The Democratic Republic of Congo has emerged as a crucial export destination for the East African Community, accounting for around six per cent of EAC total exports from the region.
President Felix Tshisekedi, who announced that his country’s economic recovery is paramount in his first term, has already visited Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda within the first three months of his presidency, as he moves to secure trade ties.
In his visit to Rwanda last week, he highlighted the need for security in the EAC and urged both Rwanda and Uganda not to escalate the political tensions that have affected free movement of people and goods.
“I will not go into the details of what we discussed with both President Yoweri Museveni and President Paul Kagame, but I have listened to both presidents and I don't believe there will be an escalation of violence between them,” he said at the Africa CEO Forum in Kigali.
President Kagame and President Tshisekedi also agreed to put behind them the violent past of their countries, and cooperate on ending armed violence perpetrated by armed rebel groups based in eastern DRC.
“My problems in Rwanda end up being the problems of people in DRC and vice versa. We have to address these challenges.
“President Tshisekedi has made commitments to the people of DRC and the people of the region. We must believe him and extend our hand of cooperation, as he does with us, and see how far we can go,” President Kagame said.
DR Congo is among the top five destinations for Rwandan exports, alongside Kenya, United States of America, Switzerland and Canada.
The five accounted for 45 percent of Rwanda’s exports valued at $80.25 million in third quarter of 2018, according to the Rwanda National Institute of Statistics and Research.
In terms of re-exports such as fuel, lubricants, food and live animals, DRC is leading followed by Burundi, Uganda, Qatar and Ethiopia.
DRC is also Uganda’s leading trading partner for informal trade.
President Tshisekedi’s visit to both countries was aimed at ensuring that his country’s imports are not affected by the political stand-off between Rwanda and Uganda.
The Central Corridor is the shortest route for Uganda’s exports to the DRC and trucks normally pass through Rusumo border, which serves Tanzania and Rwanda, or through the Kabanga-Kobero borders serving Burundi and Tanzania.
Kenya and Tanzania are now seeking to diversify their markets to other African countries—particularly DRC and Zambia—as their share of intra-regional exports declined by 10 percent and 3 per cent respectively between 2010 and 2014.
Rwanda is keen on having strong ties with President Tshisekedi in order to mend a history of troubled relations between the two countries and overcome a growing number of rebels who pose a threat to both countries.
Kigali’s ties with former DRC leader Joseph Kabila were often hot and cold, and now Rwanda hopes that President Tshisekedi will mount pressure against the FDLR rebels.
“We expect good collaboration with DRC on this issue of negative forces. We have had issues in the past at the border but we have to ensure together that we don’t allow those negative forces to threaten the peace of Rwanda or of eastern DRC,” Olivier Nduhungirehe, State Minister for East African Community Affairs, told The East African.