The integration within the regional bloc continued to show signs of discomfort after a second attempt to hold the Heads of States summit flopped for the second time in three weeks.
The meeting of the presidents of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan, which was scheduled for Thursday, December 27 in Arusha, was pushed to the first quarter of next year.
Three weeks ago, Burundi pulled a fast one on its East African Community partners after it pulled out of both the ministerial and Heads of State summit occasioning the last minute cancellation of the presidents' meeting.
A memo to EAC secretariat staff, signed by Deputy Secretary General Steven Mote last week states that the Heads of State Summit was postponed because there are on-going consultations on an appropriate date.
It adds that a new date would be communicated soon. The Council of Ministers meeting scheduled for December 20 failed to take place too.
The region's principal secretaries have already met under the technical committee and have adopted a report which was supposed to be approved by the minsters before being presented to the Heads of States for ascent.
The presidents were expected to tackle key issue amongst the member states with priority being given to resolution of long outstanding non-tariff barriers; the progress report on the adoption of Political Confederation as a Transitional Model to the East African Political Federation.
Other items on the Agenda include; the roadmap for the accelerated integration of the Republic of South Sudan into the EAC, and; the verification exercise for the admission of the Republic of Somalia into the Community.
The Heads of States are also expected to assent to key Bills including the EAC Polythene Materials Control Bill, 2018, which will now see the region have a common framework on the elimination of the use of plastic bags.
Sources tell The EastAfrican the diplomatic row between Burundi and Rwanda is straining relations of the EAC.
According to the sources, diplomatic work is necessary if the meeting is to take place, especially after presidents from the region suffered the embarrassment of going up to Arusha at the end of November, only to find out they had no quorum, because Burundi had boycotted.
Chris Magoba the Spokesperson for the Ministry of East African Community Affairs says the council of ministers meeting did not take place because they had no agenda.
“The consultations about the Heads of State Summit may impact on the agenda for the meeting,” he says.
A change of the agenda from what was up for discussion during the flopped November 30; Summit could suggest the Heads of States are still figuring out ways to discuss the Burundi Rwanda row without triggering split of the EAC.
President Yoweri Museveni had earlier confirmed in his letter to Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza that the disagreements between Burundi and Rwanda would be up for discussion on the December 27, Summit that has since been postponed.
While Rwanda has consistently insisted that it has not interfered and backed any rebels from Burundi, the government in Bujumbura says otherwise.
According to Muhamed Habib Mnyaa, a member of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) there are fears that if Burundi and Rwanda’s situation isn’t handled delicately, it could trigger an EAC collapse like it happened in 1977.
Currently, Burundians cannot visit Rwanda. Rwandans cannot visit Burundi either and staff at the EAC who are not citizens of either countries say Bujumbura is the problem.
As a result of the disagreement, even officials of the EAC like Martin Ngoga the Speaker of EALA cannot go to Burundi, as was exemplified during the inter-parliamentary games that took place at the beginning of December.
The Rwanda Parliament didn’t take part in the games that took place in Bujumbura. As a result the inter-parliamentary games were one partner state short.
The disagreement between Rwanda and Burundi seems to be dragging in the other EAC partners, including an incident last week where a group of 350 children from Uganda were stopped from entering Burundi for the African Zone Scout competition starting December 15 and ending December 20.
The competition usually brings together Ethiopian, Ugandan, Rwandan, Kenyan and Burundian contingents.
A source who was part of the delegation tells The EastAfrican that the Uganda Scout Association ad initially intended to travel through Rwanda and then to Burundi, but were advised against the idea because the borders between the two countries are closed.
The scouts then resolved to travel through Tanzania.
Although the EAC is supposed to allow for free movement of persons, sources tell The EastAfrican that Tanzania required that the Uganda Scouts Association gets approval from Dar es Salaam instead of the traditional immigration stamp that is the norm for ordinary travellers in the region.
When approval was finally given, it was with the requirement that the Tanzanian military provide escort up to the Burundian border.
Richard Okello the Executive Secretary Uganda Scouts Association says the Tanzanian military was intended to provided security so that the team could travel at night.
He however, goes on to admit that Uganda had provided security to accompany the children, as is the norm for cases when the scouts have to travel through what can be considered insecure situations like night or through national parks.
Under age scouts
According to Mr Okello, the Tanzania military escorted the contingent of mostly under age scouts through what was supposed to be a short cut to the Burundian border.
The short cut however, turned out to be longer as the muddy roads led to a breakdown of some of their buses.
The contingent was then forced to push their buses out of the mud and have them repaired.
Another source who was part of the delegation told The EastAfrican that the Tanzanian military chose to take the Ugandan scouts through a dry weather road in a rainy season, as a delaying tactic.
When the scouts finally reached the Burundi border, they were told they could not go to the camp in Gitega Burundi.
According to Mr Okello, Burundian immigration had approved the cross over, but the Ugandan scouts were stopped by orders from Bujumbura.
Burundian government officials have said Ugandan scouts contingent was stopped because it had civilians carrying guns.
Mr Okello says these were Ugandan security and it is a norm to travel with them, as long as the USA feels it needs someone to protect the children.
“Even in our camp located in Queen Elizabeth where we need to protect the children against wild life, we go there with security,” he says.
Some members of USA believe the refusal to allow Ugandans into the African Zone Scout competition had to do with the bad blood that appears to be brewing between Presidents Yoweri Museveni and Pierre Nkurunziza.
The two Presidents have been exchanging letters over the EAC summit and the situation in Burundi. In one of his letters President Museveni told President Nkurunziza that the EAC had a right to ensure Burundi was peaceful.
President Nkurunziza argues that stability is the business of Burundians.
— Reported by Dicta Asiimwe and Allan Olingo