding, reliable sources had it that President Paul Kagame would take over as the new EAC chair, replacing Yoweri Museveni of Uganda.

According to the EAC Treaty, of a member of the summit (president of a partner state), fails to attend the summit, he can appoint a minister to represent him or her. The minister appointed shall have powers, duties and responsibilities of his or her respective president to discharge duties at the leaders’ club.