Here’s how to deal with EAC’s defaulters, DR Congo, South Sudan and Burundi

Saturday June 08 2024

By failing to pay the fee at the gate, President Felix Tshisekedi is damaging DRC’s reputation needlessly, and reviving fading stereotypes of the Congolese (men) as fellows who love the fun things in life. ILLUSTRATION | JOSEPH NYAGAH | NMG

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Last week, The EastAfrican told us that members had paid only half of the East African Community’s $103 million budget for the 2023/24 financial year, by May 17. The Democratic Republic of Congo is the lead EAC dead beat. Ever since it joined in 2022, it has not contributed even one bob and owes $14.7 million. Kenya, which pays its dues with one fat cheque at the beginning of the year, is up to date.

Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda have “relatively small balances”, it said, with information indicating that Uganda’s outstanding $960,774 comprised mostly bank balances. Tanzania owed $122,694, which might well be delivery fees.

Though South Sudan President Salva Kiir is the Chairman of the EAC, his country owed $8.6 million. Burundi is as bad. New member Somalia is, apparently, still filling out the paperwork.

DRC’s default is not just bad manners. It is very unAfrican, and not how East Africans run their cons. When you join a club, even if you plan to cheat on your payments, at the start you put on your best behaviour. Even shady young men know it. They wouldn’t go out with a beautiful, young lady, and on the first date they claim they forgot their wallet at home or that their M-Pesa app is malfunctioning. They do that months later, as Burundi and South Sudan did.

Crooked house builders know that too. They will get mabati and cement from a supplier and pay him promptly on the first three occasions. When the supplier gets comfortable, and thinks they are honest, on the fourth occasion, they take double the number of iron sheets and amount of cement, and promise to bring the payment tomorrow. They will never be seen again.

The next day, when the supplier calls to inquire when they are coming by, they will say they have gone to the village to bury an uncle. When he calls them two days later to see if they have returned to the city, he won’t get through. They will have changed their mobile phone number too, for good measure.


DRC needed to have gone for a course in the Jumuiya Swindlers College before joining the EAC. It wouldn’t be there making East African delinquents look so bad.

By failing to pay the fee at the gate, President Felix Tshisekedi is damaging DRC’s reputation needlessly, and reviving fading stereotypes of the Congolese (men) as fellows who love the fun things in life, and strut about groomed and perfumed to the extreme, in flashy clothes with “trousers tied at their chest” (as Kenya President William Ruto once joked and angered Kinshasa), and bright orange fedora hat.

The EAC is a high-maintenance operation, and some drastic reforms need to be undertaken to reduce it to an organisation that runs on $60 million a year. That would take months, if not years. The problem of unpaid subscriptions is for today and needs an immediate solution.

There might be a relatively painless solution. DRC, South Sudan and Burundi all import and export their goods through Dar es Salaam port in Tanzania or Kenya’s key Mombasa port.

There are goods destined for the three countries stranded at these ports. Occasionally, Mombasa holds a public auction and flogs some of the overstayed goods. There is probably a whole load of such goods stranded in Dar es Salaam. As early as next week, both ports can hold a fireside sale of DRC, South Sudan and Burundi goods that haven’t been collected for 90 days.

The proceeds, after deducting their expenses, would be sent to the EAC Secretariat. I suspect it is possible to net between $10 million and $15 million from such sales.

An exception levy of $1 could also be placed on every cargo truck bound for the three defaulters, for six months. About 75 cents of each dollar would be sent to Arusha.

The South Sudanese love their big, expensive Toyota VXs and Range Rovers. An EAC Arrears Redemption charge of $100 could be slapped on each of the big cars and remitted to the secretariat.

South Sudan is right now the only EAC country that exports oil. The murderous war in Sudan, where the 1,500-kilometre pipeline that exports it to the coast passes, has disrupted the flow. It clogged up the pipes in the process. Last week, South Sudan said exports would resume within a fortnight. The EAC could get a cut there too; for every 25 barrels South Sudan exports, it could allocate one to pay its Community dues.

This being East Africa, once levies are charged on DRC, South Sudan and Burundi-bound commercial vehicles, and their overstayed goods auctioned, it could spark an eating frenzy, the likes of which the region hasn’t seen. Some crooks at Dar es Salaam and Mombasa ports could steal most of the money, because the very act of flogging the goods in a punitive fashion would place the proceeds in a grey area.

What, then, might be done? In Kenya, in recent years, the army has been deployed to build things on time and on budget, where civilian contractors would have botched them up. They even got a state meat factory that had become a byword for incompetence and haemorrhaging money and turned it around. They could be handed oversight of the project for about nine months.

It is not clear what extraordinary measures could be undertaken on the Tanzanian side. It would be left in Mama Samia’s hands and prayer.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the "Wall of Great Africans". X@cobbo3