Arusha. For the first time, frosty relations between Burundi and Rwanda will feature boldly in this week’s East African Community (EAC) Heads of State Summit.
Sources said the regional leaders will this time around discuss why open hostilities between the two neighbours were impacting on regional integration efforts.
The summit of the regional leaders will take place here on Friday after two such meetings slated for November 30 and December 27, last year, were cancelled.
Officials at the Arusha-based secretariat confirmed that uneasy relations between the two partner states, which joined the EAC in 2007, were among topics on the agenda.
The unresolved hostilities between the two members of the bloc were to be discussed in the December 27 aborted 20th Ordinary Summit of the EAC Heads of State in Arusha.
“The meeting could not take place. But there is not much that will change from what will be on the agenda of Friday’s session,” an official of the Secretariat told The Citizen.
During a New Year media brief on January 14, the EAC secretary general Liberat Mfumukeko said the agenda of the coming leaders’ meeting would not change from items listed for the aborted meetings.
“The agenda would remain the same,” he affirmed without directly mentioning the Burundi/Rwanda differences, which regional observers fear could tear apart the six-nation bloc.
Should the matter feature in the summit, it would be the first time in recent years that EAC has seriously attempted to resolve differences between its warring members.
Relations between Burundi and Rwanda worsened from 2015 after President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government accused Rwanda of arming rebels against his regime.
Rwanda, which alongside Tanzania has hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees from Burundi after the 2015/2016 chaos, has repeatedly refuted the allegations.
According to well placed sources in the EAC, Friday’s summit would also discuss the challenges faced by the regional body in convening meetings in the two states.
For the last three years, officials from one country could not cross to the neighbouring state to attend a regional event, including those organised or sponsored by the EAC.
These included the plenary sessions of the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala). During a session held in Kigali
in March 2017, MPs from Burundi’s ruling party boycotted.
Rwandan officials have also been conspicuously absent from a series of EAC events held in Burundi, including the 2017 oil and gas investment conference and a host of sports events. Matters have been worsened by Burundi’s non-recognition of the current Eala Speaker Martin Ngoga, a Rwanda national.
During the tense election of the 5th Speaker of the regional assembly in December 2017, all Burundi MPs boycotted the event, claiming it was their country’s turn to field a candidate.
Later, Bujumbura filed a case at the East African Court of Justice (EACJ), challenging Mr Ngoga’s election. The suit is yet to be determined by the court.
Fears that the coming EAC summit could fail again were absent yesterday as scores of senior officials from the six partner states converged for pre-summit meetings.
“A sign that the summit will be taking place this time is a great relief that the EAC is not dying,” remarked one senior official.
All the partner states were represented. Today the meeting will attract the permanent secretaries while tommorrow (Wednesday) the ministerial segment will take place.