The High-Level Retreat of EAC Heads of State on the Common Market and 22nd Ordinary Summit of EAC Heads of State held on July 21 and 22 in Arusha put forth key recommendations to enhance the implementation of the Common Market Protocol (CMP), one of the four pillars of the EAC’s regional integration process. These include finalising and expediting the roadmap of the integration of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), fast-tracking the verification exercise of Somalia’s admission, and concluding the roadmap for the integration of South Sudan.
DRC’s entry into the EAC is a game-changer, bringing the total number of partner states to seven and increasing the regional bloc’s GDP by 24 per cent from $193 billion to $240 billion. It also elevates the region to one of the continent’s most expansive regional economic communities with 300 million people or about 25 per cent of Africa’s population.
This development speaks directly to the African Union’s Agenda 2063 which envisions “an integrated continent, politically united and based on the ideals of Africa’s renaissance.” But what does this mean for the region and its people?
Not only will this new development expand the geography of the EAC region it will also increase the bloc’s economic size and give it crucial access to the Atlantic Ocean, the world’s busiest trading route.
But the benefit is not just for the bloc but also for DRC as a partner in that it stands to gain significantly from joining EAC as the most integrated regional bloc in Africa, with commendable progress in terms of facilitation of free movement of people and trade, guided by the CMP and EAC’s Customs Union.
The implementation of the CMP has seen the partner states’ governments harmonise immigration procedures and border posts to operate for 24 hours cross border movement of persons and goods. Today, citizens in East Africa can cross borders using their identity documents or a common EAC passport.
International tourists need only one visa to travel between countries in the region, unlocking travel bottlenecks and attracting tourists. DRC is expected to ease travel for EAC citizens as guided by the agreed roadmap of its integration with EAC, while the same is expected from other Partner States.
Expansion of labour migration arrangements is another benefit. This includes simplified work permit processes and a more effective labour market that has the potential to expand job opportunities for millions of youths entering the labour market in the region each year.
In efforts to implement the CMP, EAC has encouraged partner states to remove barriers to access employment across the partner states such as work permits. Rwanda and Kenya have already done this. EAC partner states have also developed frameworks to enhance mutual skills recognition and portability of social security benefits. Any new partner state will have to abide by these rules and incorporate these standards.
The EAC’s growing intra-regional trade worth $5.9 billion presents opportunities for the DRC market. As a mineral-rich country, the DRC stands to benefit from the EAC’s expanded market while greatly contributing to it.
The benefit of the bloc’s integration agenda is well summarised by President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, who stated that integration consists of three things, namely: prosperity for people and their families through bigger markets; strategic security, and brotherhood amongst the people of the region.
Yet, regional integration is not without challenges. Among these is the need for the alignment of national systems and different levels of infrastructural development between partner states.
Opportunities and challenges
The EAC partner states have committed to harmonising their laws, regulations and standards. DRC is also expected to harmonise its national systems to fit within EAC’s integration pillars.
Better infrastructure can help expand One-Stop Border Posts across the EAC, advance digitisation and establish interoperability of immigration systems, and strengthen health systems. All of these are critical to facilitating smooth cross-border movements of people, goods and services, which is central to the regional integration efforts.
These opportunities and challenges are outlined in a flagship report due to be jointly published by the EAC, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the International Organisation for Migration in early 2023.
It identifies a number of points and policy suggestions to address some of the challenges to advancing the mobility dimensions of regional integration.
EAC is taking a holistic approach to development to ensure freedoms envisioned in the CMP are realised. Social, political, and economic pillars must be robust for its nations to develop. When seven partner states share these beliefs, substantial transformation can occur.
Dr Peter Mathuki is Secretary-General of the East African Community, and Mohamed Abdiker is East and Horn of Africa Regional Director at the International Organisation for Migration.