The East African Community Welcomes DR Congo as the 7th Member State: What Does this Mean for the Region?
In June 2019, the president of DR Congo, Felix Tshisekedi wrote a letter to President Paul Kagame, the then chair of the East African Community, asking to join the regional trading bloc. This request came after Tshisekedi observed the increasing interest in trade collaborations between the business communities in DRC and EAC member states.
Three years later, the request was accepted. On 29th March 2022, heads of EAC member states convened to consider the admission of DR Congo into the community. EAC’s current Chairperson, President Uhuru Kenyatta, declared that DRC had met the set criteria for admission and was duly accepted as the 7th Partner State. Subsequently, on 8th April 2022, DR Congo signed the EAC treaty making it officially a member of the East African Community.
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What Makes up the East African Community
The East African Community is a regional inter-governmental organization headquartered in Arusha, Tanzania. This community comprises seven member states: Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, the Republics of Burundi, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Collectively, the region now has over 300 million people, with DRC’s population of over 90 million contributing the largest number. These people sit in a land area of 4.8 million square kilometers. Such massive resources present a great opportunity for trade and other social and economic activities.
Regional Trade Integration In The EAC Bloc
Trade policies were the main motive, among other initiatives, why the EAC treaty was established. Besides, it’s for the same reason DR Congo expressed interest to become an EAC partner. Trade integration is a significant economic pillar in the EAC trading bloc. It means member states agreed to lift trade barriers to allow for trade relations among them. This integration has improved the production, distribution, and consumption of trade goods within the region.
There are many ways in which trade integration improves EAC partner states’ economies. For insurance, the EAC Customs Union meant that member states enjoyed the benefits of a single customs territory. These benefits include eliminating border taxes and other limitations, thus allowing for the free movement of people and the circulation of goods. The ripple effect is seen in other sectors like education, healthcare, security, and infrastructure.
Will DRC Stunt the GDP of the Region?
DR Congo is rich in many ways. For one, the world’s most precious metals, such as gold, copper, lithium, and cobalt, exist in large deposits in various parts of the country. One would not expect such a country to have a failing economy, yet it does. Why? The exploitation of minerals is the primary reason why DR Congo does not benefit much from mining.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is among the least developed African nations. Her Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has continuously remained low due to factors such as political instability and war. Although there was a positive GDP growth in 2020, the overall GDP is still low compared to most countries.
As a result, specialists have raised concerns that Congo’s membership with the East African Community would harm the total GDP of the region. Economists have gone as far as to say the low GDP and high population of DR Congo will cause a stir in the production capacity of the region.
Daddy Saleh, a professor of economics, said, “DRC’s membership will negatively impact local industries in the long term.” Saleh told The EastAfrican that, “given the nature of the Congolese economy, where almost everything is imported, local industries will face competition that could undermine local productivity.”
What DRC Stands To Gain By Joining The Bloc
DRC stands to gain a lot from being part of a community with common interests. The country is looking to improve sectors pulling her economy back. Such sectors are trade, social cohesion, and security. For several decades, DR Congo has struggled primarily with these three pillars.
#1. Improvement in trade and investment
Connecting DR Congo to the much-developed East African countries is expected to be a game-changer in terms of trade. Countries like Burundi and Rwanda had already established infrastructural projects such as roads and rails connecting East of DRC. Logistics being one of the key drivers of trade, it’s apparent how this will impact the country.
Non-tariff barriers will also make it cheaper to import and export goods in and out of DR Congo. To clarify, access to the ports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam will boost logistics for goods entering and leaving DR Congo. Under the Common Market agreement, DR Congo is now exposed to unlimited possibilities. Take, for instance, the SME sector, which contributes over half of the GDP in the bloc.
“Many parts of the industry including small and medium enterprises will benefit tremendously from this very context of integration by way of promoting the efficiency of cross-border trade.”Dr. Kevit Desai
#2. Restoration of peace, security, and political stability
For the longest time, DR Congo has been the victim of poor economic governance, internal and external crisis, and political instability. These have badly affected the country’s peace and security. Joining the East African Community is supposed to fix or alleviate these liabilities. Specifically, it is a requirement as per the EAC Treaty. There are strategic plans to enhance security in the most affected areas such as North and South Kivu. Militia groups controlling unrest are already hard at work.
Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo have a horrible history that resulted in bloodshed a few decades ago. Whereas people have moved on past the genocide, traces of history still roam the streets. But now that the three countries have a common agenda, peace will have to prevail among them. This has to happen; otherwise, it will affect the entire regional bloc.
#3. Inclusion for the people of DRC
Moving forward, DRC citizens have the liberty to traverse across any of the EAC member states freely. Congolese will not require visas at borders, whether traveling for tourism, business, or any purpose. This is good news for DR Congo since it opens opportunities for leisure and business. The freedom to cross borders also gives them a chance to study and work within East African countries.
Due to her large landmass, DR Congo borders most of the East African Community member states. As such, the country shares most aspects of culture, language, and much more. It then makes sense for DR Congo to want in on the EAC agenda. Even more, experts have thought that the membership has been long overdue. That what has been remaining was, “an organized structure and to integrate into a sub-regional development dynamic.” This is according to Nicaise Kibel Bel, Goma-based security.
How the East African Community Will Benefit From DR Congo’s Integration
The rest of the EAC bloc sees potential upsides now that DR Congo has joined the regional bloc. By partnering with the EAC, DR Congo is committed to adhering to good governance, democracy, and social justice principles. Also, it includes agreeing to contribute to strengthening integration within the East African region. These principles are what contribute to the success of EAC as a community.
The benefits trickle down to individuals as well. Investors either in or outside the bloc see this as an opportunity to tap into DR Congo. The DRC President welcomed the private and public sectors to take advantage of her natural resources in support. Accordingly, the president established a research organ to oversee the management and optimization of natural resources in the East African Community.
EAC takes a holistic approach to development. The region understands that the social, political, and economic pillars have to be robust for a nation to develop. When seven member states share these beliefs, transformation is expected to occur. These improvements were seen in the region before DR Congo was an East African Community partner state. The only caveat is that the change in DR Congo will not happen overnight. Strategies have to be drafted, vetted, and put into action gradually to rejuvenate the nation. Fortunately, with the help of her new allies, it’s just a matter of time before DR Congo rises to the top.