, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 5 – Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga has urged leaders of the East African Community (EAC) to appoint a panel of statesmen to resolve the impasse with Tanzania and Burundi.
Addressing the press on Tuesday, Odinga said Kenya risks being locked out of the Central and Southern Africa markets should Tanzania and Burundi feel their grievances have not been adequately addressed and decide to pull out of the EAC.
“To trade with Malawi which is landlocked, with Zambia and beyond you need Tanzania as a transit… it is in our economic interest to have Tanzania as a friend and partner,” he said.
Odinga went on to caution that a coalition between Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) posed a real threat to the EAC.
“We must make no mistake about the potential might of DRC, Tanzania and Burundi put together,” he said.
The panel – to which he is not averse to being appointed to – he contended, would forestall a repeat of the 1977 dissolution of the former EAC.
“Tanzania closed the border between Kenya and Tanzania, some people have probably forgotten. To go to Dar es Salaam tourists had to go through Addis Ababa or Lusaka. Kenyan traders could not access the Tanzanian market,” he recounted.
The course of action Odinga proposed is not to push forward with the, “coalition of the willing,” at the risk of alienating Tanzania and Burundi but to secure their membership, that of South Sudan and eventually that of the DRC.
“DRC remains a virgin land of vast potential. But it is famed to have natural resources including potential for electric power sufficient for the entire continent of Africa,” the former Prime Minister gave as an example.
But even as a, “high-level negotiation team,” prepares to work out the modalities of South Sudan joining the EAC, a group of Ugandan traders have moved to the East African Court of Justice in protest.
The traders argue that South Sudan does not meet the requirements for admission into the EAC given the numerous human rights violations that have been reported in the newly-formed nation.
And while admitting that there exists a rift between Tanzania, Burundi and the rest of the EAC member states, EAC Secretary General Richard Sezibera has – as expected – sought to downplay it; ironically he sits in Arusha where the secretariat is stationed.
“The Republic of Burundi and the United Republic of Tanzania have made public their concerns regarding the meetings held by the Republic of Kenya, the Republic of Rwanda and the Republic of Uganda during a number of meetings at the Heads of State level,” he admitted.
This was after Tanzania and Burundi were notably absent from the Transform Africa Summit held in Rwanda at the end of last month.
In Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda’s defence however, Sezibera had admitted to Capital FM News back in February that some East African nations were frustrating the integration process.
“People are very focused on national issues and on their own sovereignty and sometimes that makes them lose the bigger picture,” he said.