The 20th Comesa heads of state summit, which was scheduled to take place from June 1- 10 in Bujumbura, has been postponed, catching government officials by surprise as they were putting final touches on preparations for the meeting.
In a letter to Burundi Trade Minister Jean-Marie Niyokindi, Comesa Secretary-General Sindiso Ngwenya said the summit had been pushed to July due to unexpected circumstances, and moved to Lusaka, Zambia.
This is the fourth time the Comesa Summit has been postponed. Initially, the summit had been scheduled for 2017 but due to lack of infrastructure in Bujumbura it was moved to February 2018, then April 2018. But the April dates coincided with the Commonwealth Summit so it was pushed to June 1.
Minister Niyokindi told The EastAfrican that the government did not know the reason behind the secretariat’s decision to postpone and change the venue of the Summit.
Government officials cited the huge losses the country is likely to incur due to the cancellation.
The minister said the government had invested billions of francs in the preparations and it would affect the country’s economy.
Burundi has been preparing for the summit since April 2017.
Comesa spokesperson Mwangi Gakungu did not respond to questions on the reason for the postponement of the Summit but The EastAfrican has learnt that some delegates were uncomfortable with the Bujumbura regime.
Olivier Nduhungirehe, Rwanda’s Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and EAC, said some delegates had declined to go to Bujumbura over security concerns.
Comesa is a 19-member trade bloc formed in December 1994 replacing a Preferential Trade Area, which had existed since 1981.
Nine of the member states formed a free trade area in 2000, while other countries including Burundi and Rwanda joined it in 2004.
Madagascar president Hery Rajaonarimampianina has been the chairperson since 2016 and he was expected to hand over the baton to President Pierre Nkurunziza.
The Bujumbura summit would also have seen the appointment of a new secretary-general as Mr Sindiso’s two-term tenure ends.