Heads of State of the East African Community member States have given consent for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to be a new member of the EAC. DRC will now join the EAC as the seventh member State after South Sudan that became a member of the regional bloc in April 2016.
The current EAC was formed in 2001 by Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in a bid to co-operate on widening and deepening issues affecting the region. The EAC has since grown as seen through the increased membership of other States such as Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.
Like any other regional bloc, the EAC possesses critical tenets which include respect for human rights, democracy/governance and the rule of law. The basis of its formation was espoused on achieving a free trade area, customs union, common market, monetary union and political federation.
With the former and the latter being the case, the question remains in practical terms, whether the DRC will be committed to the same?
DRC’s President Felix Tshisekedi has been enthusiastic in terms of fast-tracking foreign relations and it should be expected that DRC will not be seen as an intransigent member of the EAC, as some have been alleged of being in the past.
DRC’s high endowment of natural resources should be seen as an opportunity to strengthen economic ties through the increase of volumes of both bilateral and multilateral volumes of trade within the EAC, and further increasing the bargaining power the EAC.
DRC is likely to proactively strengthen its bilateral ties with Kenya on account of the geostrategic location the latter enjoys.
DRC’s entry to the EAC should now lay the basis for discussions on the direct involvement of East African citizens in the integration process.
The East African Legislative Assembly empowered to create awareness among citizens on the integration should see the DRC showing a more legislative approach in terms of electing members to the EALA.