Rwanda back to Central Africa bloc, 10 years on

Saturday August 20 2016

DR Congo President Joseph Kabila (centre) and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame after holding bilateral talks at the Rwanda-DRC border in Rubavu on August 12, 2016. PHOTO | AFP

Rwanda has formally rejoined the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), after Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo presented the instruments of ratification to the economic bloc on August 17.

The return repositions the country to benefit economically, politically and diplomatically in the Central African region.

Rwanda, which had been a member of ECCAS since 1981, was readmitted into the bloc last year, almost 10 years after leaving. When it left, it cited the need to focus on its membership in the East African Community and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.

Since its readmission, countries such as Chad, which did not have diplomatic representation in Rwanda, have opened diplomatic ties with the country. One of Rwanda’s most hostile neighbours for over a decade has been the Democratic Republic of Congo, a key member of the Central African bloc.

But both countries now seem to have buried the hatchet after a meeting between President Paul Kagame and Joseph Kabila last week.

After their meeting, Rwanda praised the DRC for its progress in eradicating negative forces — a marked departure from previous pronouncements where Rwanda criticised the DR Congo for harbouring the FDLR rebel group.


This cooling of the longstanding animosity between the two countries was key to ensuring the growth of Rwanda’s economy — considering that Rwanda’s exports to the DRC represent 75 per cent of its informal cross-border exports.

Its readmission to ECCAS has opened up more opportunities for Rwanda and boosted economic ties with the other 10 member states.

For example, Angola received its first Rwandan envoy, Alfred Kalisa, in September last year, while several bilateral agreements have been signed with countries like Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville).

Rwanda has built business ties with Congo-Brazzaville, with both countries having a joint commission that evaluates recommendations made by politicians and investors, as well as identifying new areas of co-operation.

Last month, Rwanda and Gabon launched a One Network Area — the first of its kind — which is expected to boost trade between both countries.

Rwanda is also a contributor to peace-building in the region, having contributed about 750 peacekeepers to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic.

Prof Simeon Weihler, dean of social, political and administrative sciences at the University of Rwanda believes that this offers advantages to Rwanda’s diverse market and friendly neighbours.

“Joining multiple economic blocs poses no problem in theory, but could raise implementation challenges if bi-lateral trade arrangements result in contradictory or inconsistent regulations. The desire to build and fortify inter-African trade is an oft-stated goal, and augments Rwanda’s overarching development objectives,” he said.