Missing from the pack was Burundi’s President, Pierre Nkurunziza, who was represented by his Second Vice President.
Diplomats and human rights activists had pulled out their ‘knives’ ready to attack the EAC leadership had President Nkurunziza turned up.
Suspension of Burundi?
Indeed, many observers who are well versed with the provisions of the Treaty establishing the EAC would have been bewildered had Nkurunziza turned up.
They even question why Burundi has not up to now been suspended from EAC membership, pursuant to Article 146 of the Treaty, given that one of the fundamental principles of the EAC requires Partner States to adhere to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and the protection of human and people’s rights, which President Nkurunziza is accused of violating.
In the wisdom of the EAC Presidents, the Burundi political crisis needed a different approach from a rigid application of the Treaty.
Personally, I support such stance because it is quite possible to throw Burundi into a bigger crisis and catastrophe of serious proportions by suspending it from membership.
The position taken by the EAC Summit of nominating President Yoweri Museveni as Mediator and former President Benjamin Mkapa as Facilitator of the mediation process for the Burundi crisis is wise and should have been taken much earlier.
Enter South Sudan
The flip side of the Burundi issue was the welcome decision of South Sudan’s admission into EAC membership. Talking to a number of country delegates and East African Community legislators at the Summit prior to the announcement of South Sudan’s admission, I observed opposing views.
The most preponderant view revolved around the Burundi crisis and questioning whether the EAC should allow another ‘Burundi’ into the EAC by admitting South Sudan?
Can the EAC proceed full throttle in deepening and widening integration with politically fragile members on board and at what cost?
Again, on the Summit decision to admit South Sudan into EAC membership I am in total support. In fact, precisely because of the political fragility of South Sudan the more the reason why its membership in the EAC is necessary.
For whatever we may think about the nature and character of the on-going Burundi crisis, the truth is that Burundi has made significant progress as a result of its EAC membership.
Burundi has been able to build state institutions, embark on a number of legal and regulatory measures to boost governance and strengthen its economy. South Sudan should benefit from similar structural transformations.
As it is, South Sudan is intimately linked to Uganda and Kenya economies through trade, investment flows and infrastructure projects.
Uganda and Kenya’s current exports to South Sudan are valued at US$ 200 million and 180 million annually, respectively.
Magufuli- Man of the Moment
An important feature of the 17th Summit was the first attendance of a regional meeting by Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli.
There was thus an air of anxiety and eagerness combined as delegates waited to gauge the performance of the Tanzanian President who was supposed to hand over the chair of the Summit to the Burundi President.
Tanzania was Chair of the Summit from November 2014 to November 2015.
President Jakaya Kikwete could not hand over because President Magufuli was already President in November 2015 and the normal November Summit could not be held.
It would have been a simple task for President Magufuli to hand over the Chair to another President and it was the turn of Burundi.
However, President Nkurunziza did not turn up and apparently had sent a message to his colleagues that he was not in a position to take up the Chairmanship.
President Magufuli was requested to continue to chair the Summit for a year.
My read about the choice of President Magufuli to continue as chair was not simply that he had not had the opportunity to lead the EAC in any substantive way.
I believe strongly that the real reason lies in what the EAC leaders of Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya have been concerned about in the last two years, namely Tanzania’s lacklustre engagement and involvement in deepening and widening EAC integration.
It would be recalled that the evolution of the ‘coalition of the willing’ and a ‘two speed’ EAC during the last two years represented an ‘unintended consequence’ of Tanzania’s laggard approach to integration.
In President Magufuli - his simplicity, daringness, openness and drive, the other EAC Presidents see an opportunity for a new impetus for the EAC.
The body language of Presidents Museveni, Kenyatta and especially Kagame was all too clear about loving Magufuli.
I have never witnessed President Kagame being so smiley as at this Summit. Much is thus expected from President Magufuli to move the EAC into deeper and wider integration.
Promote East Africanness
And what an opportune moment for the EAC leaders to witness a regional road project of much significance being launched under the chairmanship of President Magufuli in Arusha during the Summit meeting.
The Arusha-Holili-Taveta-Voi Road comes in the wake of the flag bearer, the Arusha-Namanga-Athi River road.
It is such infrastructure that helps to open up the regional economic space, boosting trade, tourism, investments and generally lowering the costs of logistics which are too high in the EAC region.
Of particular attention was the common narrative at the launch about the artificiality of borders that curtail the free movement of people and goods in the EAC region.
Yet the Presidents had the previous day launched the new EAC e-passports which will come into operation in January 2017 and which will also be usable for international travel.
Passports are only used by a fraction of East Africans. Over 90 per cent of the citizens cross borders ‘illegally’ and it such people that integration is yet to make much meaning.
In 2010, the EAC Summit adopted the slogan, ‘One People, One Destiny’.
Unfortunately, the slogan has remained a ‘slogan’. In mid-2013, the Tanzania Government rounded up people in regions bordering Rwanda and Burundi, ostensibly of Rwandan and Burundi descent, and threw them out across the borders as illegal immigrants under an operation described as ‘operation kimbunga’.
The decision begged a fundamental question about how Tanzania values EAC integration and the quest and desire for the political federation of the EAC Partner States as enshrined in the EAC Treaty.
It will be interesting to learn how President Magufuli will approach this issue of ‘East Africanness’.
Under his leadership there is already a concern about nationals of EAC Partner States and especially Kenyans apparently not having their work permits renewed or approved.
And yet Tanzania has ratified the EAC Common Market Protocol, which provides for free movement of labour.
In fact, one of the serious shortcomings in EAC integration is the deficient manner in which the Common Market Protocol is being implemented and enforced. Growth of trade is hampered as a result.
As Chair of the EAC Summit President Magufuli will have to ‘walk the talk’, to cite his own words at the conclusion of last week’s Summit, in ensuring a disciplined execution of approved protocols and agreements.
Whilst the EAC leads other Regional Economic Communities in Africa in terms of levels of intra-regional trade, having doubled such trade between 2006 and 2013.
It remains challenged by lack of a comprehensive sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards which underlies a huge leap frog in intra-EAC trade in agricultural commodities, fish and veterinary products; ratification of the 2010 double taxation avoidance agreement;
Flip-flops in the application of the Common External Tariff; lack of harmonised consumption taxes-VAT and Excise Duties- which creates unfair competition within the region and failure of Partner States to embrace the EAC Industrialisation Policy and Strategy.
Above all, President Magufuli will have to focus on how best the EAC can fund its budget rather depend on aid from foreign development partners. 52.7 per cent of the EAC 2015/2016 budget is donor dependent.
The author is the immediate former Secretary-General of the East African Community.