The 20th Ordinary EAC Heads of State Summit collapsed at the last minute on Friday due to a lack of quorum, after Burundi boycotted it.
Only three presidents, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, who is the chair, the host Tanzania’s John Magufuli and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta went to Arusha.
Rwanda sent Foreign Minister Richard Sezibera while Juba sent Minister of Trade, Industry and EAC Affairs Paul Moyom Akec.
The chairman of the Council of Ministers Ally Kivejinja, speaking in Arusha, blamed Bujumbura for the collapse of the Summit.
Burundi boycotted the meeting in protest over the “short notice” given to them and the dismissal of their call for a postponement by the EAC chair President Museveni.
A statement released on Friday evening said, “The 20th Ordinary Summit Meeting scheduled to take place in Arusha on November 30 did not take place because of lack of quorum caused by the absence of Burundi.
“The Summit will be reconvened at a later date … The Heads of State regret the inconveniences caused to the distinguished delegates and guests.”
Observers say, this was bound to happen after President Museveni rebuffed President Nkurunziza, who, in a letter dated November 24, addressed to the EAC chair and copied to all EAC heads of state and the Secretary-General Liberat Mfumukeko, said he received the invitation letter on November 19, “which gives us more or less a week to be ready.”
It was on those grounds that President Nkurunziza appealed for a change of date, but President Museveni would hear none of it.
“We consider this period a very short notice for thorough preparations for a summit that requires four weeks,” the Burundi leader said, citing Rule 10 of the Rules of Procedure for the Summit of the Heads of State.
“Burundi had asked for a postponement of the summit to two weeks after the meeting of the Council of Ministers.
But, President Museveni declined the request, saying Bujumbura was well aware of the date of the meeting and ought to have prepared, considering that its ministers had attended various sectoral council meetings, including one for permanent secretaries held on October 24-25.
In his response, the Ugandan leader said: “You may be right on the procedural matters regarding communication of the notice of provisional agenda … I, however, do not agree to the postponement of the Summit.” He said that the EAC Council of Ministers had approved the calendar of activities for the period between June and December and therefore the November 30 meeting was communicated.
The EAC chair said the Friday summit was crucial as it was going to deliberate matters that were pending and needed immediate action.
He therefore ruled that the summit would not be “held hostage of the rules of procedure.” He offered that President Nkurunziza send a representative, in line with Rule 11.
According to Rule 11, quorum is made up of all partner states representation, “ which is in consonance with decision-making by consensus under Article 12 of the Treaty.”
But Burundi stayed away from Arusha — and the summit collapsed. No Burundian official took part in EAC Council of Ministers’ meetings that started last Sunday in Arusha.
EAC Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Directorate officials were tight-lipped about the absence of the Burundi delegates.
Reliable sources said Burundi had written again to the EAC Secretariat, apologising for the no-show citing an “important event in Bujumbura” coinciding with the summit.
President Nkuruzinza has sent representatives to the summits since 2015, when a coup attempt took place while he was away in Dar es Salaam for an EAC Summit.
On Friday evening, Burundi's EAC Minister Isabelle Ndahayo released a statement thanking President Museveni for his leadership and reiterated Burundi’s commitment to a democratic election in 2020.
She also called on EAC states to encourage Burundian refugees to go home. Without naming names, the minister said no EAC state should be a “safe haven for the destabilisation of another.”
“Burundi is committed to good neighbourliness and pledges open and frank discussions to iron out issues as they arise. To be more specific, it would be challenging to have a bureau where the chair would become both a judge and a party, in respect of matters tabled,” she said.
Burundi joined the EAC in 2007 along with Rwanda. It hosted one of the EAC summits in 2011, in which President Nkurunziza was elected chairman.
The EAC partner state has lately hosted several meetings of the East African Legislative Assembly.
Sources say Burundi has decided to throw a spanner in the works because it is opposed to the taking over of the chairmanship by Rwanda during the 20th Summit, but other sources in the Secretariat said Kenya was poised to take the chair.
Rwanda and Burundi have had tense relations after Bujumbura accused Kigali of trying to help rebels overthrow the Nkurunziza administration, allegations Rwanda has vehemently denied.
Burundi in turn blocked movement of people and goods across the common border, an action Kigali has protested as a blatant violation of the EAC Common Market Protocol.
While Kigali has said it will not “waste time” petitioning the EAC over those actions, Burundi has filed multiple reports with the EAC, the United Nations and the African Union, accusing Rwanda of supporting rebels opposed to President Nkurunziza’s government.
Burundi’s commitment to the bloc has been put into question, especially after it sought to join the SADC last year.
It is also a biggest defaulter in terms of budget contributions, with the latest report showing that it has not remitted monies in the current financial year. Burundi and Juba owe more than $12 million for last year’s budget.