At almost the exact time that DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi wrote to current East African Community chair President Paul Kagame, saying his country wants to the join the regional bloc, it exported something deadly across its border to Uganda.
Recently two Ugandans died of Ebola, after a family of Congolese-Ugandans travelled to DRC to care for an elder suffering from the disease, and returned home with the virus.
The current Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is the second worst after the West Africa epidemic of 2014-2016, in which more than 11,000 people died.
More than 2,000 cases of Ebola have been recorded in the country, with more than 1,300 people dying of the disease since August.
The Ebola-from-DRC couldn’t have come at a “better” time, because it actually helped make the argument for why Congo should be in the EAC. Uganda, having had its own battles with Ebola in the past, coupled with a relatively enlightened policy attitude toward tackling the disease, is a continental leader of sorts in dealing with the virus.
Remote from the capital Kinshasa, and thus thinly – and badly – governed by the centre, eastern DRC can in the long-term benefit from the knowledge, the infrastructure and money that especially Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya can bring to it in health and other sectors.
Despite that, the case that is being made for DRC joining is mainly an economic one. With close to 90 million people, and the most resource-rich country in the world, there are a lot of mouth-watering stories about how, if admitted, it would help usher in an era of great regional wealth.
The EAC already has considerable trade with DRC. The Rwanda-DRC Goma-Rubavu border is probably the only automated land crossing on the continent.
But the trade dynamics are likely to change little with a DRC entry into the EAC. It will be no different than Burundi and South Sudan who, hobbled by conflict, have failed to cash in on the fruits of a bigger East African market.
However, even with their troubles, Burundi and South Sudan have still brought value to the region, because of what they bring to the EAC business card.
Right now the East African card reads that it is a six-member bloc with nearly 180 million people.
Without Burundi and South Sudan, it would be a four-member bloc with 156 million people; still something, but less impressive.
With DRC, it will be a seven-member bloc with 260 million people. Kenyan companies, especially the banks, which are very good at spinning the East African story, would say they serve a region of 260 million consumers or potential customers.
When you are talking to investors in New York and London and throw around numbers like that, you look good.
Most big global businesses take a long term view, and looking 20 years ahead, they will see an EAC with a peaceful Burundi, South Sudan, and a stable DRC – with a population of 156 million at that point.
They may look like basket cases, but right now Burundi, South Sudan, and DRC are hens that are laying eggs. It makes a big difference that when the eggs hatch, they do so in our house.