East African Community (EAC) leaders have recommended that imminent negotiations paving way for DR Congo’s admission into the bloc be undertaken with speed and efficiency.
This was as the EAC Heads of State on Wednesday approved the process of DR Congo’s admission into the bloc soon after a closed session in which they discussed a report of the Council of Ministers on the admission of the country into the six-member regional economic community.
Council is the policy making organ of the Community.
The Summit directed the ministers for regional affairs to expeditiously undertake negotiations with the DR Congo in accordance with the EAC procedures for admission of new members.
— East African Community (@jumuiya) December 22, 2021
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta—who is also the Chairperson of the Summit, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Tanzania’s Samia Suluhu Hassan and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, met virtually during the bloc’s 18th extraordinary Summit. Burundi’s Vice President Prosper Bazombanza and South Sudan’s EAC Minister, Deng Alor Kuol, represented their respective countries.
Speaking after the closed session, Kagame said: “Rwanda welcomes the progress made with regards to the admission in the East African Community of the Democratic Republic of Congo. We look forward to the prompt conclusion of the remaining admission procedures.”
In her maiden appearance at the Summit as Tanzania’s leader, President Suluhu noted that “we all know the importance” of DR Congo joining the bloc as all partner states have long and close collaboration – by either bordering or having trade relations which “will enhance prosperity of our people and the region.”
In his closing remarks as EAC Chairperson, President Kenyatta noted that despite the challenges the region continues to face, he is personally encouraged by the fact that “our quest for greater solidarity” and shared prosperity within the region has continued to deepen.
Regarding the DR Congo’s admission, Kenyatta noted that it is a testimony of not only the success of the bloc but also “the opportunities that remain untapped.”
He added: “This is also an affirmation of our efforts to deepen integration and widen cooperation as happily captioned by the theme of this Summit.”
By DR Congo joining the EAC, the bloc will open the corridor from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, as well as North to South, hence expanding the economic potential of the region, a document seen by The New Times last month indicates.
The document containing a summary of findings of the verification exercise launched by Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi in June, also notes that as regards the potential to strengthen integration within the region, DR Congo has bilateral and multilateral cooperation arrangements with regional countries in various areas that include customs, infrastructure, productive and social sectors.
In addition, DR Congo’s population of 92 million has the potential to contribute to expanded market and investment opportunities, and its macroeconomic indicators “are not far from those of EAC Partner States.”
Procedure for admission
The procedure for admission of the DR Congo entails four stages: a verification exercise; negotiations with the country on its admission to the EAC directed by Summit; eventual admission; and the final deposition of the instrument of acceptance of the terms of admission by the country within six months of its admission to the Community.
From June 28 to – July 12, a verification team was deployed in the country and it, later, submitted its report on time. The verification team submitted its report to the Council of Ministers last month.
What will follow now includes: negotiations at senior, PS and ministerial levels between January and February next year; consideration of the negotiations report by the extraordinary Council of Ministers, by March next year; and consideration of the recommendations of Council and decision on admission of DR Congo into the EAC by the Extra Ordinary Summit, by April 11, 2022.
As per the roadmap, so far, EAC Secretary General Peter Mathuki noted, the Community has undertaken seven out of the 10 agreed steps towards the admission of the DR Congo into the bloc “and now we have made progress.”
The negotiation process
The role of the negotiations with the DR Congo is to establish its readiness to comply with the set six criteria as stipulated under the EAC Treaty and the bloc’s procedure for admission.
The six criteria include: acceptance of the Community as set out in the Treaty; adherence to universally acceptable principles of good governance, democracy, the rule of law, observance of human rights and social justice; potential contribution to the strengthening of integration within the region; geographical proximity to and inter-dependence between the foreign country and partner states; establishment and maintenance of a market driven economy; and social and economic policies being compatible with those of the bloc.
The imminent negotiations will also take into account the country profile of the DR Congo and establish, among others, its level of compatibility with the EAC’s stages of development in trade liberalization and development; co-operation in investment and industrial development; coordination in monetary and financial matters; development of infrastructure and services; development of human resources; and the development of agriculture and natural resources.
In February, the 21st ordinary meeting of the Summit, also held virtually, had directed the Council of Ministers to expedite the process to admit the DR Congo into the regional bloc.
The process started when Tshisekedi on June 8, 2019, wrote to the then EAC Chairman, Kagame, expressing his country’s wish to be a member of the regional bloc.
Quorum rule amendment deferred
Besides discussion to admit DR Congo, the Summit also considered amendment of the Quorum Rule of the Summit of EAC Heads of State, and deferred pertinent discussions to the next Ordinary Summit in Arusha, Tanzania, next year.
The issue of amendment of the quorum rule of the Summit was particularly important because whenever any leader was unavailable, a Summit would be postponed and thus delaying progress on key decisions and projects of the region.