EAC, just let Burundi go, we can always remarry

Monday December 10 2018

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza. The 20th Ordinary EAC Heads of State Summit collapsed at the last minute due to a lack of quorum, after Burundi boycotted it. FILE PHOTO | AFP

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

The past few days brought a lot of sour news about the East African Community.

A summit of the EAC in Arusha, last Friday, flopped because there was no quorum! This happened after Burundi boycotted it.

President Pierre Nkurunziza doesn’t travel to EAC or any other meetings outside Burundi since he survived a coup in 2015, but didn’t even send a representative this time, after throwing a tantrum about the short notice for the summit, and the refusal by the chair, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, to postpone it.

Museveni, rightly, argued that the schedule of summits is agreed months ahead, so there is nothing like “short notice.”

Now Museveni is such a notoriously bad timekeeper, that when he has to lecture you about notice and time, then you are a lost cause.

In the end, only the host, Tanzania’s John Magufuli, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, and Museveni pitched up in Arusha.


Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame had a good excuse to be absent – he was away in Buenos Aires, Argentina, at the G20 representing Africa as the African Union president.

In land size, the EAC is really only a small part of Africa. On the continental scale, we couldn’t organise the equivalent of a small village meeting.

Worse news followed a few days later, with The EastAfrican reporting that delays in remittance of subscriptions by the EAC partner states, “have left the Secretariat with a $1.4 billion budgetary hole.

“Kenya and Uganda are the ones sustaining the operations of the Secretariat,” it reported, although that is because in a situation where some members like Burundi and South Sudan haven’t paid for a long time, they are relatively more regular payers and write bigger cheques, so their contribution makes more noise. Otherwise so, if they too are behind.

The question is being asked, again, whether it was the right decision to admit Burundi and South Sudan. Yes, it was. You cannot have a regional bloc of the successful only.

In fact, one of the arguments for regional integration is that it can help stabilise troubled nations, and thus create a wider, more prosperous and more peaceful neighbourhood, which in turn helps all members to flourish.

However, it cannot be denied that it has been very difficult for the EAC to digest, especially, Burundi and South Sudan.

The difference is that while South Sudan has its internal problems, its politics is not fundamentally opposed to that of any of its EAC neighbours. One can see Kenya and Uganda squabbling, but at least they are easily reconcilable.

Tanzania and Kenya have historically had serious episodes of bad blood. However, in the past 30 years, there have emerged commercial and geopolitical forces in Kenya that will sue for accommodation or patience with Tanzania. They are big picture fellows.

That pressure-valve mechanism doesn’t exist between Burundi and Rwanda. However, it does between Uganda and Rwanda, who have also had their episodes of diplomatic madness in recent years.

I don’t see that Ethiopia and Kenya, or Kenya and Somalia, would have a similar problem. So the EAC would probably do well to spit out Burundi, and court Somalia or Ethiopia – or both.

Burundi will likely do well, with DR Congo, as the Central African members of Southern African Development Community, whose membership it seeks. In future, it can always remarry the EAC.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapaedia and Rogue Chiefs. [email protected]