The Democratic Republic of Congo joins the East African Community: What does this signify?
In June 2019, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) submitted an application to join the East African Community (EAC). The 21st Ordinary Summit of EAC Heads of State held on 27th February, 2021 then considered this application and directed the EAC Council of Ministers to expeditiously undertake a Verification Mission in accordance with the EAC Procedures for admission of new Members into the EAC.
On 29th March 2022, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, the Chair of the Summit of the EAC Heads of States, announced that the DRC has been admitted as the seventh member of the EAC. This Summit was held to consider the report of the Council of Ministers on the negotiations between the EAC and the DRC on its admission into the EAC. This exercise entailed an investigation into the current status of the DRC in international law; its level of conformity with the criteria for admission and its readiness to Join the EAC Customs Union, Common Market Protocol, Monetary Union and ongoing political confederation Constitutional Framework. It also investigated the DRC’s development strategies and plans in major collaboration areas, including infrastructure, energy, education and science, environment and natural resource management, monetary and fiscal affairs, peace and security and international co-operation.
On 8 April 2022, the Treaty of Accession of the DRC to the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community was signed by President Kenyatta and by President Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo of the DRC, at State House, Nairobi. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame were also present at the ceremony. DRC will be required to deposit its instrument of ratification with the Secretary-General of the EAC before 29 September 2022.
The EAC is one of the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) recognised by the African Union (AU). Under the African Continental Free Trade (AfCFTA) Agreement, it is also an AfCFTA building block. The EAC is one of the most advanced (in terms of integration arrangements) RECs. It is, in terms of accepted commitments, a Common Market. In principle substantially all trade in goods as well as services must therefore be liberalised among the Members within a reasonable period of time. President Kenyatta welcomed DRC “to the Customs Union and Common Market which are the signature pillars of our Community and the foundation upon which our social, political, trade, investment and economic interests stand.” The other Members of the EAC are Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. Its headquarters is in Arusha, Tanzania.
The geopolitical, legal, and economic implications of this development are vast and challenging. It could bring massive developmental benefits to a country and region plagued by political instability and military interventions from neighbouring countries; now to become partners of the DRC in the EAC. There will be many opportunities as well as practical and legal challenges. Accession to an existing international organisation takes time and resources and requires hard work. Many domestic reforms and institution-building will be required. South Sudan has also recently joined the EAC. More effort and support will now be required in order to integrate these less developed Members and to enable them to participate effectively in long-standing EAC institutions such as the EAC Court of Justice, the Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency, Competition Authority, Development Bank, and Health Research Commission.
The DRC has vast natural resources. It accounted for more than two thirds of global cobalt production in 2021, making it the world’s largest cobalt producer by a large margin. Cobalt is an essential mineral used for batteries in electric cars, computers, and cell phones. This makes it a target of considerable interest to the major international powers. It is noteworthy that President Tshisekedi reiterated his earlier call to the EAC Summit for the establishment of a new EAC institution that would ensure the sustainable exploitation of the region’s vast natural resources in addition to mitigating the effects of climate change. Such an expansion will take the EAC into new and challenging terrain, with significant strategic implications.
DRC also has a lot of fertile land, but its agriculture sector is not well developed. The Congo River Basin is an untapped resource, together with several other rivers. The Report of the EAC Verification Team noted that “the water of the Democratic Republic of Congo is a great opportunity for the countries of the East African Community to collaborate with the DRC within the framework of the investments of production, transport and distribution of water for the populations of the DRC and the sub-region.” And then of course there is the Grand Inga Dam project, consisting of series of seven proposed hydroelectric power stations at the site of the Inga Falls. If built as planned, the 40-70 GW project would be the largest power station in the world.
At the signing ceremony the EAC Secretary General Peter Matuku Mathuki expressed the view that the EAC can now more easily access the AfCFTA. The EAC “now spans from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean making the region competitive and easy to access the larger African Continental Free Trade Area.” One can add that this development signifies other truths about African economic integration: It is about more than trade liberalisation, there are vast benefits to be unlocked through sound integration designs, integration of the kind envisaged here poses major challenges to regional institutions and political leaders, and it provides a platform for large scale foreign investment. The latter should be handled with care and could benefit from joint EAC arrangements. There is also an implication for the AfCFTA initiative; that the RECs that have advanced to deeper levels of integration are indispensable. They have, as AfCFTA building blocks, advantages in the form of experience, institutions, infrastructural linkages, and proximity considerations. The expansion of the EAC will show how the opportunities as well as challenges are handled. This opportunity should not be fruitless.
 The relevant report was published in July 2021.
 See footnote 2
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