The Democratic Republic of Congo has signalled interest in remaining in the Southern African Development Cooperation (SADC), even as it cements its place in the East African Community.
Two months after it joined the EAC, President Felix Tshisekedi this week took over the mantle of SADC, indicating for the first time his country’s desires to remain in a bloc whose role in Kinshasa was mainly security issues.
Tshisekedi succeeded Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi, during the 42nd ordinary summit of heads of state and government of the SADC which brought together a dozen heads of state in Kinshasa for the first time under Tshisekedi rule.
The summit was themed on economic development and industrialisation of the bloc including transformation of agricultural production and the processing of minerals, an indication of the potential of DRC.
But it also touched on the elephant in the room: insecurity in the DRC.
“Allow me to thank our community, SADC, for its solidarity with the Congolese people at a time when our country is the victim of a cowardly and barbaric aggression on the part of its neighbour Rwanda,” Tshisekedi told the audience, referring to Rwanda which it accuses of fanning rebel activity but which Kigali denies.
“Although particular emphasis will be placed on the development of infrastructure,” the condition for successful regional integration within the SADC remains the guarantee of peace and security, without which, “all this vision will be an illusion,” he stressed in his closing speech.
The final communiqué said SADC leaders “expressed their concern and solidarity over the recent security-related events in the eastern part of the DRC.”
Mr Tshisekedi paid tribute to the military personnel from SADC member countries, who are part of the Monusco intervention, deployed in eastern DRC.
“Our heartfelt thanks go to the Republic of South Africa, the Republic of Malawi and the United Republic of Tanzania, whose valiant soldiers are sharing their fate with ours at the cost of the supreme sacrifice so that peace can return to the eastern part of our country,” he said. Among those in attendance were Tanzania President Samia Suluhu and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa.
This was the first time that the Congolese leader had spoken extensively about security issues before his SADC counterparts.
When he came to power in January 2019, Tshisekedi had preferred to turn mainly to the East African Community, even to the point of asking to join the bloc. DRC is now the 7th member of the EAC.
Tshisekedi indicated that his country was in there to reap from economic cooperation. “I would be active in implementing programmes to develop infrastructure and services in the region that is directly linked to our main strategies to stimulate economic integration and eradicate poverty in the SADC.”
The leaders endorsed a theme of Inclusive and Resilient Economic Growth for the 42nd SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government.
The communiqué said SADC will be a peaceful, inclusive, competitive, middle- to high-income industrialised region where all citizens enjoy sustainable economic well-being, justice, and freedom by the year 2030.
“Our targets 2030 as SADC put emphasis on industrialisation. During my days as chairman, I will ensure we foster that goal and especially by utilising our agricultural products to build an industrial economy,” Tshisekedi said.
Like other regional blocs, SADC’s Gross Domestic Product growth contracted by 4.6 percent in 2020, from a growth of 2.1 per cent in 2019, attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic that forced closure of borders and a slow-down of major economic activities.
While economic development is the target of all leaders, SADC’s problems are also internal and external. For example, the global crises such as Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have meant that the region is faced with rising cost of living.
But internally, its troubled DRC is a bother for all.
Reporting by Patrick Ilunga and Beatrice Materu
The Summit also approved and signed the Agreement Amending the SADC Treaty on Transformation of the SADC Parliamentary Forum into a SADC Parliament.
The two-day Summit was graced by President Samia Suluhu (Tanzania), Presidents Cyril Ramaphosa (South Africa), Wavel Ramkalawan (Seychelles), Hage Geingob (Namibia), Lazarus Chakwera (Malawi), Philippe Nyusi (Mozambique) and Emerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe.
King Mswati III of eSwatini, Zambia’s President Hakainde Hichilema, Prithvirajsing Poopun of Mauritius and a leader from Lesotho.
Others were Botswana’s Vice President Ponatshego Kedikilwe, Angola’s Foreign Minister Tete Antonio who represented their heads of state.
Tanzania and DR Congo are also members of the EAC.