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Rwanda, Burundi in epic battle in Arusha rumble

East African women in perspective

Sunday January 7, 2018

By Anne Kiruku­­­­­­

East African News Agency, Arusha

Members of the East African Legislative Assembly sworn in this week have a heavy task ahead of them, having started on the wrong foot with the highly charged election of the Speaker.

Significantly, Tanzania and Burundi boycotted the session, but the election went ahead and was won by Rwanda’s Martin Ngoga.

Mr Martin Ngonga takes oath as the East African Legislative Assembly Speaker in Arusha recently. PHOTO | EAC

A tug of war over which country should provide the Speaker almost derailed the process. It is unfortunate that member states appear to be backtracking on gentlemen’s agreements over key positions at the East African Community.

The position of the Speaker is a rotational position and this was Rwanda’s turn to take it, but unfortunately Tanzania and Burundi unexpectedly fronted candidates.

The move could easily be taken by other partner states as showing bad faith, and could further be setting a bad precedent. The new kids on the block – South Sudan lawmakers – were said to have been perplexed by the turn of events.

Burundi already holds the position of Secretary General of the EAC Secretariat and its turn to provide the Speaker is yet to come, hence the country was not supposed to front a candidate.

The claim by Burundi that it was the only one supposed to offer candidates for the Speaker’s position because of an alleged alphabetical principle in rotation – which the Treaty does not talk about – is rather phoney, not to say hostile.

The Janus-faced partner states, who have been deceptive and specious in their dealings – are to blame for lack of full implementation of some policies that would have propelled the region to greater heights.

New East African Legislative Assembly members pose for a picture. PHOTO | EAC

It is the same double-speak that has seen the fight against non-tariff barriers almost collapsing. The implementation of the Common Market Protocol has faced severe battles due to failure by individual states to lift legal barriers such as recognition of business certificates from each other and double taxation.

Efforts to open up borders and boost cross-border trade have been derailed, too, this time by legal barriers. The second EAC Common Market Scorecard 2016 showed that Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi still trade as separate and distinct markets, thus keeping their economies small and disconnected due to bottlenecks in regulations.

It is unfortunate that despite the heads of states signing the treaty to give countries in the region the freedom of movement of goods, capital, labour and services – which would greatly boost trade and investment and make the region more productive – many countries remain largely non-compliant in their services and trade liberalisation commitments.

It is this lack of commitment, mistrust and suspicion that have seen partner states get into near-open hostility, further compromising the letter and spirit of the Community.

In the recent past, the altercation between Kenya and Tanzania has led to an almost open confrontation, further affecting trade and good neighbourly relations. The rivalry between the two countries has led to diplomatic spats that sap the region’s energy and remove our collective focus from the regional integration agenda.

Only last month, for instance, Tanzanian authorities auctioned more than 1,300 cattle belonging to Kenyan Maasai; the herdsmen had crossed to Tanzania, and the country’s Minister for Livestock and Fisheries said – without providing any evidence – that they feared the cattle would spread dangerous diseases.

In the same week, Tanzanian police burnt 6,400 chicks from Kenya on suspicion that they could bring bird flu into that country.
The recent fallout between Burundi and Rwanda is suspected to have been partly to blame for this week’s EALA standoff, which threatened to tear down the House. Last month, in a preliminary session in Kigali, Burundi lawmakers claimed that their lives were in danger and insisted on rescheduling the sessions to Arusha.

It is now critical for partner states to solve their diplomatic rows amicably and without interfering with the business of the Community. Rifts are teething problems in any organisation, but they can be solved without drama when the member states have a common agenda.

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