Nairobi, Kenya | THE INDEPENDENT | The Democratic Republic of Congo-DRC was Friday officially admitted into the East African Community as the region looked to starting a new era in trade in mineral resources.
The accession of DRC to the Treaty for the Establishment of the EAC is a declaration of recognition and belonging to the EAC, signifying that the country is a full member.
The DRC President, Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, promised that the country will endeavor to implement each and every clause in the treaty if its membership is to be meaningful.
He was particularly concerned about the natural resources of the country, whose exploitation has increasingly become a centre of international debate, as to their importance to the country and the ordinary in DRC.
The country is rich in some of the most valuable minerals in the world including gold, diamonds, coltan, cobalt, and tantalum among dozens of others.
Speaking through an interpreter, President Tshisekedi reiterated that the EAC should establish a regional agency that will protect and regulate the exploitation of natural resources in the region, and should be based in his country.
“Let me reiterate the desire of DRC to see the creation of a new Organ in the EAC that is solely focus on mining, natural resources and energy that will be based in DRC,” he said.
East African countries, especially Uganda and Rwanda have been accused of providing a transit market for the minerals mined and smuggled from war-torn areas in the east of the country, with most of the proceeds going to armed groups to fund more conflict.
The owner of Uganda’s leading gold refinery African Gold Refinery was last month sanctioned by the US over its alleged involvement in the illegal trade in gold from DRC.
How DRC joined
Last month, at the 19th Extra-ordinary Summit of the Heads of State, the leaders endorsed the report of the Council of Ministers that had recommended the admission of the DRC.
With this, the country, the seventh member, is now ready to be integrated into the programs and activities of the community, after aligning its internal processes to ratify the EAC, by end of September.
The EAC Secretary General Peter Mathuki says this has been fast-tracked by one week because the deadline had been set for 14th April, which shows the level of support for integration by the various organs.
The addition of the DRC makes the EAC the largest trading bloc by landmass, joining the east coast to the west coast of the continent.
It also adds about 90 million people to the population of the region and almost 50 million dollars in value to the economy, which makes the EAC a more viable trading bloc.
However, among others, Dr. Mathuki says the countries and the EAC secretariat have to invest in infrastructure if these benefits are to be realized.
President Yoweri Museveni urged the leaders and the citizens in the bloc, to see integration as a vessel for trade development, and not politicking.
He said apart from the need to jointly tackle security on crime like terror and re-uniting different ethnic groups, the integration must help create and consolidate a bigger market for local products.
The DRC joins the EAC at a time the region is in the process of joint trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area, an arrangement that it agreed to enter as a block rather than as individual countries.
One of the factors delaying the region is the delay by South Sudan to ratify the agreement.
As of March this year, DRC is one of the 42 countries which have ratified the continental agreement and, this should be easier for the EAC to include it in the process of trading under the treaty.
President Uhuru Kenya, the Chairperson of the EAC Summit says they will make a plan to ensure DRC quickly adopts the submissions of the EAC so that it is counted as part of the bloc when trading under the AfCFTA begins.
President Tshisekedi is expected to hold talks with his host Kenyatta over the M23 rebels.
Kenya is pushing for direct peace talks between DRC and the rebels who have renewed their attacks near the border with Uganda.
Last week, the rebels announced a unilateral ceasefire and called for talks with Kinshasa.