1. Let us first deal with the big cynical view that was among the first to emerge when news came that the Democratic Republic of Congo has applied to join the East African Community: That Rwanda’s leadership wants to score a big point by bringing the giant state into the fold during its chairmanship.
Well, if Rwanda is selfishly seeking to boost its stature by recruiting DRC, then that kind of selfishness, which stands to benefit 275 million people (EAC has 193 million), should be welcomed. What all members should do is to ensure that the spirit and letter of the Community charter are strictly adhered to.
2. There is also the little matter of whether DRC is in East Africa. Indeed, it shares borders with five members of the Community – South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. That is more than any other of the members. In that respect, DRC is the most qualified country to join the EAC.
3. There are always two sides to a coin. Right now the image of the EAC is less than bright, featuring Rwanda in the chair having uneasy relations with Uganda and Burundi; the Community Secretariat in Arusha drowning in financial scandals and most member states not remitting their contributions promptly. But this is a phase that shouldn’t stifle EAC’s ambition to be a leading light for regional integration. Admitting Congo makes a big aspirational statement and sets higher targets for the continent.
4. The inclusion of DRC, even the process of considering its admission, helps to refocus the Community towards more noble goals and the tasks that must be performed to achieving them. Squabbling amongst members certainly cannot encourage Congo’s 81.4 million citizens. They have enough troubles of their own. Trade bickering between Kenya and Tanzania has to resolved through mature negotiation, enough to attract the enormously resource-rich country.
5. To focus clearly on the benefits: Franz Fanon said that Africa is shaped like a gun with Congo as the trigger, which trigger if it bursts would make the whole of Africa explode. That explosion need not be negative. It should be a development explosion and let it start in the EAC.
6. Many powerful forces are operating in the DR Congo including multinationals, South Africa and China. This is neither a secret nor is it necessarily bad. By joining and operating within the EAC, DR Congo would get a better perspective and world view from which to deal with the rest of its international trade partners. Congo’s situation was even worse when it was the private property of King Leopold of Belgium. It endured the kleptocratic tyranny of Mobutu Sese Seko. Things can only get better. The EAC is well placed to help that positive shift.
7. The numbers are simply irresistible. The EAC today has 193 million citizens. DR Congo’s admission would raise that to 275 million people, spanning the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. This large market is to the benefit of all, for the DRC would be able to buy and sell easily to the rest of East Africa, for the benefit of its people. For example, meat in Congolese towns costs more than four times than anywhere else in East Africa.
8. The move would make the harnessing of some idle resources viable with benefits and no loss for DRC, and the region. For example, a power dam at Inga would supply 60,000MW of clean, renewable energy and forever close the debates and hassle of where or not to build hydroelectric dams in East Africa.
9. The mineral resources of DRC and the wider EAC market would make rapid industrialisation of the Congo possible, with skilled manpower from the region also available as a local resource.
10. The entrance of DRC into the EAC in a way makes the idea of a political federation more attractive than it is today when it is regarded with suspicion and scepticism by many. With the possibility of a super rich neighbour getting married into the family, present nationality rivalries would fade in significance faced with the option of forming a super state, because all members would stand to benefit from being part of it than today when some feel they would lose by joining a larger union.
First of all, for the foreseeable future, as long as DRC is outside the EAC, the problem of rebels fighting Congo’s neighbours using its vast forested territories will remain. Second, the governments in the present six member states are too powerful for the good of their own individual countries.
The federal model, which has worked so well in developed large countries, would offer the citizens of the super state breathing space to exploit their talents and energies as the present issues like tribes and religions would be harder to abuse. The guided evolution of blocs like EAC Federation is the biggest hope against the return of Africa to bondage.