Dar es Salaam. It is now official that the Democratic Republic of the Congo wants to join the East African Community, with President John Magufuli publicly endorsing the move yesterday in Dar es Salaam. The move was confirmed at a joint address at State House with DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, who was on his second and final day of a state visit to Tanzania.
Mr Tshisekedi, who was sworn into office in January to succeed Joseph Kabila as President, has already visited Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda in his apparent bid to join the regional bloc. Before his visit to Tanzania, he sent an official letter to EAC chairman President Paul Kagame of Rwanda over the bid.
Burundi and South Sudan are the other EAC member countries, the latter joining in 2016. Somalia has also applied and Ethiopia was also said to have shown interest even though no official move has been made.
Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and South Sudan share the boarder with DR Congo and President Magufuli’s backing of his counterpart will likely give the push impetus when it lands at the EAC secretariat in Arusha.
“This request follows the ever-increasing trade between the economic players of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and those of the States of the Community,” President Tshisekedi said in his letter to Mr Kagame, dated June 8, 2019.
The desire of his government, President Tshisekedi observed, is to join the Community of regional leaders “so that we can work together for the development of our respective countries and stabilise this part of Africa.”
Yesterday, at a State House function President Magufuli said that the matter was one among the issues the two agreed on and assured President Tshisekedi of his full support. “I have guaranteed him that I will be one of the supporters to make sure that DRC is admitted into the EAC,” said President Magufuli.
If it joins, EAC, DRC will be a member of all the regional trade bodies ranging from Sadc and Comesa. It has also signed but not ratified the Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
During the talks in Dar es Salaam, the two presidents underscored the need to promote trade ties, which they said was currently unsatisfactory. President Magufuli noted that bilateral trade was only Sh305 billion for 2018. He said Congo has investments worth $5.77 million in Tanzania, employing 418 people.
But he said DR Congo was among leading cargo transporters through the port of Dar es Salaam, raising its cargo from 1.17 million tonnes to 1.18 million tonnes. The two countries agreed to remove all trade and investment related barriers so as to encourage their citizens to take advantage of the available opportunities in manufacturing industries, agriculture, fisheries, mineral and tourism.
The Congolese leader gave his support to a planned railway linking Tanzania’s port at Dar es Salaam to the eastern DRC via Rwanda -- one of several ambitious rail projects in the region.
“Our countries must commit to development based on democracy and freedom so as to promote Africans so they can compete with other parts of the world,” Mr Tshisekedi said.
Gas and oil exploration in Lake Tanganyika and the extractive industry were other areas of mutual interest. President Magufuli said relevant authorities have been asked to fast track and MoU signed in 2016.
Sustainable peace would be important, said Dr Magufuli. “It is quite impossible to undertake any development initiative in the absence of sustainable peace and security,” said President Tshisekedi.
The largest Francophone country in Africa, with vast natural resources, DR Congo has nearly 77 million inhabitants. It is the second largest country in Africa behind Algeria.
With 80 million hectares of arable land and over 1,100 minerals and precious metals, it is said to have the potential to become one of the richest countries on the continent and a driver of African growth if it can overcome its political instability.
With an estimated $24 trillion of untapped mineral potential, the DRC is believed to have more reserves of mineral resources than any other country on earth, ranging from copper, gold, and diamonds to cobalt, uranium, coltan, and oil. Notably, the country holds 45 per cent of the world’s cobalt reserves and produces more than half of the world’s supply of the mineral, commonly used in aircraft components and rechargeable batteries.
Security analysts say the country is a lynchpin of regional security but the political instability over the decades means the DRC exploits only a fraction of its mineral potential. Shortly before his death in 1961, the Africanist Frantz Fanon commented that: “Africa has the shape of a gun and the Congo is its trigger; pulling that trigger could blow a whole continent apart.”