Heads of state have endorsed the admission of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the East African Community, making it EAC’s seventh partner state.
At the 18th Extraordinary Heads of State Summit held on Wednesday and chaired by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, the leaders directed the Council of Ministers to begin negotiations with Kinshasa to pave way for its admission into the bloc.
“A key part of our deliberations was to progress the aspirations of our brothers and sisters in the DRC to join us in the EAC. I consider this a testimony of not only the success of the EAC but also the opportunities that remain untapped,” said President Kenyatta during the virtual summit.
He added that Kinshasa’s impending admission is an affirmation of the region’s efforts to deepen integration and widen cooperation.
The meeting featured Presidents Kenyatta, Samia Suluhu Hassan (Tanzania), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) and Paul Kagame (Rwanda). Evariste Ndayishimiye of Burundi was represented by Vice President Prosper Bagombanza while South Sudan’s Salva Kiir was represented by the Minister for EAC Affairs Deng Alor Kuol.
The Summit also considered a proposal to amend sections of the EAC Treaty on the rules and procedure for meetings under the consensus rule.
“The summit ... directed the Secretariat to convene an extraordinary meeting of the Sectoral Council on Legal and Judicial Affairs to deliberate and advise on this proposal for consideration by the next summit,” President Kenyatta said.
For the admission of DRC, a verification process was launched by President Felix Tshisekedi on June 25, 2021 in Goma. The EAC verification team undertook the exercise in Kinshasa, from June 26 to July 5.
“The overall objective was to establish DRC’s level of conformity with the Criteria for Admission of Foreign States into the EAC and in accordance with Article 3(2) of the EAC Treaty” said Adan Mohamed, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for EAC and Regional Development.
Last month, the 44th Extraordinary Meeting of the Council approved the verification mission report and referred it to the Summit for consideration.
On Wednesday, the heads of state directed the Council of Ministers to undertake negotiations with the DRC in a three-step process.
“One can confidently say DRC is three steps away from admission to the EAC,” said Mohamed, chairperson of the Council of Ministers.
There are 10 steps to admit a member into the EAC. So far the DRC has completed seven.
“The first step the council is mandated to do is to carry out negotiations at senior, permanent/principal secretary and ministerial levels scheduled for January to February, 2022,” Mr Mohammed said.
The negotiations involve various sectors, including political, legal and institutional affairs, infrastructure, productive and social sectors and economic affairs and trade.
“The second step is the consideration of the negotiations report by the Extraordinary Council early next year,” CS Mohamed explained. “The third and final step is the consideration of the recommendations of council and decision on admission of DRC into the EAC at the Summit, which is scheduled sometime early next year.”
DRC will officially be admitted by April 2022.
While welcoming the DRC, President Museveni said he was pleased that trade was improving within the region.
“I am very happy today. We approved the process for the admission of the DRC into the Community. This is because Congo is really part of East Africa historically, ” said President Museveni.
“They speak Swahili, are similar to our tribes here and it is colonialism which had kept Congo in another arrangement and now that Africa got freedom, I am glad we are sorting out all those distortions. The people we are integrating are brothers.” President Kagame welcomed the DRC and called for joint efforts to improve the institutional efficiency and cost effectiveness of the bloc.
President Samia said the leaders had given directives to expedite the remaining processes for DRC.
“We all know the importance of the DRC in joining our community as all partner states have known their close cooperation by either bordering or having a trading relationship which will enhance the prosperity of our people in the region. Moreover, DRC is only joining her brothers and sisters,” said President Samia.
Through his Vice President Bagombanza, Burundi President Ndayishimiye commended the stage arrived at to admit the DRC into the bloc.
“We are pleased to note that neighbouring countries are applying to join our EAC,” said Mr Bagombanza.
“Burundi supports the enlargement of the community by accommodating other members... We believe that the admission of the DRC into EAC will strengthen the community and allow it to position itself strategically.”
South Sudan welcomed the removal of visa fees by both Kenya and Uganda saying it will allow free movement of people across the region.
The admission of the DRC is expected to trigger infrastructure development, increase trade and reduce conflicts, CS Mohamed said.
“DRC is a big market and a rich market at that. Ours is to make sure that cargo from Mombasa and Dar es Salaam to DRC is increased. One day the SGR is going to reach there,” Mr Mohamed said.
EAC plans to construct a railway linking Tanzania’s Port of Dar es Salaam to the eastern DRC via Burundi.
During a state visit to Tanzania in October by Burundi’s president, the two countries signed multi-billion infrastructure projects, among them the construction of roads and a standard gauge railway.
“We agreed to link the two countries by constructing the 280km railway line from Uvinza- Msongati- Kitega,” said President Samia.
The DRC will benefit enormously by joining the East African Community. These benefits will include the free movement of people to the rest of the bloc, as well as the transportation of goods to and from the Dar es Salaam and Mombasa ports.