The East African heads of State Summit has been postponed for the third time to May 20, raising concerns about the EAC leaders' commitment to regional integration.
The Summit, which had been scheduled for April 28 in Dar es Salaam, was postponed following a request by Kenya through its Ministry of East African Community, Labour and Social Protection. The ministry cited undisclosed "other commitments," -- April 28 would have coincided with party primaries in preparation for the August 8 general election.
Originally scheduled to be held last December, the Summit was first moved to March, and then to April at the request of Burundi and Tanzania respectively.
Top of the agenda is giving direction to the Community after what has been a year of sluggish implementation of projects. The year was also marked by a dispute on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU and differences between Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda on the route of a pipeline to evacuate oil from Uganda.
The heads of State Summit is usually held in April and November but was postponed to January 2017 following a request by Tanzania for time to consult on whether the EPA was viable.
Kenya's Principal Secretary for East African Affairs Betty Maina said there was no cause for alarm in the delay. "Although decisions on key matters are pending, it can only be a big issue if the presidents go for a year without meeting," said Ms Maina.
"We are hoping that there will be no more postponing from the current date. Burundi has confirmed availability for that day and we are waiting for the other partner states to do so."
Wanyama Masinde, an expert on EAC integration says it is likely that the presidents are reluctant to meet because of the EPA issue; this especially so for Tanzania, which has taken a step back from the partnership.
"It is important for the presidents to meet because most decisions are pegged on the Summit's outcome," said Dr Masinde. Ms Maina, however, said the EPA was no longer a major sticking point because there were no timelines attached to it.
"Kenya has already signed and ratified the EPA which makes it safe for the country to sell to the EU market. We are only awaiting the decision of the other countries on the matter to decided the way forward," she said.
"We expect that Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza will attend since the government had officially asked for the postponement of the Summit," noted Dr Masinde.