The East African Community partner states are excited and ready to fast-track the application of the Democratic of Republic Congo as the seventh member, but questions abound.
The DRC — with a population of 81 million — is a welcome addition to the Community, since it means an expanded market and resource base that will give the bloc political and economic muscle. But does it meet the membership criteria?
There were precedents with Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan’s applications. Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania argues that once admitted, the countries could be persuaded to pursue good governance. It didn’t happen with Burundi and has yet to bear fruit with Juba.
Article 3 (3) of the 1999 EAC Treaty gives conditions for membership admission that include adherence to universally acceptable principles of good governance, democracy, the rule of law, observance of human rights and social justice.
Other considerations are the potential members’ potential contribution to the strengthening of integration; geographical proximity to and inter-dependence between it and the partner states; establishment and maintenance of a market-driven economy; and social and economic policies being compatible with those of the Community.
Despite a managed change of leadership that saw Felix Tshisekedi replace Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa, the DRC might find it hard to fulfil other conditions.
According to Harold Acemah, a retired Ugandan diplomat, the DRC is one Africa's most resource endowed countries and its entry into the EAC is likely to boost the region’s economies in the long run.
“However, the EAC leadership must put proper assessment mechanisms in place before it is admitted.
First, politically, the country is unstable, with civil unrest in some parts. The risk of these must be assessed,” said Mr Acemah.
He said that current EAC members must first assess who in DRC is driving the EAC agenda, whether it is a minority elite or is the wish of the majority of the citizens.
While DRC meets the condition of sharing a border with a member state(s) — Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi — it is still wanting in democracy, human rights and peace.
DRC under Kabila was one of the leading human-rights abusers in Africa and while President Tshisekedi has released political prisoners and promised greater democracy, not much has changed on the ground, especially in the east.
Sources at the EAC headquarters in Arusha told The EastAfrican that the bloc will face a moral dilemma of fast-tracking the DRC application ahead of that of Somalia, pending since 2012.
Somalia and South Sudan applied at the same time and Arusha rejected Juba’s application on governance and peace issues. It was finally admitted in 2016, but has not been able to meet its obligations due to the ongoing civil war and falling oil revenue.
Somalia’s application is still pending. Burundi, on the other hand, is experiencing economic hardship due to sanctions by the European Union. Some members of the East African Legislative Assembly have called for the suspension of the two countries until they update their obligations.