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EAC Council of Ministers give green light for Democratic Republic of the Congo accession

On November 22 in Arusha, Tanzania, the Council of Ministers of the East African Community (EASC) endorsed the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as its seventh Partner State.

This meeting, chaired by Kenya’s EAC Affairs and Regional Development Cabinet Secretary Adan Mohamed, represents one of the final hurdles for the DRC to secure membership. A final determination on this expansion will be made by EAC Heads of State in the coming months.

This enlargement of the EAC to include the DRC represents an important opportunity for all partners involved. For one, the inclusion of the DRC in the Common East African market creates an important surge in the number of consumers, going from 180 million people to 270 million.

Further, the DRC is an incredibly resource rich territory, with extensive fertile soils and many natural irrigation sources. The DRC may help buttress food shortages caused by insufficiently fertile soils in smaller Partner States, namely Burundi and Rwanda. Importantly, by becoming part of this strong trading block, the DRC may be able to put up a stronger resistance to powerful external forces which have been harvesting these resources.

The DRC also occupies a strategic geographical place on the African continent. It presents interesting market opportunities, opening the EAC trading block to Atlantic markets. It also offers new energy opportunities, precisely with the Inga Falls, where the erection of a hydroelectric dam is envisaged to provide the EAC with a large part of its electrical needs.

Nevertheless, this expansion of the EAC is also fraught with several problems. Firstly, the expansion process has been far from transparent, which begs the question of whether ulterior motives have been driving the EAC’s decision to open its arms to the DRC. The EAC alleges that the DRC adheres sufficiently to the accession criteria comprised in the Treaty for the Establishment of the EAC, which includes acceptance of the Community, adherence to universally acceptable principles of good governance, democracy and the rule of law. Indeed, it has sent a ‘team’ to visit the DRC between June 26 and July 5 precisely to verify the country’s level of conformity to these criteria. However, it is not at all clear how these criteria were measured, or how the reporting team came to its conclusions. The risk involved in a summary assessment of these criteria is to weaken and delegitimise these very principles which the Community seeks to uphold. This links to the second problem, which is that the DRC is an extremely unstable state – over the past 27 years alone, approximately 6 million Congolese have been killed in proxy resource wars. Bringing in the DRC under the EAC umbrella may thus create important instability within the EAC itself. Only time will tell whether this expansion is beneficial for the parties involved.

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