Eventual DRC membership in EAC will strengthen its key institutions

29Mar 2022
The Guardian
Eventual DRC membership in EAC will strengthen its key institutions

RECENT reports say that ministerial committees working on preparations for admission of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the East African Community (EAC) have made tremendous progress in the past few months.

Their work was ignited towards the end of last year when the EAC Summit accepted a proposal for the country to join the easterly bloc as its newest member, giving the period of one year for the preparations to be completed. Then the ministers report back to the summit.

From what the reports affirm, DRC is more or less ready to jump the gun, as it did not need a calendar year to complete its preparations, such that the EAC Secretariat was saying it was ready to present a case for admission as early as March 29, well ahead of the time frame provided. This can be understood as the Secretariat works closely with business lobbies which have for years waited to trade with the six countries in the block on a different basis, as DRC has borders with all the members except Kenya. Businessmen in DRC already know whom to contact in which country for what joint ventures, in trade or investments, etc.

Other than DRC business groups there are quite a number of business interests among the member states who have a keen interest in expanding activities to DRC, and a simplified trade regime like the single customs area is precisely that they need. Surprisingly a country like South Sudan has been on board for close to six years now but it has yet to fully adhere to the single customs territory, not withstanding that the member states have unregulated spheres like trucking. Whether goods are taken from ports of entry to the actual destination inland or hand over consignments at border points has been a moot point.

Adding DRC to this mix changes a good number of things, for instance annual contributions to the EAC Secretariat and what each country can either afford or there is a flat rate to be paid by member states. Here again there are two fairly weak EAC members who joined a bit late, respectively and it is wholly unlikely that DRC adds to the number, and instead it appears to be joining the bigger original member countries, diminishing the relative importance of the smaller states, and altering the power play between the bigger countries. It fundamentally alters the idea of an EAC common market, and its customs sphere.

When the number of big EAC partner states is increased, chances of plots and bickering between two of them holding back progress are diminished, and the rewards or benefits for setting up clear rules are enhanced when the trading sphere is substantially widened. So EAC affairs immediately become more complicated and less attuned to bilateral bickering within the partner state system, and more rule-based owing to this complexity. That is what progressive and free market minded observers are hoping for, that big stakeholders in any of the partner states will count less on the country using a veto on some detail, etc.