What you need to know:
- Officials of the bloc launch negotiations with Kinshasa, promising to reach conclusion before the March deadline.
- DRC says its application to join the bloc is part of bigger plans to create a large and single common market in Africa.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has begun penultimate steps to be formally admitted into the East African Community (EAC), signalling an additional market of 90 million people for the bloc.
In Nairobi on Monday, officials of the bloc launched negotiations with Kinshasa, promising to reach conclusion before the March deadline when the DRC is expected to be accepted by the Community’s summit as the seventh member.
“The EAC Council of Ministers is fully committed to drive this process to a conclusion; we all must jointly work tirelessly towards this venture,” said Adan Mohamed, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for East African Affairs and the current chairman of the Council of Ministers for the bloc.
Mr Mohamed spoke during the official launch of negotiations at Nairobi’s Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club, where the bloc will be ticking off crucial requirements for Kinshasa to meet, including agreeing to adopt certain laws on trade tariffs, customs and movement of labour to be in harmony with the bloc’s other members.
DRC says its application to join the bloc is part of bigger plans to create a large and single common market in Africa. DRC’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Christophe Lutundula Apala said the country’s population of 92 million has the potential to contribute to expanded market and investment opportunities to achieve a common market.
“We don’t always want to talk about our minerals. I think everybody knows about that,” said Lutundula.
“DRC has a population of 90 million-plus. Those are consumers. We will work in harmony in order to make sure that Africa becomes a common market.”
Free market economy
DRC embraces a free market economy with liberalised trade, financial sector, and investment regime that is compatible with the EAC Treaty requirements.
“By joining the EAC, we also have to offer them something in terms of investment, security, energy, infrastructure projects, climate and ecological issues,” said Mr Lutundula.
The country’s priority for infrastructural development targets links with the EAC and continental networks, mainly in surface transport, telecommunications and civil aviation. He disclosed that the country’s decision to join the EAC would encourage conflict resolution in the Great Lakes region.
“Even though EAC has some issues and conflicts in the eastern part of the country, we think that we can have a joint effort in resolving them. We can encourage each other to make sure that we do things together.”
Mr Mohamed said negotiations between the EAC and DRC will be concluded before the end of this month.
“We received an invitation from the DRC to be part of the EAC in 2017. That journey is still on and this is one of the many steps that need to be undertaken before a new member joins the Community,” said Mohamed.
“There are ten steps in admitting the DRC to the EAC. This is the eighth step and probably one of the most important. If we get it right, we will have a smooth sail in the future.”
Ultimate and critical stage
The EAC-DRC negotiations that would align trade tariffs including the region’s Common External Tariff (CET) with the DRC’s, among other trade processes, would then pave the way for Council of Ministers approval before finally the admission by the EAC Heads of State before March.
“We believe that, in the next 10 days, and certainly before the end of this month, this process will go to the ultimate and critical stage, which is the Council of Ministers, who will approve and forward it to the Heads of State Summit,” Mr Mohamed said.
He added that DRC shares borders with five of the EAC Partner States, namely Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan, and was, therefore, geographically suitable for intra-trade within the regional bloc.
“There is a sense of belonging and attachment to EAC socially, economically, historically, culturally and geographically,” said Mr Mohamed.
“As the Deputy PM mentioned, the agenda for the African continent is one of integrating the whole continent, let alone small sections of it, whether it is west, east or south.”
He said the EAC is in the process of expansion as the DRC would make it the seventh partner state to join the original EAC founding members of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, and which were later joined by Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.
“We have been growing our membership and also have applications from the Republic of Somalia.”