Proceedings for the inauguration of the fourth East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) Monday begun calmly with lawmakers swearing in as expected in Arusha, Tanzania.
But the second and most important matter, the agenda, electing Speaker, hit a snag when lawmakers from Burundi and Tanzania did not return from a morning break to carry on with business.
The subsequent lack of quorum was highlight of lengthy debate with the remaining lawmakers wondering why their colleagues had chosen to remain within the precincts but boycotted the session.
The EALA Clerk, Keneth Mandete, is presiding over the sitting.
Later on, there were two breaks including the lunch break used for consultations but eventually, it was agreed that the House adjourns to Tuesday afternoon where a conclusive solution, it is hoped, would be found.
Over the weekend, Tanzania and Burundi unexpectedly joined Rwanda in fronting candidates for the Speakership of the fourth EALA yet it was earlier widely considered that it would be Rwanda’s turn for the rotational position.
In addition to Rwanda’s MP Martin Ngoga, Burundi’s MP Leontine Nzeyimana and Tanzania’s MP Adam Kimbisa are in the race.
The move by lawmakers from Burundi and Tanzania caused a stir.
Burundi currently occupies the position of Secretary General of the bloc.
MP Kennedy Ayason Mukulia (South Sudan) told The New Times it was unfortunate and not expected.
South Sudan lawmakers who are new in the Assembly were taken aback by what they witnessed on Monday, he said.
Mukulia said: “What has transpired is in bad faith. The South Sudan position is to support Honourable Martin (Ngoga) from Rwanda.”
“Burundi’s issue is lack of trust and it is in bad faith,” he noted, adding that if Burundi has any problems with Rwanda, those should have been sorted out elsewhere “other than trying to paralyze business in the House.”
“The decision by Burundi to stay away is to ensure that the House lacks quarum. Similarly, Tanzanian MPs stayed away because they did not see a chance of winning,” he added.
MP Wanjiku Muhia (Kenya) described the failure to elect the Speaker as unfortunate due to the behavior of lawmakers from Burundi and Tanzania who did not return to the House after being sworn in and not being able to complete the main duty of the day–election of the Speaker.
She added: “They should come in and fight from the inside because democracy is about speaking what you believe in. Kenya speaks of the fairest rule. And it is fair for Rwanda to get the position because Kenya has served, Tanzania served and Uganda served. And we all know it was the term for Rwanda.”
“However, we said, “if you have brought your papers and you want to convince us you are the best then you can come and convince us. But, so far, no one from the two has convinced me. On the contrary, the Rwandan candidate really convinced people.”
The Burundi EALA chapter has lodged a complaint with the Clerk’s Office, claiming that their country has a right to apply for Speakership considering the alphabetical order in respect to the principle of rotation.
But lawmakers from other countries questioned the motive behind the move.
The first Assembly, from 2001 to 2006, had Tanzania’s Abdulrahman Kinana, as Speaker, while the second Assembly, from 2007 to 2012, had Kenyan Abdirahim Abdi.
The third and most recent Assembly, from 2012 to 2017, had Uganda’s Daniel Fred Kidega, who took over from his compatriot Margaret Zziwa, who was impeached before her five-year term ended. The fourth Assembly will run from 2017 to 2022.
MP Chris Opoka (Uganda) said: “We don’t understand why they [Burundi and Tanzania] moved out and raised the issue of quorum but later on a letter from Burundi MPs was circulated to us claiming that Burundi should be the only one to offer candidates for Speakership because of an alleged alphabetical principle in rotation. But the Treaty doesn’t talk of anything alphabetical.”
It is not so clear what really caused Tanzania or Burundi to try to disrupt the election but, by and large, it turned out that the Rwandan candidate stands a better chance than them when the election is held. It remains unclear how long this standstill will last.
At some point, lawmakers who remained in the House voiced a need to carry on with the vote without their Burundi and Tanzanian counterparts but the Counsel to the Community, Dr Anthony Kafumbe, said it would not be consistent with the rules.
“I advise that we have all partner states represented before we can elect the next Speaker,” Dr Kafumbe said.