Congolese cautiously optimistic as DRC joins East African bloc
Wednesday March 30 2022
The Democratic Republic of Congo was officially admitted as the seventh member state of the East African Community on Tuesday, expanding the bloc’s market to 280 million people, spanning the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean.
President Felix Tshisekedi addressing the virtual 19th extraordinary summit of the heads of state, said the membership represents mutual benefits.
“It will allow the reduction of telecommunication costs with neighbouring countries... the increase of commercial activities; the facilitation of the mobility of citizens; the reduction of customs tariffs for goods received at the port of Mombasa, in Kenya and the port of Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania,” he said.
“This membership will also allow the application of the community’s collective security pact and the enhanced pooling of forces against the activism of local and foreign armed groups as well as terrorism,” he added.
He even proposed the creation of an institution within the EAC to address the environment, natural resources and mining.
Read: DR Congo joins East African bloc
But Tshisekedi’s optimism is not shared across the vast 90 million people country. While some citizens see the potential to contribute to an expanded market and investment opportunities, others are cautiously optimistic.
Dady Saleh, a professor of economics, said that given the Congolese economy is a net importer, the local industry is bound to face stiff competition that could undermine local production.
“If you look at the economic cycle, we are not well off on the production side. We are below the regional average. We have few distribution structures from a logistical point of view. We are dependent on the outside. In my opinion, the Congolese economy is not yet ready to join the East African Community. In the current state of the Congolese economy, in the long term, this will inevitably destroy our production capacity,” he said, adding: “The other countries in the EAC will produce at a lower price than us. As a result, our products will be more expensive and will no longer be consumed.”
Prof Saleh said the decision-makers need to “examine the issue in-depth, rather than just seeing the political aspect of this membership.”
Nicaise Kibel Bel, a security expert based in Goma, in restive eastern DRC, opined that “the DRC does not have much to expect from other countries in the East African Community.” The country, he said, “must manage to change the balance of power by our demographic weight and resources”.
He, however, backs the membership.
“For decades, Kinshasa has been a distant city for the people of the country’s east compared to Kampala, Kigali or Nairobi. Trade and exchanges are more with neighbouring countries than with Kinshasa. It is in our interest to join in order to know what is going on there,” he said.
Akilimali Chomachoma, a journalist based in Goma, echoed Mr Bel’s sentiments saying, “To travel from Goma to Kinshasa and back, you have to spend more than $450 on plane tickets, while to go to Rwanda from Goma, you just need $5 and $75 to go to Kampala.”
Some provinces in eastern DRC have easy access via roads to East African countries, while to reach the capital Kinshasa and other western provinces, the only way is by plane, with expensive fares.
DRC borders five EAC member states: Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan. Only Kenya does not share a land border.