1.Let us first deal with the big cynical view which was among the first to emerge when news came that the Democratic Republic of Congo has applied to join the East African Community – that Rwanda’s leadership wants to score a big point by bringing the giant state into the fold during its chairmanship. Well, if Rwanda is selfishly seeking to boost its stature by recruiting DRC into the EAC, then that kind of selfishness which stands to benefit 275 million people from the present 193 million should be welcomed. What all members should do is to ensure that the spirit and letter of the EAC charter are strictly adhered to all the way.
2.There is also the little matter of whether DRC is in East Africa. Indeed, DR Congo shares borders with FIVE members of the Community – South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. That is more than any other of the EAC does. In that respect, DRC is the most qualified country to join the EAC.
- There are always two sides to a coin. Right now the image of the EAC is less than bright, featuring Rwanda in the chair having uneasy relations with Uganda and Burundi; the Community secretariat in Arusha being bathed in financial scandals and most member states not being too prompt with their contributions. But this is a passing phase that shouldn’t stifle EAC’s ambition to be a leading light for regional integration for the continent. Bringing in Congo makes a big aspirational statement and sets higher targets for all of us.
- The inclusion of DRC, even the process of considering its admission, helps to refocus the community towards more noble and serious goals and the tasks that must be performed to achieving them. Squabbling amongst members certainly cannot be a priority that would encourage the applicant of 81.4 million citizens to join the confusion as if it doesn’t enough troubles of its own. Trade bickering between Kenya and Tanzania has to be set aside permanently and replaced with mature negotiation if the enormously resource-rich applicant is to sustain its consideration to join the family.
- To focus clearly on the benefits: Franz Fanon said that Africa is shaped like a gun with Congo as the trigger, which trigger if it bursts would make the whole of Africa explode. That explosion need not be negative. It should be a development explosion and let it start in the East African Community.
- Many powerful forces are operating in the DR Congo including multinationals, South Africa and China. This is neither a secret nor is it necessarily bad. By joining and operating within EAC, DR Congo would get a better perspective and world view from which to deal with the rest of its international trade partners. Congo’s situation was even worse in the past when it was private property of King Leopold that was policed by a Congo Army which was composed of/commanded by undesirable misfits from European armies, before he ceded it as a colony to Belgium. Its first citizen prime minister was murdered on orders of another state. It endured the kleptocratic tyranny of Mobutu. Things can only get better. The EAC is well placed to help that positive shift.
- The numbers are simply irresistible. The EAC today has some 193 million citizens. DR Congo joining would raise the number overnight to a market of 275 million, spanning from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. This large market is to the benefit of all, for DRC would be able to sell easily to the rest of East Africa, for the benefit of its people. And by buying freely from East Africa, the cost of living in DRC would change dramatically. For example, meat in Congolese towns costs more than four times than anywhere else in East Africa.
- The move would make the harnessing of some idle resources viable with benefits and no loss for DRC and the entire region. For example a power dam at Inga would supply 60,000 MW of clean, renewable energy and forever close the debates and hassle of where or not to build hydro-electric dams in East Africa.
- The mineral resources of DRC and the wider EAC market would make rapid industrialization of the Congo possible, with skilled manpower from the region also available as a local resource. DRC can continue to export its mineral wealth to the rest of the world to earn revenue, but it would also be viable to use some to support local industrialization as a ready market would be available.
- The entrance of DRC into the EAC in a way makes the idea of a political federation more attractive than it is today when it is regarded with suspicion and skepticism by many. With the possibility of the super rich neighbor getting married into the family, present nationality rivalries would fade in significance faced with the option of forming the super state because all members would stand to benefit being part of it than today when some feel they would lose by joining a larger union. First of all, for the foreseeable future, as long as DRC is outside the EAC, the problem of rebels fighting Congo’s neighbors using its vast forested territories will remain. Secondly, the governments in the present six independent member states are too powerful for the good of their own individual countries. The federal model, which has worked so well in developed large countries, would offer the citizens of the super state better breathing space to exploit their talents and energies as the present issues like tribes and religions would be harder to abuse. Of course the federation cannot be crafted in one year. Nor should it be solely entrusted to the six (or seven with DRC included) current political authorities, for it would be dismissed by many without even the benefit of a discussion. But the entrance of DR Congo should place the matter of the federation on the agenda, to be realized fully tomorrow when the children of today will be in charge. For it is not a secret that Africa is in danger of being recolonized in the next two or three generations through the use of economic tools like debt. The guided evolution of strong states like EAC Federation is the biggest hope against the return of Africa to bondage.
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