‘Poor timing’ could delay East African presidents retreat

Tuesday November 21 2017

Heads of State from the East African Community during the 17th Ordinary EAC Summit in Arusha, Tanzania. PHOTO FILE | NMG

Heads of State from the East African Community during the 17th Ordinary EAC Summit in Arusha, Tanzania. PHOTO FILE | NMG 

By CHRISTABEL LIGAMI
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A planned retreat for East African heads of state slated for November 29 in Uganda is unlikely to take place, even as the in-tray of matters that the leaders need to address to bring integration back on track overflows.

Presidents Yoweri Museveni and John Magufuli have said the Retreat on Infrastructure and Health Financing and Development may not take place as it coincides with the 5th African Union-European Union Summit in Abidjan, scheduled for November 29-30.

The two leaders spoke recently while opening the Mutukula one-stop border post between Uganda and Tanzania.

The EU-Africa summits of heads of states and governments take place every three years alternately in Africa and Europe, to review the progress made in the implementation of commitments, and provide political guidance for further work.

Trade partner

The East African Community being a major trade partner with the EU, cannot miss the meeting, especially since the region still has pending issues on the signing of the Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU — a key topic at the presidential retreat.

The EAC Secretariat recently announced the date for the presidents’ retreat under the themeDeepening and Widening Regional Integration in Infrastructure and Health Sector Development in the EAC Partner States.

But a source at the Secretariat said there seemed to have been a communication breakdown or lack of consultation between Secretary-General Libérat Mfumukeko and President Museveni, current EAC chairman, before the summit date was set and an announcement made.

Kenya’s current political situation is also likely to delay the EAC Summit, as the heads of state cannot meet in the absence of one partner state.

“It is unlikely that Kenya will have a Cabinet in place by the time of the summit date to enable the ministers to meet ahead of the presidents. This is likely to delay the summit,” said the source.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta is yet to be sworn into office for a second term because his victory in a repeat presidential election on October 26 had been challenged in the Supreme Court.

The presidents were expected to make a final decision on whether all partner states would sign the EPA and agree on the way forward.

Concerns

President Museveni in September held a meeting with the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, where he presented concerns raised specifically by Tanzania, that were delaying the signing the agreement. The EU was to respond to the concerns by November.

The presidents are also expected to make a decision on a proposed alternative funding mechanism to reduce reliance on donors, who contribute up to 70 per cent of the EAC budget. Late contributions or no contributions by partner states are a constraint to the smooth operations of the Secretariat.

Already, the EAC Secretariat has borrowed $3.38 million from its general reserve fund to pay salaries and suppliers after member states delayed remitting their share of the budget.

From the 2016/17 budget, five member countries owe $12.93 million of the $41.8 million they were supposed contribute. Donors were to raise $46.7 million.

Only Kenya has paid up its full dues; Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi have arrears while South Sudan has paid nothing.

The joint retreat is expected to be the first engagement of the EAC heads of state to address health issues and the fourth on matters of infrastructure financing and development.

It is expected to give impetus to infrastructure and health development by way of possible funding commitments, political support to flagship projects, possible public-private partnership arrangements as well as the development of a projects-implementation roadmap.

The 5th AU-EU Summit on the other hand will be held under the themeInvesting in Youth for a Sustainable Future. The 4th AU-EU Summit was held in Brussels, Belgium under the theme Investing in People, Prosperity and Peace.

The heads of state and governments of Africa and the EU adopted the “Brussels Declaration” and a roadmap for 2014-2017, with the objective of addressing common challenges and bringing concrete benefits to citizens of both continents.