KAMPALA- A planned East African Community summit in Kampala, due next weekend, has been thrown into confusion after Rwanda reportedly said it is “not interested” in taking up the rotational chair of the regional bloc.
Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo confirmed late on Friday that a crowded domestic schedule, with landmark political observances in 2014, prompted discussions to have another country hold the rotational chair. President Paul Kagame was due to assume the community’s chairmanship during the Heads of State Summit in Kampala, due next Saturday.
“Yes, there have been consultations to skip Rwanda; the coming year is a busy time for Rwanda, with multiple activities related to the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the genocide and 20 years of liberation,” said Ms Mushikiwabo, also the government spokesperson. “The matter will be decided upon by the heads of state during their [November 30] summit.”
In Kampala, sources said Rwanda’s officials in the ministry responsible for the Community Affairs communicated the surprise decision to their Ugandan counterparts on Friday, hours to the start of preliminary meetings for the summit, throwing the organisers in quandary.
Mr Shem Bageine, the Ugandan minister for EAC, said he was in Nairobi and remarked: “I have not received such information. Let me find out.”
Mr Chris Magoba, the spokesman for Uganda EAC ministry said: “Unfortunately, I am not able to say anything about whether Rwanda will assume the chair or not because we expect Rwanda to participate. If there should be any changes, a press statement will be issued.”
Rwanda’s decision reportedly followed a quiet high-level understanding between the region’s ‘coalition of the willing’ countries — Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda — whose presidents over the past year, held three back-to-back summits on, among other things, infrastructure and regional integration issues to the exclusion of Tanzania and Burundi.
The leaders reportedly agreed that Kigali forfeits its turn, this year, in favour of Kenya to enable new-comer President Uhuru Kenyatta snap up chairmanship of the regional bloc as a timely shot in his arm during the ongoing political and diplomatic lobbying to defer his International Criminal Court trial.
The UN Security Council has already rejected African Union’s plea to delay the planned trial by a year. Regional leaders are speculating that giving Mr Kenyatta chair of a group of five countries, with more than 134 million people, would politically insulate him against the West “that would not want to plunge a region into chaos”.
That notwithstanding, secretary-general Richard Sezibera on Friday circulated to member countries a revised summit programme still indicating that President Kagame would take over EAC chairmanship.
Insiders said, that however, could change if Rwanda advances valid reasons to step back, allowing for the heads of state to confer and choose a replacement.
Other sources suggested that Rwanda was reluctant to head the bloc at the height of its diplomatic spat with Tanzania, blamed for the latter’s apparent isolation by the neighbours.
The community head of corporate communications, Mr Richard Owora Othieno, said he was not aware of the developments. “It would be shocking because Rwanda confirmed participating,” he said.
Rwandan delegates arrived in Kampala for a series of senior officials’ preliminary meetings ahead of the November 28 Council of Ministers sitting to be followed, next Saturday, by Heads of State Summit at Commonwealth Resort Munyonyo.
Organisers say stakeholders were increasingly looking to the Kampala summit to cool off tempers in the bloc, and any unilateral decision by Rwanda not to lead the bloc could potentially be interpreted as a kick in the teeth for Uganda that fervently lobbied for the admission of both Rwanda and Burundi to the EAC.
Besides underlining the wedge between Kigali and Dar es Salaam, the development would also complicate admission of new applicants.
ABOUT THE CHAIR
The current chairman, President Museveni, who ordinarily would hold onto the seat if Kigali failed to take charge, is expected to persuade peers that his plate is currently full since he simultaneously heads both the International Conference on Great Lakes Region and the Common Markets for Eastern and Southern Africa. Uganda took over the EAC rotational chair from Kenya, last year, and is to hand over to Rwanda, followed by Tanzania and Burundi.