The East African Court of Justice (EAJC) on Tuesday dismissed the case filed nearly two years ago by the government of Burundi, challenging the process of electing the current Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), Martin Ngoga.
On December 19, 2017, Ngoga, a Rwandan, was elected as the fifth Speaker of EALA, during a second round of voting even after lawmakers from Burundi and Tanzania boycotted the voting.
During the initial round of voting both countries were represented and actually fielded candidates for the Speakership.
Election proceedings went on. Ngoga won, replacing Uganda’s Daniel Fred Kidega.
Soon after his election, Ngoga urged regional lawmakers to rise above partisan interests to push forward the region’s integration agenda.
At the time, the boycotting MPs threatened to immediately take the matter to court. Burundi would later take that path on its own.
On Tuesday, the EACJ’s First Instance Division dismissed the case filed by Burundi.
It ruled that the December 2017 election did not violate the EAC Treaty in any way.
Burundi did not provide proof that there was indeed any violation of electoral procedures.
The Judgment was delivered by the Honourable Judges, Lady Justice Monica Mugenyi (Principle Judge), Justice Dr Faustin Ntezilyayo (Deputy Principal Judge), Justice Fakihi A. Jundu, Justice Dr Charles Nyawello and Justice Charles Nyachae.
Bring unity and serenity in House
The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Olivier Nduhungirehe, told The New Times that the Court’s judgment is an important decision and that he hopes “will bring unity and serenity” within the regional parliament.
The boycott by Burundi and Tanzania lawmakers in 2017, he said, was an act of sabotage.
“I hope that now court has ruled, MPs from all chapters will work together to implement the [EAC] Treaty and move forward our four-pillar integration agenda,” Nduhungirehe said.
According to the Court, the case at hand gravitated around EALA’s compliance with the legal regime applicable to the election of the Speaker.
“The Court stated that the bone of contention between the parties was what (if any) was the quorum of the House for purposes of the election of a Speaker. It opined that such matter depicted a question of fact that must be established by cogent evidence,” an EACJ statement reads in part.
It adds; “The Court having scrutinised evidence adduced by parties in support of their respective cases, found that the fact for the Applicant’s advocate to produce evidence deposed by himself offended the rule of evidence and therefore, the advocate’s affidavits were expunged from the record.”
It is further noted that the Applicant’s counsel had purported to cite lawmakers from Burundi as his source of information on events that transpired in the disputed election.
The Court, among other things, found that such kind of evidence amounted to hearsay evidence which could not be relied upon in the determination of the matter before it.
During the hearing session in March 2019, Nestor Kayobera, representing Burundi (the Applicant) argued that elections that were held in the absence of EALA MPs from Burundi and Tanzania in violation of the fundamental Principles of the Community under Articles 6 (d), 7 and 57 (1) and Rule 12 (1) of EALA Rules of Procedure.
Kayobera contended that the current Speaker was not elected in accordance with the EAC Treaty and the Rules of the Assembly and therefore asked the Court to order a new election in accordance with the Treaty and rules of the Assembly.
Dr Anthony Kafumbe, the Counsel to the Community, submitted that the election of the Speaker was done under Part III of the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly.
He told court that under EALA Rules of Procedure, it is not mandatory for every member to vote, hence the lawmakers of Burundi and Tanzania had liberty not to vote.
He argued that the issue of quorum does not apply, that it only applies when the house is duly constituted.
Kafumbe submitted that there was no illegal election process and the Speaker was elected under relevant provisions of the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly and that the election process did not violate the EAC Treaty.
Prefer order to anarchy
MP Fred Mukasa Mbidde from Uganda told The New Times that the court’s decision is a display of the resolve by East Africans to prefer order to anarchy.
Mbidde said: “Burundi has at all times tried to treat the community to some sort of gladiatorial circus which appears nyaff [stupid and irritating] and detestable and I am happy that court has not entertained that kind chicanery.
“The Assembly is running well and focused under the able stewardship of the Rt Hon Martin Ngoga and Burundi should let us be. The level of camaraderie and existing entente or cooperation already adopted by the house under Speaker Ngoga should be allowed to flourish for the best results expected.”
If there are any issues Burundi thinks of raising, Mbidde who is serving a second five-year term in the regional House said, the proper address should be either the Council of Ministers or the Summit of Heads of State “whose doors are permanently open.”
The government of Burundi, he said, should desist from seeking to order around members of the Assembly even on matters of who should govern them, adding: “that’s rather preposterous.”
MP Victor Burikukiye from Burundi told The New Times that the EACJ ruling is a “denial of justice” but – preferring not to comment further – added that “the court is independent.”
The fourth Assembly and Ngoga’s tenure runs from 2017 to 2022.