The Democratic Republic of Congo has begun penultimate steps to be formally admitted into the East African Community, signalling an additional market of 90 million people for the bloc.
In Nairobi on Monday, officials of the bloc launched negotiations with Kinshasa, promising to reach a conclusion before the planned timelines of March this year when the DRC is expected to be rubberstamped by the Community’s Summit as the seventh member.
“The EAC Council of Ministers is fully committed to drive this process to a conclusion. We all must jointly work tirelessly towards this venture,” said Adan Mohamed, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for East African Affairs and the current chairman of the Council of Ministers for the bloc.
Mohamed spoke Monday at the official launch of negotiations at Nairobi’s Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club, where the bloc will be ticking off crucial requirements for Kinshasa to meet, including agreeing to adopt certain laws on trade tariffs, customs, and movement of labour, to be in harmony with the bloc’s members.
And the country says its application to join the bloc is part of bigger plans to create a large and single Common Market in Africa.
DRC’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Christophe Lutundula Apala, said the country’s population of 92 million has the potential to contribute to an expanded market and investment opportunities to achieve a Common Market.
“We don’t always want to talk about our minerals. I think everybody knows about that,” said Mr Lutundula.
“DRC has a population of 90 million-plus. Those are consumers. So there is a market for the region. We will work in harmony in order to make sure that Africa becomes a common market.”
DRC embraces a free market economy with liberalised trade, financial sector, and investment regime that is compatible with the EAC Treaty requirements.
“By joining the EAC, we also have to offer them something in terms of investment, security, energy, infrastructure projects, climate and ecological issues,” said DPM Lutundula.
The country's priority for infrastructural development targets links with the EAC and continental networks, mainly in surface transport, telecommunications and civil aviation.
He disclosed that the country’s decision to join the EAC would encourage conflict resolution in the Great Lakes region.
“Even though EAC has some issues and conflicts in the eastern part of the country, we think that we can have a joint effort in resolving them. We can encourage each other to make sure that we do things together,” Mr Lutundula said.
Mr Mohamed disclosed that the negotiations between the EAC and DRC will be concluded before the end of January, 2022.
“When we received the invitation from the DRC to be part of the EAC in 2017, that journey is still on and this is one of the many steps that need to be undertaken before a new member joins the Community,” said Mohamed.
“There are ten steps in admitting the DRC to the EAC. This is the 8th step and probably one of the most important steps in admitting the DRC into the EAC. If we get it right here, then we will have a smooth sail in the future.”
The EAC-DRC negotiations that would align trade tariffs, including the region's Common External Tariff (CET) with the DRC’s, among other trade processes, would then pave the way for the Council of Ministers’ approval before finally the admission by the EAC Heads of State before March this year.
“We believe that in the next 10 days and certainly before the end of this month, our expectation is that this process will go to the next ultimate critical stage which is the Council of Ministers who will then approve it and then forward to the Heads of State summit.”
Mohamed said DRC shares borders with five of the EAC Partner States—Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan—and is therefore geographically suitable for intra trade within the regional bloc.
“There is a sense of belonging and attachment to EAC socially, economically, historically, culturally and geographically,” said Mr Mohamed.
“As the Deputy PM mentioned, the agenda for the African continent is one of integrating the whole continent, let alone small sections of it, whether it is west, east or south.”
He said the EAC is in the process of expansion. DRC will be the seventh partner state to join, an increase from the three EAC founding members: Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.
“We have been growing our membership and also have applications from the Republic of Somalia.”
- The EAC 21st Ordinary Summit of the EAC Heads of State held on February 27, 2021 considered the application by the DRC to join the EAC and directed the Council of Ministers to expeditiously undertake a verification exercise in accordance with the EAC Criteria for Admission of Foreign States into the EAC.
- The verification exercise was launched by President Felix Tshisekedi of the DRC on June 25, 2021 in Goma.
- Following the launch, the verification team undertook the verification exercise in Kinshasa, DRC, from June 26 to July 5, 2021 with the overall objective of undertaking a verification exercise to establish DRC’s level of conformity with the Criteria for Admission of Foreign States into the EAC in accordance with Article 3 (2) of the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community.