14 March 2017

East Africa: EALA Seeks to Mend Rwanda, Burundi Ties

The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) says it will step in to mend the diplomatic tensions between Rwanda and Burundi.

EALA Speaker Daniel Fred Kidega told The EastAfrican that the recent refusal by five Burundian assembly members to sit in Kigali due to the current political tensions between the two countries signalled that the situation was "critical enough."

"I will meet the chair of the Summit about this matter and reach out to our senior leaders who are members of the Summit and who give political guidance to the integration cause," Mr Kidega said without setting timelines.

The EAC Heads of State Summit, which is the supreme organ of the community, is chaired by Tanzania's President John Magufuli.Mr Kidega said that the EAC needs to intervene to make sure "we remain a community and not just neighbouring countries."

Ordinarily, a written formal request by concerned parties can enable the assembly to intervene in matters outside the House, but according to the speaker's office, there has been no clear communication that there is a major problem between Rwanda and Burundi.However, "the fact that the members did not appear in Kigali is enough for me to evoke actions by the assembly to see where the problem is between these two countries," said Mr Kidega.

Relations between Bujumbura and Kigali have been deteriorating since April 2015. Bujumbura accuses Kigali of aiding the failed May 2015 coup attempt; backing rebel groups and recruiting fighters from the thousands of Burundian refugees in Rwanda to fight the government. Rwanda strongly denies the accusations.

Burundi banned exports to Rwanda, mainly foodstuff, and restricted movement at its borders with Rwanda, which experts say is a violation of the EAC Common Market Protocol.

There are no known efforts by either Rwandan or Burundian officials to resolve the current impasse, but this paper has learnt that the EAC secretary-general, Libérat Mfumukeko has been reaching out to the two countries, with the aim of fixing relations between them. This was confirmed by the Speaker.

"I have had meetings with the Secretary-General and we want to see what we can do to improve the relationship between the two countries," said Mr Kidega.

Analysts have warned that if not mended, the tensions between the two countries are likely to tear the EAC apart.

The four Burundian members who attended the ongoing EALA sittings in Kigali are considered to be rebels by the government. The regime, in 2015, unsuccessfully requested to recall the four from the regional assembly for reportedly being against President Nkurunziza's contested third-term bid.

"EALA members need to understand that they represent the East African people and any tensions between member states should not affect the business of the house," said Abdullah Mwinyi, an EALA member from Tanzania.


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