Tanzania will play its part to ensure a stronger East Africa Community as envisioned in the treaty that revived the regional body, Cabinet minister George Mkuchika said yesterday. He told a regional ministerial committee meeting held in Burundi on Friday that Tanzania was still committed to seeing the bloc prosper.
- Mr Mkuchika, the minister of State in the President’s office for Good Governance, was speaking in Bujumbura at the end of the 19th meeting of the Sectoral Council of Ministers responsible for EAC Affairs and Planning.
“The biggest obligation before us is to ensure this cooperation produces results that will improve the livelihoods of the people of East Africa,” the minister said in a statement on Friday.“This will be attained by committing ourselves to implementing decisions and directives that arise through these meetings.”
It was the first time that a Tanzanian minister was attending a top level EAC meeting since questions were raised over the country’s commitment to the unity of the five member countries.
On Wednesday, East African Cooperation minister Samuel Sitta told Parliament in Dodoma that government officials had been advised against taking part in regional meetings until an explanation was forthcoming on the tripartite meetings championed by Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda.
Mr Sitta, who said Tanzania felt “shortchanged” by these meetings, revealed that a higher authority–implying President Jakaya Kikwete–had told Foreign Affairs minister Bernard Membe not to attend a ministerial council meeting held in Nairobi last week.
The minister himself said he had directed his deputy, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, to give Thursday’s Bujumbura meeting a miss. It was not immediately clear if it was this same meeting that Mr Mkuchika attended. His statement made no mention of the current challenges in the bloc or Tanzania’s stand on the Coalition of the Willing–a name coined to describe the tri-lateral arrangement by Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. “East African cooperation will be attained by committing ourselves to implementing what has been jointly agreed,” he added.
Fears that the EAC could disintegrate rose after Mr Sitta said Tanzania was thinking of forming a rival coalition with Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo to counter the grouping of the other three partner states. Leader of the Opposition Freeman Mbowe, also speaking in the same Parliament, cautioned against abandoning the idea of regional integration. EAC boss Richard Sezibera weighed in on the debate on Friday in Bujumbura, saying the concerns raised by Tanzania and Burundi did not necessarily mean a falling-out was on the cards.The secretary general said at the end of the meeting that the secretariat had consulted the five partner states on the state of EAC integration. He added: “East Africans are urged not to be unduly be alarmed because the challenges are being addressed and will be further considered at the forthcoming high level meetings of the Community. There have been persistent press reports, including misrepresentation of the matter.”
Officials of the Arusha-based Secretariat have been reluctant to discuss the new developments in the region. But one of them confided in The Citizen on Sunday that a lot more would emerge during the coming Heads of State Summit in Kampala, which will be preceded by the ministerial and other meetings of senior officials.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday also allayed fears that EAC could be headed for collapse. He said all the five EAC member States were committed to integration. “We are focused in our objective of uniting the region and making it prosperous,” he said. “In fact, we are looking forward to our brothers and sisters from South Sudan joining us soon to make our regional bloc stronger.”
According to Mr Kenyatta, the fast-tracking of the Northern Corridor infrastructure projects by Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda arose from the need to solve the problem of cargo transportation from Mombasa to Kampala and Kigali. The coming together of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan was aimed at addressing the four countries’ unique needs but was not in any way meant to undermine the EAC integration process, he added.President Kenyatta was speaking at a meeting with Kenyans working and living in Rwanda.
Rwandese leader Paul Kagame is expected to take over the chairmanship of the bloc from President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda during the summit.
By Zephania Ubwani, The Citizen