President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi missed the third infrastructure summit in Kigali, in which President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya signed a Single Customs Territory (SCT) for the three countries.
Uganda said it would abolish work permit fees for Kenyans and Rwandan citizens from January 1, which was one of several reforms East African leaders announced to reduce the cost of doing business and speed up the movement of goods and people.
President Salva Kiir of South Sudan also attended the event, which followed earlier infrastructure summits in Kampala in June and Mombasa in August.
The absence of Tanzania and Burindi presidents loomed large.
President Museveni told journalists in a brief press conference yesterday that talk of a “coalition of the willing,” referring to Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya, was inaccurate since the three countries were only discussing infrastructure projects along the northern corridor and would involve Tanzania once discussions moves to the southern corridor.
However, the final communiqué read out after the meeting of the three heads of state did not include an update on efforts to fast-track the East African political federation, a matter whose discussion outside the East African Community Tanzanian officials have expressed concern over.
At the last infrastructure summit in Mombasa, Uganda was tasked to spearhead efforts to fast-track the political federation and a committee headed by the country’s Internal Affairs Minister, Gen Aronda Nyakairima, met in Kampala this month to kick-start the writing of a draft constitution.
They had been expected to provide an update to the summit yesterday.
Mr Nyakairima yesterday declined to comment on the exercise while Kenya’s East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism minister Phyllis Kandie said talk of a political federation was a “side-show” which had not been discussed by the ministers or the heads of state in Kigali.
Tanzania’s ministry of East African Co-operation recently issued a statement warning that the tri-lateral talks among Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda were against the EAC protocol.
The statement argued that all EAC member states had to endorse the regional infrastructure deals signed by presidents Kenyatta, Museveni and Kagame otherwise they contravene Article 7(1) (e) of the EAC protocol.
“Even though this Article allows member countries to enter bi-lateral or Tri-lateral agreements, it is a must that issues under consideration for implementation under this arrangement are fully discussed and agreed upon by all member countries,” the statement from the ministry said.
However President Museveni said yesterday that he was unaware of complaints from Tanzania about the trilateral agreements.
“Unless I get an official letter from the state, I consider what I see in the press as lies,” he said in response to a journalist’s question.
Tanzanian diplomats are understood to have expressed their concerns about being left out of the regional plans through the Council of Ministers. Officials in Dar es Salaam say they have not been invited to participate in the Coalition of the Willing and are expected to raise the matter more directly at the next EAC Heads of State Summit in Kampala in late November.
Burundi sent a ministerial delegation to the last summit in Mombasa and President Nkurunziza visited with President Kenyatta a few days later on what was said to be a private visit. We were unable to confirm whether Bujumbura or Dar es Salaam had been invited to yesterday’s summit.