Leaders of the three East African nations, plus Sudan, are meeting in Kenya's Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa to discuss a wide range of area problems. Attending this African summit conference, which was scheduled to start April 14, are Kenya's President Daniel arap Moi, the host and Presidents Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Godfrey Binaisa of Uganda, and surprisingly, Jaafar Muhammad Nimeiry of neighboring Sudan.
Inclusion of Sudan is considered surprising by some, because that nation does not belong in the usual East African configuration, though it has common frontiers with both Kenya and Uganda.
President Moi is using this summit get-together to try once again to persuade President Nyerere to open the Tanzania border with Kenya, which has been closed for almost exactly three years.
President Nimeiry, regarded as one of black Africa's prime peacemakers, is evidently using his good offices as a mediator to sovle this counterproductive dispute between Kenya and Tanzania. The border closure was precipitated by Mr. Nyerere after Kenya, owed large sums of money, closed down the ailing East African Airways, one of the transport corporations in the now disbanded East African Community.
The continued closure of the border is regarded here as a pointless exercise, losing Kenya large sums of money is exports to Tanzania and in foreign exchange paid out for imports from abroad. Underneath is an ideological wrangle between socialist Tanzania and capitalist Kenya.
President Moi has repeatedly pointed out that ideological differences should make no difference to the historical friendship between Kenya and Tanzania. He for one had never closed his border, he stresses, nor does he intend to do so.
Diplomats in East Africa believe that this time Mr. Nyerere might bend to the logic of freeing trade and communications between his country and Kenya. At any rate, the feel ing is that this summit will produce more than polite expressions of African friendship and cooperation.
The presence of Sudan's President Nimeiry is significant in another area -- the vexed question of Uganda's future. Uganda's neighbors, Kenya, Tanzania, and Sudan, have a vested interest in Uganda's future stability. They cannot afford to have a political vacuum in the middle of this huge, rich region with a total population of 60 million people.
It is believed that the presidents will reach some kind of agreement to support Uganda throughout its period of reconstruction and rehabilatation, now getting off the ground too slowly.
Moreover, Uganda is entering a new period of possible crisis, with presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled to be held later this year.They will be the first democratic elections held in Uganda since independence in 1962.
What President Binaisa wants desperately is a period of calm before the elections, and certainly no outside interference.
However, Tanzania presents problems for Mr. Binaisa. Mr. Nyerere has been backing his friend, Dr. Milton Obote, a former president of Uganda, in his bid to regain the presidency. There also is the continued presence of Tanzania troops in Uganda. Token withdrawals of some 10,000 of these troops already have been made. But hos many will stay during the election period? About 14,000 troops are believed to remain in strategic positions in Uganda.
Mr. Binaisa wants a Commonwealth force to keep peace during the elections, similar to the force used in Rhodesia. But it is not known here how far this request has got. If such a force were set up, the Tanzanians presumably would either take part or remove themselves entirely.