8 February 2019

East Africa: How Congo Entry Into EAC Could Change the Game

Kampala — DR Congo has once again expressed intentions to join the East African Community (EAC) after the country's newly elected president, Mr Felix Tshisekedi, made the declaration on Tuesday.

This was during a State visit to Kenya where he met President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga.

It is not the first time that DR Congo, which enjoys political and economic ties with the six partner states, has expressed such sentiments.

In 2016, former president Joseph Kabila suggested the same while on a visit to Tanzania. Whether it will come to pass this time is a question of time.

If DR Congo joins the community, it will become the seventh partner state after South Sudan.

In expressing his country's intentions to join the regional bloc, President Tshisekedi said DR Congo hoped to deepen its economic ties with the region. It is through economics that DR Congo's integration makes most sense to the EAC.

EAC partner states have a combined population of more than 150 million citizens. DR Congo is estimated to be home to 85 million people and if it was to come on board, the population of the regional bloc would jump to about 235 million people.

The GDP of the partner states will also jump from a combined more than $146b (Shs53 trillion) to about $183b (Shs67 trillion).

Intra-regional trade within the EAC is currently very low standing at just less than 20 per cent. With DRC in the picture the volumes are expected to increase from the current figures. The EAC Secretariat, draft trade and investment report of 2017 indicates that the total value of intra-EAC trade fell by 14.6 per cent to $4.4b (Shs16.5 trillion) in 2016, from $5.1b (Shs19.1 trillion) in 2015.

The EAC integration is anchored on four pillars, including the Customs Union, the Common Market, the Monetary Union and Political Federation.

It is the Customs Union and the Common Market that have so far made some serious headway among the existing partner states.

Under the Customs Union, EAC states have agreed to establish free trade on goods and services among themselves and agreed on a common external tariff where imports from countries outside the EAC zone are subjected to the same tariff when sold to any partner state.

However, goods moving freely within the EAC must comply with the EAC rules of origin and with certain provisions of the Protocol for the Establishment of the East African Community Customs Union.

With DR Congo integrated as a partner state, the vast country will be able to move its goods and services in the other partner states without the restrictions that presently exist.

In the just concluded DRC elections, for example, Uganda's printing industry reaped big from printing campaign materials for Eastern Congo despite the existing barriers.

Kenya, with the largest economy in the region, appears to have already set eyes on the country even in the absence of the EAC agenda.

"Our partnership will ensure that the countries achieve our founding fathers' dream of a stable, secure and prosperous African continent. We are ready to partner in building infrastructure, sharing skills in the extractive industry and in many other areas of mutual benefit," President Kenyatta was quoted by the Daily Nation.

But Ugandan companies like Mukwano Group and such corporations across the region are expected to benefit more with DRC's entry.

Some of the sectors the country will be tap in under the Customs unionare agriculture and food security, health, immigration and labour.

The Common Market under the EAC implies that partner states keep a liberal stance towards the free movement of goods, free movement of persons, right of establishment, right of establishment, right of residence, free movement of services and capital.

Partner states are also moving from paper passports to digital versions in compliance with international standards.

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