DR Congo - newcomer to the East African Community
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is officially the East African Community's seventh member. In 2019, DRC submitted its official application to join the East Africa Community and it complied with criteria set out under the Treaty for the admission of new countries into the Community. These include acceptance of the Community as set out in the Treaty; adherence to universally acceptable principles of good governance, democracy, the rule of law, observance of human rights and social justice; potential contribution to the strengthening of integration within the East African region ; geographical proximity to and inter-dependence between it (the foreign country) and the EAC Partner States; establishment and maintenance of a market-driven economy; and; social and economic policies being compatible with those of the Community. The Democratic Republic of Congo signed the Treaty of accession to the EAC on 8 April, 2022.
During the official ceremony held in Nairobi, President of Democratic Republic of Congo, Félix Tshisekedi opined that “By joining the Community, the Congolese people do not only want to be satisfied with the benefits of intra-community trade, but they aspire first and foremost to maintain relations based on peace and security for all." The President of Kenya and current Chair of the EAC, Uhuru Kenyatta, stressed that the DRC was a welcome addition to the EAC Community, as its membership would _"_strengthen (our) economic muscle and competitiveness, in the continent and as well as globally." He further added that DRC's admission would exponentially increase the total population in the Community to 300 million people and a GDP of around 250 billion dollars. This is factual because the land area of EAC is 4.8 million square kilometres and the combined Gross Domestic Product is US$ 240 billion (EAC Statistics for 2019) while DRC’s geographical area is 2.4 million km2 with a population of 86 million people.
Other benefits that DRC would garner from its membership to the EAC are that trade would be boosted, political ties with the other EAC Partner States would be strengthened and the residents would also enjoy the free movement of its residents within the Community.
DRC is important to the EAC because it is located in central sub-Saharan Africa which makes it strategic, both physically and economically, for cross-border trade within Africa. Case in point, it neighbours majority of the EAC Partner states, in that, to the east it borders Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, and by Tanzania (across Lake Tanganyika), to the northeast by South Sudan, to the northwest by the Republic of the Congo, to the north by the Central African Republic, southeast by Zambia, to the southwest by Angola, and to the west by the South Atlantic Ocean and the Cabinda Province exclave of Angola. DRC is also mineral rich because it has vast mineral wealth, including diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt as well as other resources. The new country to the EAC shall also open access to the mega corridor from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean.
It is against this background that one wonders whether DRC admission will be an opportunity or a burden? My take is that DRC’s admission is an opportunity for the Member State and the Community, at large. In April 2022, Kenya and the DRC signed four economic agreements to deepen ties across several sectors including infrastructure development, security, maritime transport and immigration. In addition, both countries inked agreements on myriad areas: counter-terrorism, small arms and light weapons, immigration, custom and border control, police cooperation, aviation, maritime security, cybersecurity, agriculture, transport, and infrastructure.
DRC has embarked on the reconstruction of its national programme in various sectors including infrastructure, agriculture, energy and environmental conservation. DRC also has the world’s second largest natural ecosystem in the Congo Forest and it wants to preserve this ecosystem from wanton destruction in order to mitigate the effects of climate change. The President of DRC proposed the creation of a new body within EAC to deal with matters environment, natural resources and mining.
However, there are concerns from some residents of DRC that there is a risk that other EAC Partner States will target DRC as a market to sell off their products cheaply since DRC is a big importer of manufactured goods. Indeed, the current challenges presented by the global supply chain offers a unique opportunity for firms from other Partner States to fill this gap in the market with fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG).
However, with the right knowledge, investments and infrastructure development in DRC, it can also start manufacturing some finished products and sell to the other EAC Partner States in order to benefit from intra-trade like the other Partner States.
The civil war in parts of DR Congo hindered trade and the return of political stability in 2014 had severely affected businesses. Currently, there are ongoing tensions between DRC and Rwanda plus a resurgence of militia groups in the Eastern part of the country, East Congo is home to several militia groups such as M23 hence security remains a major concern for the new kid on the bloc. In 2021, Uganda and Burundi intervened by launching separate military operations in DRC due to strengthening ties between the three countries. The leaders of DRC and Rwanda should put aside their differences and ensure stability so that they can focus on the ultimate goals of the EAC which is to attain a monetary union and a political federation.
DRC must remain optimistic that its new membership to EAC will help it attain a permanent peace process which has been evasive due to the failed implementation of previously negotiated peace deals. Furthermore, some of the fundamental principles of the Community are to promote peaceful co-existence and good neighbourliness while also ensuring that there is peaceful settlement of disputes.
It is worth mentioning that as with any regional intergovernmental organisation, disputes and disagreements are bound to happen amongst the Partner States hence at the existence of the East Africa Court of Justice (EACJ) which was set up in November 2001 in Arusha, Tanzania. The EACJ is a regional court that is mandated to resolve disputes involving the East African Community and its Member States. Other functions of the court are, but not limited to, ensure the adherence to the laws as well as to interpret and ensure compliance with the EAC Treaty; handling cases; human rights violations; questions of rule of law and good governance; trade dispute remedies and non-compliance with the EAC Common Market protocols.
There are immense benefits for DRC admission into the EAC because it is a people - centred and market-driven Community. In addition, DRC should benefit economically due to the fact that one of the operational principles of the Community is to establish an export-oriented economy for the Partner States so that they can enjoy free movement of goods, persons, labour, services, capital, information and technology.