The East African Legislative Assembly says it is looking into the possibility of playing a role in the ongoing South Sudan peace talks led by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
The issue came up for debate during the current session of the regional parliament in the Tanzanian capital of Dodoma.
The New Times understands that the issue first came up during deliberations of the assembly’s committee on regional affairs and conflict resolution two weeks ago.
South Sudan is one of the six countries that make up the East African Community (EAC). EALA is one of bloc’s key organs.
The move to have EALA play a role in South Sudan negotiations is particularly being pushed by the representatives of the world’s youngest nation in the assembly.
MP Thomas Dut Gatkek, the South Sudan EALA chapter chairperson, told The New Times on Monday that EALA technically has jurisdiction over matters being discussed under the IGAD framework since South Sudan is a member of the EAC.
There is a feeling that IGAD is not doing a good job, he said.
"The IGAD process has taken many years. First of all, they came up with the 2015 agreement which collapsed as a result of another conflict initiated by Riek Machar," he said.
Gatkek added: “Again, last year, there was a process initiated by IGAD to reactivate the peace agreement and this has failed too.”
EALA, Gatkek said, has not yet agreed on how to proceed as the matter is still at the initial stages of consultation.
But he said they initiated the move because South Sudan is one of the EAC partner states and its protracted conflict is affecting the entire region.
Uganda and Kenya, both EAC and IGAD members, host more than two million South Sudanese refugees.
Rwanda, an EAC member, and Kenya also maintain contingents of peacekeepers in South Sudan.
"The ongoing conflict is derailing development of the EAC region. For us, as EALA, as part of our oversight function, we have a mandate to initiate this and pass it to other institutions within the Community, mainly the Summit (Heads of State forum) which will have a decision to make. At least EAC can participate as an observer."
EALA member Amb Fatuma Ndangiza (Rwanda), a member of the assembly’s committee on regional affairs and conflict resolution, said: "During deliberations the majority of members expressed concern (about the South Sudan situation) and were of the view that we shouldn’t just sit back when a member state is in a crisis.”
"Our resolution was that the committee reaches out to the administration of EALA so that they can consult on how the committee can best participate, even if it is in an observer status, in the IGAD peace process,” Amb. Ndangiza added.
"The committee has consulted the Speaker and the Clerk and we are waiting to hear from the (assembly’s) leadership."
Asked why he thinks the IGAD process has not worked, Gatkek said: “To me, I see an interest, if not by all IGAD members, by some countries interested in a prolonged conflict in South Sudan."
The feeling that some IGAD countries are possibly blocking peaceful political settlement is a new twist in the quest for peace in South Sudan.
EALA MP Mathias Kasamba (Uganda) said: "War will not solve the problem of South Sudan."
"It is talking to each other and agreeing that we will be diverse in our ways of agreement but the ultimate end is realising that we are all South Sudanese and we must work together for the stability of South Sudan. I think this is one of the reasons why the (EAC) Summit admitted South Sudan," he added.