29 October 2017

Burundi Could Lose Chance to Host Comesa Summit

Photo: Irin
Street in Bujumbura

Burundi's chance of hosting the next summit of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa hangs in the balance for failing to meet hosting requirements.

A source said only "an unlikely" or "overwhelming sympathy vote" during the Council of Ministers meeting on November 3-4 can turn the tables in Burundi's favour, but Comesa has already considered taking the summit to Lusaka, Zambia.

The source further told The EastAfrican that requirements like Internet that are considered basic for a summit are not in place in Bujumbura, and that the Council of Ministers of the 19-member state bloc is expected to endorse a decision that the Comesa Secretariat took in July, which will be binding.

This would be a blow to Burundi, which hoped to use the Summit to bring into the country some much needed forex.

The country has grappled with a political crisis since April 2015, leaving it with shortage of foreign currency and negative economic growth according to the World Bank 2016 Report.

The over 1,000 Comesa delegates coming in with forex would help plug this hole and replenish the near empty reserves on which the Burundi government is running.

The 20th Comesa Summit had initially been scheduled for October 9-20 in Bujumbura. However, officials in July were dissatisfied with Burundi's logistical capacity to host the 2017 Comesa policy organs meetings and summit.

On July 20, Comesa secretary general Sindiso Ngwenya formally wrote to the Burundi government noting that its designated status as host had been withdrawn.

The Comesa boss took issue with Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza for skipping the 19th Comesa Summit that took place in October last year in Madagascar. In addition, Burundi was ill-prepared for the task.

On July 26, Bujumbura dismissed the decision as one based on "unfounded reasons" with the Minister for Trade and Industry Pélate Niyonkuru saying Burundi and Comesa officials who formed the steering committee for the 2017 summit had been jointly preparing for the conference since March.

The EastAfrican has learnt that Burundi's protest prompted Comesa to beat a hasty retreat and left the 37th Council of Ministers to decide the country's fate.

"The Summit was deferred from the dates set to provide more time for preparations," said Comesa head of public relations Mwangi Gakunga.

"Fresh dates will be communicated during the Council of Ministers meeting. The ministers will advise on whether the venue will change ... For clarity, as things stand, the next host for the Summit is still Burundi."


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