- By Peter Mwangangi
- Business Reporter for BBC Africa, Nairobi
The Democratic Republic of the Congo joined the East African Community (EAC) as the seventh member, massively expanding the territory of this trading bloc, giving it access to the Atlantic Ocean and dramatically increasing the number of French speakers. in what was initially a club of former British colonies.
What changes immediately?
East African Community (EAC) heads of state approved DR Congo’s admission to the bloc at a summit meeting on Tuesday, but although the country has officially become a member , not much can change immediately.
Congolese lawmakers have yet to ratify EAC laws and regulations before they come into force.
Not to be missed on BBC Africa:
Congolese citizens wishing to travel to the other member countries – Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda – without a visa may have to wait a little longer, as full integration into the EAC may take months or even a year.
For example, it took South Sudan four months to join the treaty community in April 2016 and become a full member of the EAC in August of the same year.
Why does DR Congo want to join the‘EAC ?
DR Congo applied for membership in 2019, hoping to improve trade and political ties with its East African neighbors.
It will allow Congolese citizens to travel freely in other countries and trade will become much faster, simpler and cheaper, which should benefit businesses and consumers in all countries.
The country shares borders with all EAC members except Kenya and hopes to attract more investors from the region.
Joining the bloc gives DR Congo greater access to facilities such as the Indian Ocean ports of Dar es Salaam and Mombasa.
Import taxes for goods recognized as being made in DR Congo will be waived or greatly reduced upon entry into other countries, while transporting goods will become much cheaper.
“We have been waiting for this announcement for a long time. We are very happy,” Ley Molo Ley, a Congolese trader living near the Ugandan border, told the BBC.
It is currently not easy for Congolese businessmen to travel to Uganda, he said: “For a Congolese to obtain travel documents to visit Uganda, he must pay $45 DR Congo side of the border. Then when he gets to the Ugandan side, he has to pay $50 for a visa. Then there’s a fee for a Covid-19 test, so in total you pay around $120.”
And for the other members?
Roman Waema, president of the Kenya Long Distance Truck Drivers and Allied Workers Union, is eagerly awaiting the end of the interminable wait he currently has to endure to enter DR Congo.
“Currently, we are facing many problems, such as queuing to obtain an entry visa to the DRC, waiting several days for our goods to be cleared at the border, which leads to considerable parking and storage costs, among other things, before arriving at our final destination,” he said.
The process of transporting goods across borders should become much simpler. Currently, authorities at border points all use different systems.
“Clearance of goods will be faster. Once the one-stop border post opens, customs officers from Uganda and DRC will sit in the same building to clear goods and people,” says Guma Morris, who oversees the office. from the Uganda Revenue Authority at the Mpondwe border.
The inclusion of the DRC consumer market, which has nearly 90 million people, will expand the EAC market to nearly 300 million people and open the bloc to the Congolese economy, which is rich in natural resources. all sorts.
Dr Abel Kinyondo, an economist at the University of Dar es Salaam, believes the inclusion of DR Congo will boost the bloc’s bargaining power globally.
“Numbers matter in international trade – adding the DRC economy to the community means increasing purchasing power,” he says.
EAC General Secretary Peter Mathuki is very enthusiastic. “We are neighbors of the DRC, but we don’t trade much with it, simply because there is no framework. ‘East, like Zambia and Asia,” he told the BBC.
“Therefore, we look forward to putting in place a mechanism that will improve trade between us and the DRC.”
In theory, East African countries could access West Africa and the Atlantic Ocean through the DRC, but the country’s road and rail networks would need to be massively upgraded first. The only way to cross this vast country, which is two-thirds the size of Western Europe, is currently by plane.
This potential expansion of trade links between the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic would help develop the economic potential of the region as the continent strives to implement the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
What are the challenges?
It will not be easy to integrate such a vast and chaotic country into the rest of the EAC.
The country’s poor infrastructure and insecurity have been a matter of concern for the EAC Partner States.
“If you look at the border crossings that enter or border the DRC, once you get to those borders, the infrastructure literally stops,” says Damali Ssali, a trade expert.
“Even the infrastructure that is supposed to catalyze trade at the border is not as good as when you compare with the other countries. roads are very bad.”
And then there is insecurity.
In December 2021, Ugandan troops entered DR Congo at the invitation of the Congolese government to help eliminate the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), one of the many armed groups wreaking havoc in the country’s rich east. in resources.
“Insecurity restricts trade – however, more formal trade between the EAC and the DRC could actually reduce conflict in the eastern part of the DRC, as it would reduce smuggling through greater cooperation in various areas, including customs, trade and security,” says Penina Simba, trade consultant.
What language la VSSHE will useshe ?
English and Swahili are currently the official languages of the East African Community, although there has been talk of introducing French, which is spoken in Rwanda and Burundi.
The official languages of DR Congo are Swahili, French, Lingala, Kituba (Kikongo) and Tshiluba. According to experts, the multilingual nature of the region should be seen as an opportunity, not an obstacle.
Efforts have been made to promote the widespread use of Swahili, especially after the African Union adopted it as an official working language in February 2022. However, some regions, such as western DR Congo and parts from other EAC states, do not speak it.
“In the future, we hope that the ECA will be multilingual, which could even lead to greater interaction between the citizens of the ECA and the French-speaking countries of Central Africa,” Mr. Simba said.
You might also be interested in: