In a tactical manoeuvre aimed at strengthening his posture in the face of menacing International Criminal Court (ICC) charges, the East African Community presidents have elected Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta as the next chairman of the five-nation bloc.
The choice of Kenyatta is a well-calculated move on the part of the EAC, which will take the western powers by surprise as the rotational leadership of the bloc was supposed to go to Rwanda first and thereafter Burundi.
Instead, President Kagame pulled out, citing the need to concentrate on internal engagements such as next year’s 20th genocide anniversary, which analysts have termed a feeble reason.
President Museveni, the incumbent chairman, will accordingly hand over EAC leadership to Kenyatta at the end of Saturday’s proceedings at the Imperial Royale hotel in Kampala.
The minister of state for EAC Affairs, Shem Bageine, will also hand over the chairmanship of the council of ministers to his Kenyan counterpart.
Bageine confirmed that the chairmanship of the community was supposed to move from Uganda to Rwanda, then Burundi, then Tanzania, before finally returning to Kenya on a rotational basis.
He, however noted that Rwanda had excused herself and Burundi was not ready.
“The chairmanship has gone back to Kenya on agreement, since Kenya was ready,” Bageine said.
But some analysts believe the EAC leaders are using Kenyatta’s chairmanship as a possible shield against the ICC charges. Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, who were elected earlier this year, are facing charges of crimes against humanity in relation to their roles in the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya.
Uganda and Rwanda in particular and the African Union in general have been pushing for the suspension of the charges. Last week the UN Security Council voted to reject this idea.
Fred Mukasa Mbidde, a Ugandan representative in the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), says Kenya’s chairmanship of the community means a lot for both embattled leaders.
“I think the EAC chairmanship is intended to work as extra bargaining power against the ICC prosecution. As a sitting president and a chairperson of a regional bloc, it will enable him [Kenyatta] to push further for immunity,” Mbidde said today.
Without confirming this as the reason behind Kenya’s elevation to the EAC post, Bageine nevertheless alluded to Mbidde’s school of thought.
“If they [ICC] touch him [Kenyatta], then it would be an attack on the entire East African Community,” Bageine said.
Elsewhere, the summit has a packed agenda that includes a session where the leaders will iron out political differences amongst partner states. Tanzania and Burundi are opposed to unilateral actions by the so-called ‘coalition of the willing’ - Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya - who have been meeting separately to discuss mainly infrastructural projects.
Saturday’s meeting will, indeed, be the first time that Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete and Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza have met their Ugandan, Kenyan and Rwandan counterparts on matters related to the EAC bloc. Yet the latter three have since June met three times in Kampala, Mombasa and Kigali.
However, Bageine advises analysts not to read too much into this fact, arguing that all the five states are still committed to the EAC.
“Even in a family there are always disagreements, but does that break the family? Despite these recent disagreements, we are still one as the East African Community,” he said.
Bageine added that the Saturday meeting would also be attended by the chairperson of AU Commission, Dlamini Zuma. One of the summit’s key agenda is to put ink to paper on the proposed East African Monetary Union (EAMU), a milestone in the region’s integration process.
Dr Enock Bukuku, deputy secretary general for planning and infrastructure, said that after signing the EAMU protocol, the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) would pass bills to create institutions to support the economic framework.
“The signing of the monetary union protocol will get us on the road to a single East African currency,” he said.
With that step taken, regional institutions to jointly monitor economic performance across the region will have to be created.
These institutions, according to Dr Bukuku, include the East African Monetary Institute, East African Statistics Bureau and East African Central Bank.
“We shall also establish the East African financial services commission or authority to regulate and supervise financial services. We are going to have one regional market for financial services, harmonize and merge the capital markets, insurance and pensions in the region,” Dr Bukuku explained.
South Sudan, Somalia
The heads of state will also consider the applications of South Sudan and Somalia to join the community.
On Somalia, Bageine said the horn of Africa country’s admission would take a bit of time due to some procedures that have to be followed.
He explained that a verification committee would submit its report to the council of ministers next April.
That report would then be discussed, adopted by the council, and forwarded to the next summit in Nairobi.
The presidents are expected to crown their summit with a joint public rally, the first of its kind in Uganda, at the Kololo grounds.