The application by the DR Congo (DRC) to join the East African Community (EAC) will have to wait a little longer.
This follows the postponement of the meeting of the EAC Heads of State Summit to allow South Sudan to conclude formation of the new Transitional Government of National Unity.
Last year, DRC applied formally to join the EAC, a regional intergovernmental organisation composed of six member states namely Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan.
In a letter dated June 8, 2019 addressed to his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame, who is also the current EAC chair, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi noted that the request to join the EAC “follows the ever-increasing trade between the economic players of the DRC and those of the states of the Community.” Currently, the DRC is a member of both the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).
Whereas EAC membership would open the door to opportunities, it would also present a number of questions and concerns. Today, the community itself is struggling.
In terms of opportunities, DRC would stand to benefit from the experience of Uganda and Rwanda in improved implementation of their security sector reform agendas.
For some reason, current and past DRC governments just can’t get a grip of the nation’s security. More flexible trade arrangements will also come handy. But this will only be an opportunity if the government prepares its citizens to compete in the regional market.
If it fails, DRC will be a market for EAC goods with little for the regime in Kinshasa to write home about.
Of course, other EAC members would benefit from the DRC market of more than 80 million people. Increased free movement without strong government structures may also worsen the porous borders and enable proliferation of arms and money laundering.
In terms of disadvantages for DRC, imbalances in import-export rates in the community will weigh heavily on the stability of DRC economy as it would be importing far more than it exports.
Unless the aviation services are bettered and made affordable for small and medium size enterprises in the Central and Western DRC, gaps in trade policies and travel would lead to conditions favourable for conflicts.
It should also be a concern for DRC that it seeks to join a community that is rife with conflict, corruption, and a lack of clear political direction. For example, Uganda is yet to settle its row with Rwanda over national security concerns while Kenya is having its own tensions with Tanzania. The situation in Bujumbura and Juba remain fragile as well.
If DRC joins the EAC, citizens will be in position to petition the East African Court of Justice over human rights violations committed in DRC or other issues that contravene the EAC Treaty. If the court does not play politics, this would be a game changer.