A discussion on the application by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to join the East African Community (EAC) is set to take centre stage when regional leaders meet in Arusha, Tanzania in early 2020.
In a letter dated June 8, 2019, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi expressed his country’s interest to join the six member state community, “so that we can contribute to the development of this sub-region.”
EAC Secretary General, Liberat Mfumukeko said DRC’s letter was sent to the Chair of Summit, President Paul Kagame.
“You know, we (Secretariat) cannot immediately admit the country in the Community. So, we have to table this discussion before the next Summit (Heads of State meeting). This is on the agenda of the next Summit,” said Mfumukeko.
“We asked the member countries to consider this request of Democratic Republic of Congo, and that will guide us. But we know the procedures. We know how Burundi, how Rwanda, how South Sudan were admitted, and a lot of procedures will be followed,” he added in a recent engagement with prominent regional media houses including ChimpReports.
With 80 million hectares of arable land and over 1,100 listed minerals and precious metals, the DRC has the potential to become one of the richest economies on the continent and a driver of African growth, if it can overcome its political instability and improve governance.
The vast country boasts a population of 81.3 million.
While DRC is still recovering from a series of conflicts that broke out in the 1990s, creating a protracted economic and social slump, EAC believes the country can provide a huge market for its goods.
Asked if EAC was upbeat on registering a new member, Mfumukeko responded: “I cannot really tell you exactly the feeling of the member countries, because we are yet to listen to them.”
He, however, added “DRC will be coming with its resources in the community, they will be coming with a very large territory. Many people also.”
Uganda exported goods worth $398m DRC in 2018 and plans to increase this to $2 billion by 2020.
DRC has been grappling with an Ebola outbreak in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces since August 2018.
The prevailing instability and insecurity in this region are hampering the Ebola response.
Mfumukeko said EAC would help DRC address some of its major security challenges if the vast country joined the trading bloc.
“Of course, DRC would come with their own troubles. And you know, we know where their troubles come from. There must be a reason why there has been unrest in DRC since their independence. Many people have written about it. The UN has published many reports about it. That wealth is also the source of their problems,” said the EAC SG.
“For EAC, we don’t feel comfortable, of course, to have one of our neighbors with much trouble. We don’t feel comfortable with having some of these rebel groups, going from Congo and entering some of our countries. And one of the best way to control that is to have them within a community. If they are inside the Community, our strategies of tackling these security problems will also apply to DRC,” he cautioned.
Mfumukeko said EAC will work with the people in DRC “to see how we can resolve these issues and how we can actually stop that violence in the eastern part of Congo,” adding, “You know sometimes people resolve things when they are together.”
During Tshisekedi’s recent visit to Uganda, President Museveni said the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is in place to promote trade and bring our countries together.
The two leaders pledged to work together on joint infrastructure projects which will include the construction of roads from Uganda to the cities of Goma, Buni and Beni.