Admission of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) into the East African Community (EAC) will take a while longer after Heads of State and government in the region directed further negotiation to harmonise rules.
After the virtual 18th Extra-Ordinary Summit on Wednesday, Heads of State said they had authorised ministers to conduct another round of talks with DRC on how it can be admitted into the bloc.
“The summit received and considered the report of the council on the verification mission on the admission of the DRC to join the East African Community and directed the council to expeditiously commence and conclude negotiations with DRC for admission...and report to the next summit,” the bloc said in a communiqué after the meeting chaired by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta.
The entry of DRC was thought to be done and dusted when, last month, the Council of Ministers said they had completed verification and recommended admission. The EAC Council of Ministers, chaired by Adan Mohamed, Kenya’s EAC Affairs and Regional Development Cabinet Secretary, gave the nod during an extraordinary meeting on November 22 in Arusha, Tanzania.
The Ministers were in DRC between June 26 and July 5 to verify the country’s level of conformity to the Treaty for Establishment of the EAC. Their recommendation meant that the central African country would be the seventh member of the bloc after Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and South Sudan.
All current members except Kenya share a border with DRC, making it a geographically strategic partner.
The country, which could become the largest member by area as well as by population (80 million), is seen as a lucrative market for Kenyan businesses.
Kenyan banks and airlines have recently increased their footprint in the country. For instance, low-cost carrier Jambojet in September launched direct Nairobi-Goma flights, easing the burden of travel for businesspeople keen to travel between the two countries.
Equity Bank, one of Kenya's largest lenders, has also established a presence in the central African country.
But the DRC’s entry will also mean a keener look at its laws, including that on banking and money laundering to ensure it aligns with EAC protocol.
The country will have to send legislators to the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), nominate judges to the East African Court of Justice and send civil servants to the secretariat, based on merit. That will need DRC to pass some local laws on how to nominate these people.
With the official language being French, the EAC will also need to change its rules of engagement to make French an official language of the bloc’s business.
The DRC will also have to give timelines on accession to the Customs Union and Common Market protocols which includes the One Network Area that allows mobile phone users to receive calls for free even when roaming in the region, as well as make calls on roaming at subsidised rates.
This was the first Summit since February, when the meeting was attended by then Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli before he died later in March. Leaders gathered virtually under the theme of deepening integration and widening cooperation.
On Wednesday, Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu attended for the first time since she took over.
Other leaders present included Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Burundian Vice President Prosper Bazombanza, representing president Évariste Ndayishimiye, and Mr Deng Alor Kuol, the South Sudanese Minister for East African Community affairs, representing president Salva Kiir.
But they were meeting on the background of simmering tiffs between Kenya and Uganda on one side and Rwanda and Uganda on the other. Meanwhile, DRC has attracted attention from all the members given its strategic location.
“I re-affirm the commitment of the Summit to the EAC integration process. We are certainly sure that this is an effective vehicle for the economic development and prosperity of the people of East Africa,” President Kenyatta said.
“It is notable that work is progressing well in the implementation of the four pillars of EAC integration; namely the customs union, the common market, the monetary union and ultimately the political federation,” he told the session in his opening speech before they went into a closed-door meeting.