The Tanzania Times
Eastern Africa News Network

Sometimes in April: Eastern Africa Presidents’ meeting in Nairobi which was full of hostility

Sometimes in April of 1966, the then President of Kenya, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta hosted heads of state and leaders of government from various East and Central Africa countries for a summit.

The gathering was attended by various leaders including Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Joseph Mobutu of Zaire (DRC), Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Milton Obote from Uganda.

Others were Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Rwandan Prime Minister Nkundadajengi as well as his counterparts from Somalia and Burundi, Abdul Razak and Leopold Biha respectively.

As it happens, the relations between some of the countries during the Summit were frosty.

For example, Malawi’s Kamuzu Banda was unwilling to meet with Nyerere and sent his Commerce minister instead.

The Summit took place amidst accusations that Tanzania was playing host to the leading Malawian dissidents.

On their part, Sudan joined the Summit at the last minute. They had earlier protested the invitation of Obote, whose country was accused of harbouring Sudanese rebels.

The Time Magazine reported that Mobutu was also not in talking terms with Nyerere, whose country they accused of channelling arms to rebels in the Central African country.

Burundi on the other hand was sparring with Rwanda.

According to reports, thousands of Tutsi warriors from Burundi had been mobilized on the two countries’ common border in order to attack Rwanda.

Somalia’s Prime Minister did everything to avoid the Ethiopian delegation. In the run up to the Summit, the two countries’ armies exchanged sporadic fire on their common border.

Living up to the existence of diplomatic ‘beefs’ between various delegations, the host country ensured careful consideration was given to VIP security as well as seating arrangements.

For example, protocol officials from Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs ensured that delegations of countries that shared hostilities did not sit opposite one another.

Officials also paid close attention to culinary tastes.

One memo to Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff said that the Ethiopian delegation was particularly ‘Partial to good strong coffee….!’

The gathering took place in Mzee Kenyatta’s sound-proof library inside the State House. The meeting had no official agenda as the host president “did not wish for the Summit to be deprived of spontaneity”.

However, media houses reported that the Summit mainly discussed the need for an economic federation in the region.

Only two leaders could shake hands and speak freely with all other leaders. They were the host Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Zambia’s President Kenneth Kaunda.

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