IThere is no shortage of regional organizations on the continent. And the Community of East African States (EAS) is one of the fastest growing with 190 million inhabitants, the free movement of goods and people and, above all, a combined GDP estimated at $250 billion according to the Africa Regional Integration Index. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, already a member of three other regional trade organizations, decided to join the EAC almost three years ago. On June 8, 2019, the DRC did demand, in a letter addressed to Rwandan Paul Kagame (then president of the institution, editor’s note), that he be integrated into the EAC. The request of the Congolese leader, the letter elaborates, “follows commercial exchanges that continue to grow between the operators of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the states of the aforementioned community.” Now it’s done. Headquartered in Arusha, Tanzania, the EAC now has seven members: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Uganda and the DRC.
READ ALSOFree movement: why Africa needs to do more
From the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean
The DRC, with its 90 million population, increases the potential market for EAC to almost 300 million. With significant mineral resources, the DRC, which is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of mineral resources, shares borders with all EAC member states except Kenya. “The accession of the DRC marks a defining moment in the history of the region’s integration,” Kenyan Head of State Uhuru Kenyatta and current EAC President said as they formalized the accession of the DRC during an extraordinary online summit of member state leaders, Tuesday, March 29.
“The EAC now stretches from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, making the region competitive and facilitating its access to the largest continental free trade zone” (Zlec, which brings together several of the continent’s sub-regional organizations), the secretary stressed. Organization General Peter Matuki. Founded in 2000, the EAC aims, among other things, to facilitate cross-border trade by eliminating customs duties between member states. In 2010, a common market was created. With the addition of the DRC, which is also the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa and the largest French-speaking country in Africa, the EAC offers itself access to the Atlantic Ocean. The region is currently dependent on the seaports of Kenya and Tanzania, which lead to the Indian Ocean for trade with the rest of the world. The problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia has highlighted the need for an alternative trade route.
At a strategic level, this membership could allow the DRC and its leader to bring other states to the center of Africa.
READ ALSO‘Africa still allows opportunities in financial services’
The fragility of the DRC economy
The DRC’s accession to the East African Community will boost trade in the region, the East African Business Council said in a statement Tuesday. EAC said in a statement that this historic milestone has made EAC the most attractive business investment destination in Africa, which has a market economy of 266 million people and a gross domestic product of US$243 billion. The statement said the EAC is committed to ensuring that businesses in the DRC benefit from better trade facilitation at the ports of Mombasa in Kenya and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. The DRC already has significant trade with the East African Community bloc.
In the future, with accession, goods produced in the DRC will no longer be subject to customs duties. Will this be enough to bring the DRC out of economic isolation? This membership raises concerns among experts, as it could reveal the economic weaknesses of the Congolese giant. It should be remembered that the DRC is a little industrialized country, little banking, its economy is very extroverted. The giant suffers from a lack of infrastructure. And from a business point of view, it takes only 183as well as place (out of 190 countries) in the Doing Business ranking. Therefore, the risk that the country will turn into a real funnel for the production of its neighbors is quite real.
READ ALSODRC in search of its own model of industrialization
Strong geopolitical stakes
Economics aside, on a diplomatic level, President Tshisekedi quickly made his choice by reaching out to his eastern neighbors when he came to power, but integrating his country into the EAC comes with huge political and security challenges. The East African Community of States regularly faces episodes of tension between the States of the subregion.
We will also have to deal with a deteriorating security environment, while the eastern part of the DRC has been plagued by violence from multiple armed groups for more than a quarter of a century. On Tuesday, eight Blue Helmets were killed in a helicopter crash. The plane crashed while on a reconnaissance mission over an area in the eastern part of the DRC, North Kivu, where fierce fighting had led the Congolese army the day before to the M23 (March 23 Movement) rebels. The DRC military was quick to blame the rebels for shooting down the plane. M23 denied this, blaming, on the contrary, the army for the plane crash. That downfall came as the Congolese army, after months of suspicion and decades of distrust, just accused Rwanda of supporting the M23 insurgency, even claiming to have captured two Rwandan soldiers in the area on Monday. Rutshuru territory bordering Uganda. Relations calmed down with the rise to power in early 2019 of Felix Tshisekedi, who met several times with his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame. But the renewed activity of M23 revived suspicions. A sign that the hardest part is yet to be done.
READ ALSODR Congo: what is economic recovery?