On July 11, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) became a fully fledged member of the East African Community (EAC) after depositing with the Secretary-General the instruments of ratification to the regional bloc. And with that single act, the EAC became Africa’s largest trading bloc, with borders stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic. It also accounts for nearly a quarter of Africa’s population.
At the function to mark the DRC’s official entry Congolese Vice Premier and Minister for Foreign Affairs Christophe Lutundula Apala Pen’ Apala was in top form with a great sense of occasion.
“Somehow, we can say the DRC has joined their people,” he said of his country’s accession to the EAC before committing join “the various areas of co-operation in all the sectors, programmes and activities that promote the four pillars of regional integration.”
The DRC should be welcomed to East Africa, not only because of its infinite potential, but also because of the possibility that it can fundamentally change the way we conduct business in the Community. As the most naturally endowed member, Kinshasa will be a magnet for all seeking new frontiers. That confers immense soft power on the new kid on the block to initiate change and shape behaviour.
For inspiration, Kinshasa has compelling lessons closer home. It is being welcomed with the same euphoria that greeted the accession of South Sudan to the EAC some six years ago. Juba has since proved to be a source of misplaced hope and everything a member of the EAC should not be. It is a deadweight to the Community. Besides dragging its feet on key benchmarks, it is in arrears on the financial obligations to its partners and cannot guarantee security of its citizens and visitors alike.
In some respects, such as security, the DRC faces challenges similar to South Sudan’s. But Kinshasa should not allow itself to be faulted for lack of will. The first test for the new member will be its choice of representatives to the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) and the process that delivers them.
The regional assembly has become a reflection of the region’s charred domestic politics that is costing valuable time and resources. The choice of delegates of some member states has not been guided by a desire to give the regional body capacity, but to reward a few cronies. Uganda’s ruling party has, for instance, refused to nominate new flag bearers. Many of Kenya’s delegates are barely in the House because they are back home either campaigning for elective office or supporting the bids of other players.
If it is to deliver on regional ambitions in a timely manner, the EAC needs East Africa’s best brains not just in the assembly but also at the Secretariat. The DRC can be the spirit of change by first denouncing the old wisdom of doing as Romans do, when in Rome. Its peers are hardly the best example, and Kinshasa needs to chart a new course. It should delegate competent individuals who can represent Congolese interests effectively and, in the process, give the body a renewed sense of mission and urgency.