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Why a peaceful DRC is critical for East Africa Regional Market.

On 8th of April this year, The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) formally joined the East African Community (EAC) after the signing of the Treaty of the Accession of the DRC into the Community in Nairobi, Kenya. This happened after the Chairperson of the Summit of EAC Heads of State, H.E. President Uhuru Kenyatta, signed the Treaty of Accession with the President of DRC, H.E. Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, at State House, Nairobi.

Other heads of states like Paul Kagame of Rwanda, YK Museveni of Uganda present at this historic event welcomed the new born country of the EAC and pledged commitment to work together as a region to promote trade, good governance and unity in the region. DRC now has up to 29th September, 2022 to undertake internal and constitutional processes to ratify the Treaty and deposit the instruments of ratification with the Secretary-General.

The DRC admission excited most of us as it provides a wider market for our products and services under the removal of non-tariff barriers on free movement of people, goods and services across the region which has boosted trade and strengthened people-to-people relations thereby enabling East Africans to harness the comparative strength of each member state for the benefit of all.

DRC has for a long time been facing security crisis and the consequences have been devastating for the Congolese people with over 5 million displaced from their homes more than any other African country. In eastern Congo alone, there are more than four rebel groups operating in that particular region, and in just a few weeks back, we have seen the M23 rebel group announcing the capture of Bunangana, a border town between Uganda and Congo. Before this launch by M23 rebels, we had Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) operating in the same region (Eastern Congo) up to when Uganda and DRC launched a joint operation to hunt these rebels which has registered a numerous victories.

The potential opportunities that a stable and peaceful Congo could bring to the East Africans are unbelievable. The country is blessed with natural resources, diamonds, gold coltan, uranium, tin and oil just to name a few. It is Africa’s biggest copper producer and the world’s largest source of cobalt a metal that has tripled in value in the past 2 years, given the increased demand for electric cars.

This new born baby of East African Community is a home to the world’s largest rainforest, which serves as a significant carbon sink for greenhouse gases. Its rivers provide a hydropower potential that could power contribute to the lighting of East Africa. It’s blessed with over 80 million hectares of arable land and favorable East African climate conditions that can facilitate Agriculture to feed the Region.

When you clearly analyze East African Exports to Democratic Republic of Congo, you realize that there has been a drastic volume decrease in the years of 2019 to 2021 for all products for example, In milling industries (wheat), in 2019, EAC exported goods worth 226 billion, which reduced to 115 billion in 2020 and 58billion in 2020 due to security crisis in the country. Other exports like sugar and sugar confectionaries, articles of iron and steel, construction materials like cement and lime, mineral oils have the same trend. All this is attributed to insurgencies that have made Congo unsafe for trade and business.

The interventions made by single-member countries like Uganda prioritizing the Road construction connecting the two countries will double trade between these two countries, the East African Community commitments like Customs Union and Common market, will open more opportunities for the region to strengthen trade and investment and our social-cultural ties. The standard gauge railway project backed by containerization will improve volumes transported to and from will bring life to the impassable Congo.

Security interventions that were launched soon like deployment of East African Force to fight the economic destabilizers of DRC, are strategic decisions which member states should ensure are implemented to create a conflict-free region that attracts investment and enhances trade. Intrigue between countries that has been a serious concern in breeding conflicts should be addressed at regional level as it provides a fair systematic platform to neutralize egos of leaders.

East African Institutions like Parliament, Ministries and secretariats of the community should be strengthened and empowered to ensure that the interests of East African people are served and by keeping Congo free of attacks from rebels is one way to ensure safety of people and property, uninterrupted trade and prosperity for all East African people.

Img Src: BBC

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Written by Rukundo Paul Rwabihurwa

University Lecturer

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