Kigali. The Democratic Republic of Congo has applied to join the East African Community in a move that could potentially expand the boundaries of the trading bloc to the Atlantic coast of Africa.
The application comes following months of talks between DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi and Rwanda President Paul Kagame, who chairs the East African Community.
Sources familiar with the diplomatic talks that preceded the formal application say most EAC member states are enthusiastic about DR Congo’s membership.
The DRC officially communicated its intention to join the EAC in a letter to President Kagame dated June 8. Kinshasa said its desire to join the bloc was informed by its increasing trade ties with the region.
In response, President Kagame directed the EAC Secretariat to table DR Congo’s application for discussion at the next Heads of State Summit in November. If it meets the admission requirements, members will vote on its admission.
The potential membership of the Central African country is being viewed as a game-changer, given its natural resources wealth and a huge consumer market of 81 million people.
It is the world’s biggest producer of cobalt, a major component in the manufacture of rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles, and Africa’s main copper producer. It also a major producer of gold, diamonds, uranium, coltan, oil and other precious metals, making it one of the most resource-rich countries in the world.
DR Congo is also host to the world’s second-longest river, the Congo, vast swathes of fertile soil, potentially making it one of the biggest agricultural producers in the world.
DR Congo’s membership in the EAC, if fast-tracked and fully integrated through key infrastructure, also portends a timely pillar not only for the region but also for the bigger Africa Continental Free Trade Area.
“DR Congo’s membership offers the potential of opening a vast trading and communication corridor right across the middle of Africa from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean,” said Jeremiah Owiti, a Nairobi-based policy analyst.
President Tshisekedi has, since his inauguration in January, shown keen interest in the EAC, and has officially visited five member states — Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania. He even attempted to mediate between Rwanda and Uganda.
Ms Patience Mutesi, the Rwanda country director for TradeMark East Africa, welcomed DR Congo’s application, saying a larger EAC market means more opportunities for traders and consumers.
DR Congo offers a market almost half the size of the entire EAC, and will also seek to export to the region.
Data from the Uganda Trade Ministry shows the country exported $398 million’s worth of goods to DR Congo in 2018, and plans to increase that to $2 billion by 2020.