In a declaration on June 1, Dan Kidega, the speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) dissolved the 3rd Eala assembly ahead of the June 5 cancelled inauguration of the 4th Assembly.
According to a message sent out last week, the clerk to the regional parliament, Kenneth Madete, cited Kenya's failure to elect its Eala representatives for the cancellation of the inauguration of the 4th assembly.
"As you may be aware, the Parliament of Kenya is still in the process of electing its members to the 4th Assembly. Due to the foregoing, we are unable to proceed with the activities related to the inauguration of the 4th Assembly. We require the presence of all partner states in order to transact any business," Madete's statement said.
"The first sitting of the Assembly and its related activities as communicated to you earlier is hereby suspended until further notice," Madete further wrote.
This has left the East African Community (EAC) without a substantive parliament, which raises serious questions about the future of the community. Eala, which is an independent legislative arm of the EAC, was formally inaugurated in November 2001 by the presidents of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, the original partner states of the community.
It was established under Article 9 of the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community, which came into force in July 2000. It was to be expanded seven years later in 2007 to incorporate Rwanda and Burundi, followed by last year's admission of South Sudan, bringing the number of partner states to six.
Whereas they would be celebrating the expansion of the community, there are emerging fears that ghosts of the 1970s may return to haunt the regional bloc.
"It has created a gap because as we speak, the EAC has no parliament and, according to the Treaty, nothing can go on until all partner states are represented at the assembly," Mathias Kasamba, one of Uganda's new representatives to Eala said.
Without the assembly, the EAC secretariat is rendered redundant since its operations are dependent on Eala as per Article 49 of the Treaty.
"It is the assembly that approves the budget of the community as well as other activities at the secretariat. Without it, nothing can go on," Susan Nakawuki, one of Uganda's representatives, told The Observer on Monday by telephone from Arusha.
There were reports in sections of the Kenyan press last week, indicating that the speaker of the National Assembly of Kenya, Justin Muturi, had set Thursday, June 8, as the last day that Kenya has to elect its Eala representatives.
This is so because the Kenyan parliament is supposed to be prorogued on June 16 to allow legislators time to campaign ahead of Kenya's general elections in August.
"We can't trust them until they have conducted the [Eala] elections because this is not the first time they are fixing a date and end up extending it," Nakawuki said.
SOURCE OF CONFUSION
Both the outgoing and in- coming Eala representatives were keenly following the developments in Nairobi where political disagreements have forced the Kenyan parliament to call off elections at least three times.
The Eala Elections Act requires partner states to elect their representatives to the regional parliament within 90 days of the expiry of the sit- ting assembly. The National Assembly of Kenya was supposed to elect Kenya's representatives on May 23 but the elections were pushed to May 26 and later to June 2.
"It is not that Kenyans don't want to send elected representatives to Arusha. But, rather, the ring-fencing [of slots] by ODM/NASA ignited the impasse," Chris Opoka, one of Uganda's incumbent Eala representatives, said on Friday.
The confusion stems from the failure by the opposition coalition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and Wiper Democratic Movement's (Wiper) to comply with the Kenyan parliament's Rules of Procedure that require each of the political groups with rep- resentation in the legislature to nominate candidates that are three times the number of slots each is entitled to.
While the ruling Jubilee coalition complied and presented 15 candidates to compete for its five slots at Eala, the opposition coalition of ODM and Wiper ring-fenced theirs and presented just the number of candidates needed to fill their allocated slots.
"That does not give [the Kenyan] parliament a choice as mandated by the Treaty to exercise the function of choosing the nine representatives," Opoka said.
Given their numerical strength, ODM has three slots while Wiper is entitled to a single slot. For its single slot, Wiper nominated Kennedy Kalonzo, a son to the party leader, and former Kenyan vice president Kalonzo Musyoka.
The two opposition groups are working together in the National Super Alliance (NASA) for this year's general elections. This is not the first time Kenya is keeping EAC waiting. In 2012, the community remained un-operational for about six months because Kenya had not elected its representatives to the second assembly.
COUNTING THE COST
The cancellation of the inauguration of the fourth assembly ate into the EAC treasury because the secretariat had already booked hotels for the representatives from the six partner states in addition to buying business-class air tickets for them.
With the exception of Nakawuki, Opoka and Fred Mukasa Mbidde who were already in Arusha for the final session of the third assembly, each of the six new Ugandan representatives had received a $1,200 (Shs 4.3m) air ticket.
The Ugandans had also spent $17,200 (Shs 61.9m) on air tickets for their relatives and friends whom they had invited to witness their swearing-in ceremony at the EAC headquarters in Arusha.
"It has left a bitter taste in the mouth of many countries that had complied with the Eala Elections Act. [The suspension] is rewarding Kenya for breaching the Act," Opoka said.
While the EAC secretariat's staff will continue drawing their monthly salaries even without doing any work, last week's dissolution of the third assembly means that even the re-elected Eala representatives currently in Arusha have to spend out of their own pockets.