Ted Kaberuka, a Rwandan economic analyst told CNBCAfrica in March this year that if admitted, the DR Congo would swell the EAC market by more than 70% by one single stroke of the pen.
“The DR Congo has lots of minerals and huge potential in the agriculture sector,” said Kaberuka in a CBNC Africa interview.
Sabiiti Makara, a senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Makerere University told The Independent that he thinks the DR Congo should be admitted into the East African Community right away.
“Who would not want to be a friend of Congo in this millennium? It has got its natural resources especially mineral and forest resources. Congo also has the largest acreage of arable land in the whole of Africa. So if anyone in this world wants to grow anything, Congo would be the place to go,” Makara told The Independent.
Makara says the security challenge in eastern DR Congo could soon be ended because once the economic stakes rise and many countries are invested in the country; everybody in East Africa will want to secure the region.
Tshisekedi gets boost
Tshisekedi’s dream to have the DRC integrated into the East African Community bloc took a big step when a team from the EAC secretariat began verifying the central African country’s membership credentials on June 26.
Tshisekedi declared DRC’s interest to become a member of the EAC at the beginning of 2019 but it was not until February this year during the sitting of the 21st Ordinary Meeting when the Summit of EAC Heads of State considered the application.
The heads of state directed the EAC Council of Ministers to “expeditiously undertake a verification mission in accordance with the EAC procedure for admission of new members into the EAC and report to the 22nd Summit” scheduled for November, this year.
The 10-day verification exercise began on June 26 and Tshisekedi was right on hand to receive the team led by Dr. Peter Mathuki, the EAC Secretary General, in the eastern DRC city of Goma.
The team consists of three experts from each of the six partner states and an additional two experts funded by the nominating partner state. The verification team has, among other things, been reviewing the “current status of the DRCongo in international law and establish the country’s level of conformity with the criteria for admission of foreign countries as provided in the Treaty.”
Under the EAC Treaty, the criteria for the admission of new countries into the community include acceptance of the Community as set out in the Treaty, adherence to universally acceptable principles of good governance, democracy, the rule of law, and the observance of human rights and social justice.
Other criteria include the 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, the establishment and maintenance of a market-driven economy, and social and economic policies being compatible with those of the Community.
Should the DR Congo tick all the boxes of the EAC’s membership criteria, a report will then be compiled and presented to the EAC Council of Ministers who will then table it before the summit of the EAC heads of state. The presidents will then consider whether to admit the DR Congo into the bloc or not.
Tshisekedi welcomed the progress made by the EAC in its integration agenda. He said the DR Congo would “join the EAC at the earliest opportunity.”
Meanwhile, Mathuki said the potential entry of the DR Congo into the EAC would strengthen the bloc both economically and geopolitically.
“DR Congo neighbours five EAC partner states, namely Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan,” he said, “DR Congo would be an important country if it joins the East African Community and her entry would strengthen historical relations with East Africa.”
“Intra-EAC trade has increased among the EAC Partner States in the past 10 years. And we have no choice. That is why we are widening to include the DR Congo to become the 7th member of the EAC,” Dr. Mathuki tweeted shortly after his meeting with Tshisekedi.
Should the verification report satisfy the heads of state in November, DR Congo will become the seventh full member of the EAC after Tshisekedi accedes to the East African Treaty.
Even pessimists like Kulihoshi also agreed that the DR Congo’s integration into the East African Community is generally a good thing.
“If you look at the eastern DR Congo, right from Ituri to Lubumbashi, this region depends highly on the East African Community states of Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda for essential commodities,” Kulihoshi told The Independent.
“For many years, this region has been in conflict and so the Congolese have not had the time to invest and build local capacity; so that way, the integration will come in handy. It will help the Congolese business men do business better.”
And his fears remain. Kulihoshi told The Independent that decades of insecurity and a lack of government on the ground has left millions of Congolese people poor and less competitive in the region.
Kulihoshi who spent many years as a refugee in Uganda told The Independent that the Congolese are worried about the East Africans saturating the Congolese market yet they cannot compete with the people in East Africa who have been more stable and have had the time to invest in themselves.
“We have to understand that currently at the moment; there is nothing that the DR Congo may export to the EAC apart from some coffee, cocoa which people in eastern DR Congo produce. There is nothing much the DR Congo will bring to the other countries apart from imports,” he said.