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Inside Story: Why Nkurunziza Shunned EAC Presidents’ Meeting

On Wednesday, November 28, the Coordination Committee composed of Permanent Secretaries and Under Secretaries in Ministries in charge of East African Community (EAC) Affairs met in Arusha, Tanzania.

They intended to discuss technical matters that would inform the agenda of the Council of Ministers scheduled for Thursday.

But their decisions could not be binding without a representative from Burundi.

Bujumbura, which had called for the adjournment of the Summit to allow it more time for preparations, did not send a representative.

This situation reoccurred when the Council of Ministers met on Thursday. Burundi was absent.

The meeting can only be informal because for it to be called “EAC Council meeting” all countries have to be represented in line with Rule 11 from EAC Rules of Procedure for Council.

It was not a shock when President Pierre Nkurunziza failed to show up at the EAC Heads of State meeting on Friday.

President Museveni said they could not hold proceed “when one of our members of not around” hence the postponement to December 27.

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What is Burundi’s issue?

A section of Burundi’s letter to EAC leaders

One of the most contentious issues is the Constitution.

Nkurunziza on 7 June promulgated a new Constitution approved by 73 per cent of voters in a referendum held on 17 May.

Nkurunziza said he would not seek an additional term in office when elections take place in 2020 and pledged to support his successor.

However, President Museveni recently said Burundi needed a new Constitution.

Receiving a report on the process of the Inter-Burundian Dialogue from former Tanzania President Benjamin Mkapa, who is the Facilitator of the Inter-Burundi Dialogue, Museveni said “Burundi should build a new Constitution that can implement security and protection of all the people there so that Burundi nationals to return home and be able to live in peace.”

Museveni, who is the EAC chairman, further said “there should be no gamble in the Burundi political resolution.”

Burundi rejects move
But official correspondences show the government of Burundi is uncomfortable with the East African Community’s idea to draft a new Constitution.

“The Republic of Burundi has a Constitution which gives ample space for citizens to exercise their political and civic rights,” said Burundi in a position paper sent to EAC Headquarters on Arusha on November 29.

“As any other Constitution in the world, it also contains obligations,” reads the paper signed by Isabelle Ndahayo, Minister of the Presidency in charge of EAC affairs and sent to partner states.

“The vote of the Burundian people was conclusive; the Republic of Burundi would hardly accept interference in her own internal Constitutional matters,” emphasised Ndahayo.

ChimpReports understands a Constitutional review is part of the Mkapa report.

Mourning

Ndahayo said in the confidential correspondence that “Burundi has always been supportive of the Inter Burundian dialogue, both internal and external, with all Burundians heading in 2019 for democratic elections in 2020, though for the last session, the agenda of the facilitator could not allow or accommodate the period of October which is considered at national level as the month we mourn our two heroes of independence and democracy.”

On October 13 and 21, Burundi commemorates the assassinations of Prince Louise Rwagasore and Melchior Ndadaye respectively.

Burundi also said it received the Mkapa report and has duly responded with “comments and proposals” to President Museveni.

At the heart of the EAC crisis is Bujumbura’s concerns that Rwanda continues to harbor Burundian dissidents.

“The overall objective of EAC is to widen and deepen cooperation among member states…no EAC country should be a safe haven for the destabilization of another,” said Minister Ndahayo.

“This is critical to have a secure and united community. The community shall not either tolerate impunity in the region,” Ndahayo observed.

President Kagame in 2016 said he was willing to repatriate Burundian dissidents who fled the country in the wake of a failed coup in 2015.

“We would be happy to return these people if only at the same time we are not accused of doing other things,” said Kagame.

“It’s easy to make people pack and send them back home. But the implications are far-reaching. It’s not that simple. There are a few things to be talked about. I think there are things to look at – facts, circumstances which people left the country. 90,000 refugees fled their country,” he said.

Kagame said the repatriation should be managed through established EAC mechanisms.

This investigative website earlier this week reported that Burundi was uncomfortable with Kagame taking over the rotational chairmanship of EAC.

In the correspondence to EAC leaders, Ndahayo said Burundi is committed to “good neighborliness and pledge open and frank discussions to iron out issues as they arise. To be more specific, it would be challenging to have a Bureau where the chair would become both a judge and party, in respect of matters tabled.”

If Kagame takes over the chairmanship of EAC, Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Richard Sezibera will head the Community’s Council of Ministers.

In regard to the functioning of the EAC, Burundi regretted the “breach on the rules and the trend appears to be repetitive.”

Burundi wanted a communication about the EAC Summit four weeks in advance as provided for by EAC’s rules of procedure.

Museveni observed in his letter to Nkurunziza that while the Burundian leader might have been right on procedures, there was urgent pending business to discuss and dispose of.

But again, said Burundi, “it is important to hear each other’s voice to be sure that the guidance and direction taken caters for all the concerned parties.”

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