The Democratic Republic of Congo has joined the regional electronic cargo tracking system, a development that promises safer movement of goods, faster collection of trade data and a vital test for their prospects of integration into the East African Community.
The Electronic Cargo Tracking System, a regional Customs monitoring platform, provides real-time tracking of cargo trucks between the Mombasa Port and destinations in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and now the DRC. These are all efforts to minimise travel delays, security risks and dumping.
This platform is supported by Google Maps, Global Positioning System technology and field security teams hired by local revenue agencies to intervene in distress situations faced by cargo trucks, especially criminal attacks.
Trademark EastAfrica has invested more than $70 million in trade facilitation projects in DRC that include empowerment of female market traders and renovation of Customs offices, sources indicated.
A memorandum of Understanding was signed between DRC revenue officials, Trademark EastAfrica and the Uganda Revenue Authority last week to finalise DRC's entry onto the Customs tracking platform.
This could end years of misery for traders affected by incidents of cargo being stolen or lost in transit often in eastern Congo.
The presence of several militia groups scattered across eastern DRC has raised security risks for cross-border trade in the past while corruption and poor roads have compounded the problem.
More than 120 rebel groups operate in eastern DRC due to the absence of solid government structures, considerable mineral wealth and failed peace initiatives. Whereas reliable data on stolen transit cargo reported in DRC is not available, more than a dozen cases of stolen motor vehicles and motor bikes suspected of being ferried to eastern DRC are registered by the Uganda police every month.
Efforts to recover stolen assets undertaken by the Uganda Police and Interpol usually take months to yield fruit. This is blamed on the inefficient bureaucratic structures adopted by the DR Congo authorities.
Inspite of widespread insecurity experienced across eastern DRC, Uganda's exports increased sharply in the past on account of thriving informal trade and increased investments, particularly in mining.
Data compiled by Bank of Uganda shows formal exports destined for the DRC market grew from $152.05 million in 2015 to $177.66 million in 2016.
Uganda's formal exports to DRC similarly increased from $188.98 million in 2017 to $204.37 million in 2018.
In comparison, the total value of informal trade captured between Uganda and DRC rose from $181.35 million in 2015 to $221.27 million in 2016. Informal trade flows between the two countries expanded from $270.63 million in 2017 to $287.05 million in 2018, the data showed. Popular items exported to the DRC include cement, steel bars, cooking oil, soap, bottled beer and maize.
"Many traders have seen cargo get lost without a trace near the border with Uganda. But this system will monitor all cargo trucks entering DRC from Uganda without delay. As a result, traders will save money moving cargo. Currently, a trader needs $1,000 to hire an armed escort to guard cargo from the Uganda border into eastern Congo," said Nzuka Simon Mapengo, DRC ambassador to Uganda.