Diplomats across the region are watching Dar es Salaam and Kigali for signs of a rapprochement between President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and Paul Kagame of Rwanda ahead of the next Heads of State meeting in Arusha.
Apart from receiving a protocol on the establishment of a monetary union across East Africa, the 15th Summit of the EAC Heads of State in November is also expected to receive recommendations on fast-tracking the political federation.
A panel of elders from across the region is expected to propose the adoption of a rotational presidency as a way of speeding up the political federation and building confidence in the idea among citizens of the region.
Decisions in the EAC are carried by consensus and diplomats The EastAfrican spoke to across the region said they are concerned that a breakdown in relations between two of the principals could delay those two major developments.
“There is still time for things to calm down and for confidence to be rebuilt,” a senior regional diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The EastAfrican.
(Read: Rift: Dar, Kigali must pull back from the brink)
“But if the current mood continues into November, and if the principals do not reach agreement on key proposals, we could be set back by at several months if not years.”
Relations between Rwanda and Tanzania have been strained after President Kikwete called for direct talks between the leaders of countries in the region and the armed groups opposing them.
The advice, offered in May during an African Union meeting in Addis Ababa attended by, among others, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, was directed at Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The strongest response, however, was from Rwanda where President Kagame and Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo openly ridiculed the idea of holding talks with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, FDLR, whose leaders are accused of participating in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Speaking later at an army graduation event in northern Rwanda, President Kagame, who had remained silent in Addis, said: “I kept quiet about this because of the contempt I have for it. I thought it was utter nonsense. Maybe it was due to ignorance but if this is an ideological problem for anyone to be thinking this way, then it better stay with those who have it.” (See “Kagame speaks out on Kikwete’s call for negotiations with FDLR rebels” The EastAfrican, June 10).
Tensions between the two countries rose further last month when President Kikwete ordered undocumented illegal immigrants in Tanzania’s Kagera province to return home or regularise their stay.
The Citizen newspaper in Dar es Salaam (which, like The EastAfrican, is published by the Nation Media Group) reported that of the 8,509 illegal immigrants who had left the country 5,521 returned to Rwanda; 2,744 to Burundi and 244 to Uganda, but social and political commentators in Kigali interpreted the directive as an expulsion of Rwandan refugees from Tanzania.
Tensions between Rwanda and Tanzania have been simmering for a long time. They bubbled to the surface earlier this year when Rwandan intelligence agents intercepted and arrested Gen Stanislas Nzeyimana alias Bigaruka Izabayo, a senior FDLR commander, on his way out of Tanzania, where he had met senior regime and military officials.
Tanzanian military officials privately concede that they invited and met Gen. Nzeyimana. They say they consulted the commander ahead of Tanzania’s planned deployment of troops as part of the UN Intervention Brigade in eastern Congo.
A ‘dividing’ UN brigade
The planned deployment of the brigade has already divided countries across the region and beyond. Set up by the UN Security Council and meant to give more bite to the UN Peacekeeping Mission to Congo (Monusco), the brigade was expected to deal with the armed groups in eastern Congo including the M23, FDLR, the Allied Democratic Front, and other militia in the area, including the Mai Mai.
Countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), of which Tanzania is a member, have been pushing to focus the brigade’s attention on the M23 rebels, which appear to pose the greatest military threat in the region, and reportedly enjoy the support of Rwanda.
Kigali and Kampala, on the other hand, want the brigade to deal with primarily the FDLR and the ADF respectively. For instance, intelligence sources told The EastAfrican that a recent surge of activity by fighters allegedly belonging to ADF was a “tactical manoeuvre” by a country in the region to project ADF strength and realign the mission of the intervention brigade.
The presence in Tanzania of a senior commander of an armed group that the country’s forces are expected to battle in eastern DR Congo raised eyebrows in Kigali. President Kikwete’s subsequent calls for dialogue with the groups, including the FDLR, has sparked fury in Kigali and speculation about Tanzania’s motives.
“FDLR is a group known to be a close descendant of genocidaires; it is difficult to embrace anyone like the FDLR and look at them as a legitimate political organisation,” Tom Ndahiro, a genocide researcher close to the Kigali regime, told The EastAfrican. “Once you see them as people with a legitimate cause, the capacity to fight them reduces.
It was a little surprising to hear someone say ‘talk to FDLR’ when the common position in the region is to fight them.”
Tanzanian officials say the issue has been blown out of proportion.
“As far as we are concerned the matter is closed,” Salva Rweyemamu, President Kikwete’s director of presidential communications, told The EastAfrican. Tanzania will go ahead with its participation in the intervention brigade in eastern DR Congo despite the controversy, the official said.
EAC watchers say the falling out between President Kagame and President Kikwete has worrying similarities to the one between presidents Jomo Kenyatta, Julius Nyerere and Idi Amin that led to the collapse of the East African Community.
This argument arises out of the Kampala “mini summit” in June at which President Yoweri Museveni, Kagame and Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya met and signed off on major infrastructure projects across the three countries, including an oil pipeline, an oil refinery, and a standard-gauge railway.
Mr Rweyemamu said Tanzania saw no problem with the three countries meeting in Kampala. “It was a bilateral meeting; you cannot prevent countries from meeting when they discuss bilateral matters as long as they are not discussing matters of the EAC because those need to be discussed by everyone.”
However, he added, “You need to trust each other; you need to be transparent and open to each other if we are going to help the community move forward. People who remember the problems of the old EAC Community will know what I am talking about.”
Despite the concerns, a contrarian view is emerging. In an op-ed last month in the Citizen newspaper, Juma Mwapachu, former secretary general of the EAC, noted that the Kampala mini summit probably reflected “sheer frustration” and “the lack of clear decisions about the region moving forward together in matters such as regional infrastructure development, the railways system and energy generation and interconnectivity.”
He argued that while the EAC Treaty allows for partner states to integrate at different paces — in what he termed a “two-speed” community — it also requires all decisions to be approved by consensus. “It is a gridlock. The principle of ‘opt out’ as provided for in the EU Treaties is missing in the EAC,” he wrote. “And because of this constitutional quagmire, what the EAC is now witnessing is that like-minded countries are resorting to operating outside the Treaty framework to realise deeper and wider integration. In a way, it could, by and by, delegitimise the EAC and even mark the end of its usefulness!”
The current public spat between some of the EAC leaders poses a threat to the community but it could also lead to healthy tension that could speed up integration. At the very least it will make for an interesting summit in November.