The Heads of State of the partner countries of the East African Community (EAC) gathered yesterday in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, for the signing ceremony of the treaty of accession to the regional bloc by the Republic Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
This ends a process that began in 2019 when the DRC applied to join the EAC – originally launched in 1967 and relaunched in 1999 after its collapse in 1977 – to maximize “the exploitation of the region’s natural and human resources “.
With the addition of the former Belgian colony, the number of EAC Partner States increases to seven, including countries such as Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. The mineral-rich country, with a population of over 90 million, adds to the estimated 195 million people in the region.
But DR Congo joins the EAC at a time when the bloc’s existence is in question. This is due to the many challenges facing the region, the main ones being political tensions and trade disputes among partner members.
The Uganda-Rwanda border was only recently reopened after nearly three years of closure after Kampala and Kigali swapped accusations of spying and interfering in each other’s internal affairs.
Trade between member states has also been halted, the most common being disputes between Kenya and Uganda. The disputes between the two began in December 2019 when Kenya stopped importing Ugandan milk, followed by a ban on Ugandan sugar the following year. Last year, Uganda responded by threatening to impose restrictions on some products from Kenya, saying it had been patient enough with its eastern neighbour.
The security situation in the region is also worrying. South Sudan remains a volatile place as leaders of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and those of the opposition jostle for power. Eastern DRC remains a hotbed of insecurity with a plethora of forces present to try to bring peace to the region.
As the EAC Presidents return home after the joining ceremony, we can only hope that it marks a new beginning for this promising, mineral-rich and fertile region. The ceremony should give us the opportunity to revisit and reflect on the fundamental principles of community which include mutual trust, political will and sovereign equality; peaceful coexistence and good neighbourliness; peaceful settlement of disputes; good governance, including respect for the principles of democracy, rule of law, accountability, transparency and social justice; equitable distribution of benefits; and cooperation for mutual benefit.
Only then can we wipe the slate clean in the quest for a united, peaceful and expanded East African community.
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