By Felix Osike
and Alfred Wasike
THE accession of Rwanda and Burundi into the East African Community will be the key item during the summit of the five heads of state, held in Kampala today. The Kenyan President, Mwai Kibaki, was the only head of state who had arrived yesterday.
Kibaki, accompanied by his wife Lucy, jetted in on his presidential Fokker70 plane at around 4:30pm. He was received at the airport by President Yoweri Museveni and his wife Janet, and several ministers, led by East African Affairs minister Eriya Kategaya.
After inspecting a guard of honour, mounted by the UPDF, he proceeded to Kampala, while Museveni waited in vain for his other guests.
The Burundian President had travelled to Dar es Salaam for peace talks with the last remaining rebel group in his country, the Forces for National Liberation (FNL), mediated by Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.
The two presidents are expected today, as well as Rwandan President
Paul Kagame. The admission of Burundi and Rwanda follows a heated debate since 1999. It will increase the regional population to 115 million people. The enlarged community is expected to boost cross-border trade, investments and tourism, as well as enhance security and peace.
The main organs of the East African Community will all need to be restructured to accommodate the new members. These include the Summit of Heads of State, the Council of Ministers, the East African Court of Justice, the East African Legislative Assembly and the Secretariat.
During the admission session, Rwanda and Burundi will sign a number of protocols, which are already in place in the East African Community. These include the Defence Pact, which involves sharing intelligence information, joint training and whenever necessary, joint operations.
Other protocols relate to the customs union, combating drug trafficking and money laundering in the region, the establishment of the Inter-University Council for East Africa and sustainable development of the Lake Victoria basin.
Besides creating a customs union and allowing the free circulation of goods, the movement of people within the region will be eased when one common passport becomes operational in the five countries.
In respect to foreign policy, the five member states will be able to take a common stand at international fora and assist each other in countries where they do not have diplomatic missions. This entails that any of the five member states can appoint one mission to represent their interests abroad.
Nationals from the five countries will also be able to have visa applications processed in any of the missions representing the region.
With regard to the East African political federation, the consultative process which has been going on in the three partner states, is expected to extend to Rwanda and Burundi. A federal president and parliament is expected in 2013.
Analysts argue that such a federation would promote political stability and eliminate tribalism in the region. However, many fear losing power and national sovereignty, while Tanzanians are afraid their country risks being infected by ethnic problems which characterize politics in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.
The biggest challenge facing the states is the financing of the fast tracking process. This is evident from the many occasions partner states have failed to remit their contributions.
In general, however, the entry of Burundi and Rwanda is expected to increase development and prosperity for the EACâ€™s 115 million people, the way it did for the countries in the European Union, and increase the regionâ€™s bargaining power in international institutions like the World Bank.