The Democratic Republic of Congo ( DRC) officially became the seventh member of the East African Community ( EAC) on Tuesday following the approval by the 19th Heads of State Summit of the Community.
The Summit designated President Uhuru Kenyatta, the Chairperson of the Summit to sign the Treaty of Accession of the DRC into the East African Community by April 14, 2022.
Thereafter, DR Congo will be required to deposit the Instruments of Ratification with the Secretary-General before September 29, which will mean the EAC membership is part of the laws of the country.
Kenyatta called on the DRC and the older members of the community to take advantage of the expanded market size in terms of GDP and population adding, that the aim of regional integration blocks is to strengthen our relationship, expand our markets for goods and services, create wealth, create more opportunities for investment and services across without hindrance, and for easy movement of goods and services in the EAC.
The DRC is the largest and most populous country to join the EAC, bringing a market of 90 million people and immediately upgrading the region’s GDP from 193 billion US Dollars to 240 billion US Dollars, according to reports.
According to President Uhuru, the integration of the DRC will be easy because of the similarities in the culture, as well as government policies like economic liberalization, and the tax regime.
The summit also called for deeper economic, political, social and cultural integration with a view to improving the quality of life for the people of the community through increased competitiveness, value-added production, trade and investment for sustainable recovery.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni expressed excitement about the admission of Congo and described the joining of EAC by DRC as a big event of great significance.
President Yoweri Museveni said that he was happy his 60-year fight to ensure the integration of Africa, has borne some fruit before he dies and that now, the focus should be on ensuring peace in the region.
“I have been involved in these efforts for almost 60 years and this is really very pleasant that DRC has finally reconnected formally. What we call DRC now was part of the Great Lakes. We were connected before colonialism. But when colonialism came we got disconnected. It’s good we are assembling. In 1960 towards the end, even Zambia and Somalia had applied to join the community,” Museveni said.
Barnaba Marial Benjamin, the Minister of Presidential Affairs in South Sudan welcomed the admission of DRC and used the chance to apologise on behalf of his country for the delays in remitting their cash contributions to the EAC Secretariat, which have now accumulated to more than 30 million US Dollars.
He explained that this has been because of the conflicts in the country and, recently, the COVID-19 pandemic which affected their resources, but added that Juba is doing everything to pay up, after the implementation of the peace agreement.
Marial represented President Salva Kiir who he said was too busy with issues of implementation of the Revitalised Agreement for the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan.
Welcoming his country’s admission into the EAC, DRC President Felix Tshishekedi termed it a historical day for DRC, stating that it paves the way for the harmonization of the country’s policies with those of the EAC.
He added that DRC was looking forward to increased Intra-EAC trade and reduction of tension amongst the EAC Partner States.
Tshisekedi called for the creation of a new organ in the EAC that is solely focused on the regulation and promotion of mining, natural resources and energy that will be based in Kinshasa.
The government of Burundi hailed the expansion of the community saying it gives the real meaning of integration.
Vice President Prosper Bazombanza, who represented President Evariste Ndayishimiye said EAC Programmes were vital and their implementation critical for the integration process.
He however said that as the bloc moves towards Political Federation, the focus should be on security and protection of the borders against terrorism, piracy and other international crimes.
The business community in the region stands to be the main beneficiary if the opportunities posed by the expansion are fully taken advantage of, according to Peter Mathuki, the EAC Secretary-General.
This was reechoed by the East African Business Council, which said that with the admission of DR Congo, the region had now become one of the most attractive trading blocs.
“This historical and landmark milestone has transformed the EAC bloc into the most attractive trade investment destination in Africa, offering a market-driven economy of 266 million people and a Gross Domestic Product of USD 243 billion,” said John Bosco Kaliisa, the EABC Chief Executive Officer.
The DRC shares borders with five countries of the EAC, Kenya being the exception, which makes it one of the most important in terms of trade due to its easy reach by the other countries. Centrally located Uganda is the only other country bordered by five EAC member-states.
The entrepreneur’s body pledged to continue to ensure the cost of doing business across EAC borders is reduced and businesses in DRC benefit from better trade facilitation at the ports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam.