ARUSHA – The East African Community (EAC) went so low yesterday when the Heads of State Summit was cancelled at the last minute.
The regional leaders were already at the Arusha International Conference Centre (AICC) when a ‘bombshell’ came in that the meeting would not take place.
Those present included President Yoweri Museveni, who is the current EAC Chair, Tanzania’s John Pombe Magufuli and President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya.
The meeting failed to take place due to lack of quorum after Burundi, a bonafide member of EAC, declined to send representatives.
“In the absence of Burundi, the summit will not take place due to lack of quorum”, the chairperson of the EAC Council of Ministers Kirunda Kivenjija affirmed.
He said in a terse statement that the ‘postponed’ meeting of the Heads of State would be convened at a later date.
Mr. Kivejinja, who is Uganda’s minister for EAC Affairs, said the rules and procedures of the summit require quorum of all the partner states.
The announcement sent shock waves among the delegates packed inside the Simba Hall, some wondering on the future of regional integration.
Besides the huge resources spent to prepare it, the cancellation apparently came as an embarrassment to the delegates and staff members of the EAC.
“We need to amend the Treaty so that there is no repeat of such thing”, said Dr. Ali-Said Matano, the executive secretary of the Lake Victoria Basin Commission, an institution of the EAC.
He stressed that the Treaty should be amended such that if a half or three-quarters of the countries agreed on a key issue, that should be taken to be the decision of the bloc.
He noted that failure to organize the summit after preparations which took months was enough to signal that not all was well in coordination.
The decision to postpone the summit was arrived at by the three presidents and ministers who represented the Rwanda and South Sudan heads of state.
Rwanda was represented at the summit by its Foreign Affairs minister Richard Sezibera, who is the immediate former EAC secretary general while Juba was represented by Trade minister Paul M. Aketch.
Moses Kanyesingye, a trade policy analyst who was at the venue, said a lot of taxpayers’ money had been wasted in the bungled summit preparations.
He noted he was worried EAC was going back to 1977 when organization broke up due to differences among the three partner states.
He hinted there may have not been enough consultations between the Office of the EAC Chair, the Secretariat and Burundi over the organization of the bungled summit.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and East African integration Augustine Mahiga confessed he was not “fully aware” as to why Burundi failed to turn up at yesterday’s summit.
However, he admitted he knew from the beginning the problems EAC was to encounter after noticing the absence of Burundi delegates in the pre-summit meetings.
Peter Mathuki, the newly appointed executive director of the East African Business Council (EABC) said yesterday’s drama at the AICC was a blow to the business fraternity.
EAC officials, some apparently bewildered by the cancellation of the summit, were mum as to when the next event will take place.
Reasons for the absence of Burundi to the summit and its preceding meetings of ministers and senior officials have not been clear.
However, impeccable sources established that the Bujumbura authorities had lately pressed on the current EAC Chair President Yoweri Museveni to postpone the summit until a later date.
This was flatly rejected by the Ugandan leader who through EAC Affairs minister Mr.Kivejinja directed the secretary general to go ahead with the summit preparations.