Rwanda were conspicuously absent as the East African Community (EAC) Inter-Parliamentary Games started in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura on Saturday.
In a letter to the Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala), Rwanda’s parliament indicated that its members had commitments till Tuesday that could not allow them take part in the 10-day tournament.
“We regret to inform you that the parliament of Rwanda will not be able to participate in the 2018 EAC Inter-Parliamentary Games. Any inconveniences caused are highly regretted,” read the letter.
However, it is generally believed that Rwanda's absence in Burundi was yet another manifestation of the sour relations between Bujumbura and Kigali since 2015. State officials from the two neighbouring states have refrained from mutual visits.
Bujumbura accuses Kigali of offering militarily training to Burundi refugees to oust President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government, and sheltering the plotters of the failed 2015 coup.
In return, Rwanda accuses Burundi of hosting the FDLR rebels who are accused by the authorities in Kigali of committing the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
“It is unfortunate that there is a country which did not attend these games that should bring together all parliaments across the region, but the games will go on as planned,” Burundi EAC minister Isabelle Ndahayo told The EastAfrican in Bujumbura.
The minister said the regional games would give the parliamentarians a clear image of Burundi, “which is peaceful and Burundians are happy to see and host their brothers and sisters, and it also means support from EAC citizens”.
About 500 participants were already in Bujumbura from Tanzania, 83, Kenya, 280, and Uganda, 120, to compete in the games, that kicked off Saturday afternoon with a soccer match between the hosts' Hallelujah FC and EAC select, featuring legislators from the member states.
President Nkurunziza’s Hallelujah FC thumped the EAC select side by 4-1.
Burundi last hosted the inter-parliamentary games in 2011. The games include soccer, walking race, netball, golf, athletics, tug-of-war, volleyball and athletics.