When Democratic Republic of Congo joined the East African Community (EAC) in April, there was jubilation in the region over prospects of more trade and other vital ties. Given its vast market of nearly 90 million people, a stable and peaceful Congo would be a desirable addition to the vast economic bloc comprising Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan. The newest member of the bloc has been struggling to boost economic ties to bolster trade and investments.
However, the tension building up between DRC and Rwanda casts a shadow of gloom on the expanded market. The Congolese authorities have accused the Rwandan military of aiding a rebel group, M23, to invade a strategic town, Bunagana, in North Kivu on the border with Uganda, an accusation Kigali has denied.
The killing of a Congolese soldier in an exchange of fire at a border post between DRC and Rwanda is likely to further escalate tensions. The Congolese soldier is said to have opened fire in the direction of the border post, sparking the exchange in which he was shot dead. Eastern Congo has been the battlefield for scores of armed groups fighting the Kinshasa administration. While the rest of the country has enjoyed relative stability, scores of rebel groups continue to wreak havoc in eastern Congo.
M23 gained notoriety in 2012, when it briefly captured the key town of Goma, an important commercial hub with a population of about a million people. It took the joint efforts of UN troops and the DRC army to dislodge them from the town.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has called for urgent deployment of the regional East African Standby Force (EASF) in DRC to quell the violence. On Wednesday, President Kenyatta, the current chair of the EAC Summit, said he had urged his peers in the region to help find lasting peace in the DRC.
Without peace in the region, trade and economic progress will remain elusive.