What next after DRC admission into East African Community?
The civil war-torn country offers the bloc a myriad of benefits as well as a litmus test
WEDNESDAY April 13, 2022
By Patty Magubira
Tranquility News Reporter, Tanzania
Creating a new institution to oversee natural resources is high on the East African Community’s (EAC) roadmap agenda of integrating Democratic Republic of Congo into the bloc.
Also contained in the roadmap is the removal of visa and other barriers to movement of goods and DRC citizens to and from any of the EAC partner states.
Among several other agenda comprised in the roadmap is building the capacity of the DRC members of the business community and ordinary citizens for them to maximise benefits that come with the regional integration.
Execution of the roadmap will start immediately after the youngest partner state deposits its instruments showing it has ratified the EAC Treaty within its governance structures, the EAC Secretary General, Dr Peter Mathuki, says.
DRC has a six-month ultimatum to deposit the instruments at the EAC Secretariat based in Arusha, Tanzania, before the country becomes a full member and enjoys benefits of the bloc and offers the community anticipated advantages.
It took Burundi and Rwanda barely two weeks in 2007 to deposit their instruments and to take part in activities of the EAC organs, institutions and programmes, including sending representatives to East African Legislative Assembly as well as to the East African Court of Justice.
In his maiden speech during the 19thEAC Heads of State Extra-Ordinary Summit meeting held virtually on March 29, 2022, the DRC President Felix Tshisekedi pleaded with the bloc to consider creating a new organ to oversee natural resources across the region.
President Tshisekedi proposed that the new organ should be headquartered in DRC apparently hinting that the new partner states is now leading in endowment of natural resources in the region.
Almost each of the EAC partner state is currently hosting at least one of the seven institutions, namely the East African Kiswahili Commission in Zanzibar, Lake Victoria Basin Commission in Kenya, Lake Victoria Fisheries Organisation and the Inter-University Council for East Africa in Uganda, East African Health Research Commission in Burundi and East African Science and Technology Commission in Rwanda.
Bordered by nine countries, DRC is as large as Western Europe. Diversity of its natural resources create additional challenges, necessitating a well-developed management machinery. The vast terrain also makes it difficult to police the resources and prevent smuggling.
Available data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) shows DRC is the world’s largest tin producer, the fifth largest producer of copper, the fourth largest producer of diamond and the producer of about 60 per cent of the global output of cobalt.
Also produced are gold, crude petroleum, zinc and oil. Ironically, DRC remaining one of the poorest countries in the world prompts some analysts to link it with the natural resource curse thesis.
In 2014, 77 per cent of the DRC population lived below the poverty line of $1.90. The country ranked 176th out of 189 countries on the 2018 UNDP Human Development Index.
DRC experienced state collapse in the 1990s, culminating in civil war from 1996 to 1997, and from 1998 to 2003. The two wars fueled by the country’s natural resources drew in neighbouring countries.
Rebellion currently affects the eastern and central regions, with about 5 million people internally displaced persons, the most in any country in the world.
Dr Mathuki says verification report of the admission of DRC into EAC found out both advantages and disadvantages of the country joining the bloc, but benefits superseded the later.
With a GDP of $294 billion and a population of about 300 million, East Africa now is not only one of the largest markets on the continent, but also attractive to any meaningful investor.
“Barely 11 per cent of whatever DRC consumes comes from EAC as opposed to 35 per cent from elsewhere, mostly China,” observes Dr Mathuki, explaining:
“Now that they are part of the EAC, we will eliminate the barriers so that whatever is produced in the region can easily find market in the country.”
Dr Mathuki said the DRC will, in turn, be able to use the EAC infrastructure for accessing Dar es Salaam and Mombasa ports, among other facilities.
DRC will also join the EAC common external tariff, a regime which allows goods produced within the region to enjoy zero per cent tax.
Given a huge chunk of unutilised agricultural land DRC boasts, farmers in other EAC partner states will be encouraged to produce from the new member and sell food on other countries.
Dr Mathuki says EAC is equipped with practical institutional frameworks for dealing with peace and security challenges in partner states.
“When we are together, we easily handle a challenge than when we are alone. We enjoy advantages collectively and so do we resolve challenges,” he says.
In addition to Peace and Security Unit, other EAC instruments such as deployment of eminent persons help to resolve challenges within the region.
The deployment of the eminent persons option is, however, a preserve for the EAC Heads of State Summit and has been applied when the need arose in the pastΩ
MORE INFORMATION: DRC Admission into EAC
One of the conditions for joining the EAC is to have a border with at least one partner state. DRC shares borders with five EAC partner states, namely South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. It applied for the membership in 2019. On February 27, 2021, the EAC heads of state considered the application and directed the Council of Ministers to see and assess its preparedness to join the regional economic bloc. The EAC Secretariat had organised a mission which saw the DRC President Felix Tshisekedi launch the verification process in June 2021. Senior high-level officials from all partner states were in Kinshasa for almost two weeks for the process. The team prepared a report recommending to the Council of Ministers that it found some areas of common interests and a few others that were in need of negotiations. When the heads of state met in December 2021 to consider the verification report directed the Council of Ministers to commence the negotiations expeditiously. The secretariat fast-tracked the two-week negotiations on January 17, 2022, in a bid to harmonise the differences and make DRC and EAC compatible. The report was prepared and presented to the Council of Ministers on February 8, 2022. Finding no serious differences, the Council of Ministers recommended to the Summit to admit the DRC. On March 28, the Heads of State considered the report of the Council of Ministers and was convinced that DRC could become the EAC partner state. The 19th Extraordinary Summit declared that the RDC was qualified and admitted to become a member. It also declared that the DRC should sign the Treaty of Accession by April 14, 2022, but given to its keenness, the country acceded to the treaty on April 8, 2022, at the State House in Nairobi, Kenya, in presence of presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Paul Kagame of RwandaΩ