Kikwete and Kagame break the ice at EAC summit

EAC_presidents

East African leaders from left; President Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), President Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya), President Jakaya Kikwete (Tanzania), President Paul Kagame (Rwanda), President Pierre Nkurunzinza (Burundi) and Deputy President William Ruto during the 16th Summit of EAC Heads of State at KICC, in Nairobi.

Heart-warming gestures by President Jakaya Kikwete and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda injected hope of a new beginning in the strained relations between the two countries during the East African Community (EAC) Heads of State Summit here yesterday.

Midway through the summit, with President Kikwete having taken the Chair, the Rwandan leader approached the Tanzanian leader and exchanged warm gestures as the latter apparently reported that he had to rush back home.

Packed to capacity, Tsavo Hall at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre briefly went silent as the two presidents spoke in low tones before President Kagame left. President Kikwete appeared quite relieved.

A senior official of the EAC hinted this could be the first time the two leaders have been seen in a friendly mood in public for some time and affirmed that relations between the two Heads of State have always been cordial but not visibly so in public.

President Kagame told the Chair he had to leave for home, having been in Kenya for two days during which he commissioned a 140mw geothermal plant.

Relations between Tanzania and Rwanda have been strained since mid-2013 over the ex-Rwandan rebels operating in eastern DR Congo. At some point, this led to a spat between senior officials of the two EAC member countries.

Despite the leaders having regularly attended EAC Summits and other international meetings outside the bloc, there had been no public and recorded instance of such a friendly gesture.

Summit host Uhuru Kenyatta sat between the Tanzanian and Rwandan leaders at the podium as the 16th ordinary summit started before the Rwandan leader left the hall. His place was taken by his country’s EAC minister, Ms Valentine Rugwabiza.

The Tanzanian leader showered special praise on his predecessor, President Kenyatta, and the EAC secretary general, Dr Richard Sezibera, for steering the regional organisation to the current level that has seen intra-regional trade soar to $5.8billion. “Ambassador Sezibera, thank you for the trust,” he said. “Tanzania will not let down the EAC.”

He said he was impressed by Kenya and Rwanda, which were ahead of other EAC partner states in implementing outstanding decisions of strategic importance to the bloc–as shown in a recent study.

President Kikwete did not waste time after taking the Chair, about three hours behind the scheduled time, in declaring that the Summit of Heads of State, which is the supreme organ of EAC, has now devised a new way of doing things. “We (leaders) consult intensively before the plenary sessions,” he said as he pledged to secure the Community. “We come here after exhausting all the crucial matters to announce the major decisions made.”

The traditional pre-summit consultations of all the five presidents–Mr Kikwete, Mr Kagame, Mr Kenyatta, Mr Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi and Mr Yoweri Museveni of Uganda–had to be re-rescheduled to early yesterday from Thursday evening.

President Kikwete, with the chairperson’s baton firmly in hand, steered the Summit for about three hours but was categorical that he was stepping down later this year a happier citizen of the bloc though concerned over the slow pace of integration.

“After October, I will be a prominent retired Tanzanian,” he said to applause and noted that the challenges the economic bloc have endured over time had made it much stronger.

Analysts suggested that his reference to stepping down was an indirect message to President Nkurunziza, who is reported to be seeking another five-year term as president of his violence-wracked country–which has raised tensions there.

President Kikwete, as the new EAC Summit Chairperson, alternated the podium with Dr Harrison Mwakyembe, the EAC Cooperation minister who is now the Chairperson of the EAC Council of Ministers and the EAC Secretary General Dr Sezibera.

The Tanzanian leader outlined the main challenges the EAC faces–including infrastructure deficits, non-tariff barriers and threats to peace and security in the region posed by neighbouring countries.

Source: The citizen

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