Burundi’s recent decision to ban cross-border trade with Rwanda again came to the fore on Tuesday as members of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) sat in Arusha, Tanzania.
The lawmakers supported a motion moved by Ugandan representative Bernard Mulengani, seeking the Assembly’s quick intervention to thwart what he termed as a ‘critical situation’ that can deteriorate and hamper the broader EAC integration agenda.
Mulengani took to the floor under Article 13 of the Rules of Procedure to adjourn debate on other matters so as to debate issues of public interest.
Granted, he then particularly requested the House to discuss what he described as urgent issues of governance to the bloc.
According to Mulengani, partner states may have misunderstandings but going to the extent of restricting cross-border trade breaches the EAC Treaty and the Common Market Protocol, which guarantee free movement of people, services, labour and capital.
The lawmakers noted that the latest developments require immediate attention.
Speaker Daniel Kidega asserted that the Assembly would play its part and pronounce itself on the critical matters raised by Mulengani.
Kidega said: “We shall not allow the Community to go into auto-pilot. There is leadership in the Community. The various committees please take up this matter as raised here.”
The Speaker assigned the respective House committees to immediately delve into the matters and report back before the end of the current sitting or, at the very latest, in the next.
Banning of cross-border trade, a matter concerning trade and movement of citizens between Partner States, shall be handled by the Committee on Communications, Trade and Investments.
Kidega also urged the Council of Ministers, the central decision-making and governing organ of the EAC, to also up its political supervision.
The Speaker also informed the House that the EALA Commission, the supreme committee which manages the affairs of the Assembly, over the weekend resolved to dispatch a parliamentary delegation to conduct an on-spot assessment along the Rwanda-Burundi border to ascertain the facts.
Mulengani’s motion comes barely a month after the assassination of Burundian EALA legislator, Hafsa Mossi, who was killed by gunmen near her home in Bujumbura.
Kenyan MP Peter Mathuki said matters at hand were of great public interest and could not be ignored if the Community is to function properly.
More than 300, 000 Burundians have fled to neighbouring countries, including Rwanda, DR Congo, Tanzania, and Uganda, since March 2015.
Besides concerns on Burundi, MP Mulengani requested the Assembly to look into allegations of corruption at the EAC Secretariat, and delayed take-over of office by the substantive Deputy Secretary General charged with finance and administration.
Over two months ago, Rwanda’s EALA representative Christophe Bazivamo was appointed to the post after being fronted by Rwanda but is yet to resume work.
Burundi’s Libérat Mfumukeko is the current EAC Secretary General.
Mulengani also questioned the EAC Secretary General’s move to scrap the EAC Peace and Security Department, which he said led to irregular termination of contracts of members of staff under the African Peace and Security Architecture Project (APSA) of the Community.
In September 2011, the African Union and the EAC signed an agreement, worth Euros 3.4m, for the implementation of the APSA in the region.
The objective of the programme is to increase the Community’s capacity to prevent and resolve conflicts such as the current one in Burundi.
Kidega directed that the questions related to the APSA project will be taken up by the Committee on Regional Affairs and Conflict Resolution.