With a population of 92 million, a nominal GDP of 46 billion dollars and a border with the Atlantic Ocean, the DRC has recently become Uganda’s number one export destination, worth almost 500 million dollars, which is double the value of goods the country current exports to either Kenya or South Sudan, her erstwhile largest markets.
The now imminent admission of the Democratic Republic of Congo into the East African Community, EAC, has caused both apprehension, while some have shown disinterest in the whole affair.
Imminent because the EAC Council of Ministers, which is the Community’s top policy-making organ has given its green light to the admission of the largest country by area in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The decision of the Council of Minister now awaits the Assent by the EAC Heads of State Summit later this year or early next year.
In previous engagements and or various fora most of the leaders have spoken positively about the DRC’s application officially filed in June 2019, to join the trading bloc.
This is based on the anticipated expansion of the market size of the region by population, which would grow by half from the current estimated 185 million to 277 million.
This market size is supported by the expected addition of the DRC’s value of the economy (GDP), of 46 billion dollars bringing the total GDP of the bloc to 266 billion dollars. It would also replace Kenya as EAC’s largest economy.
The Congo is surrounded by the largest number of neighbours. Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, Angola, the Central African Republic and South Sudan, as well as the South Atlantic Ocean.
The DR Congo imported goods and services worth about 2.5 billion dollars, compared to about 6.5 billion dollars worth of exports in 2020, according to figures at the World Bank.
But according to Trading Economics, imports of both goods and services were expected to hit 14.6 billion dollars compared to exports of 15.9 billion.
The DRC has recently become Uganda’s number one export destination, worth almost 500 million dollars, which is double the value of goods the country current exports to either Kenya or South Sudan, her erstwhile largest markets.
And according to the ministries of finance and of trade, as well as President Yoweri Museveni, this has been achieved in spite of the bottlenecks facing trade with the DRC like insecurity along the border areas, tariff and non-tariff barriers, among others.
With the country being admitted into the trading bloc and the EAC Common market and Customs Union, these figures are expected to go higher.
Apart from the market, the DR Congo also comes on table with lot to offer especially in terms of natural resources.
The Congo has a vast stock of valuable natural resources including petroleum and other minerals, wood and water for electricity generation.
The Minerals include diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, tin, tantalum and lithium, but their exploitation and exportation have been surrounded by controversy especially as most of the mineral-rich East of the country is characterized by conflict.
Armed groups in the east of the country include the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda
, the Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo
and the Allied Democratic Forces
, all of which survive by illegal exploitation of the natural resources, according to several reports made.
Diamonds and Gold industries in Congo are closely watched by international peace and human rights groups and these have continued to campaign against the unofficial exploitation of the minerals, on grounds that armed groups use the revenues to fund their violent activities against civilians.
Last year Uganda imported gold worth 590 million dollars from Tanzania to feed its growing refining and export industry. A pacified Eastern DRC would boost this sector if mining and trade there is freed.
Congo is also a big market for fish and fisheries products from Uganda and Kenya, but the trade is usually affected by the regulatory activities in the industry, as well as the poor infrastructure between the DRC and the rest of the region.
Countries like Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda have each been trying to devise means of attracting the DRC market away from the other by putting in place infrastructure facilities like warehouses in the border towns.
Uganda has also commissioned road construction projects inside the DRC to ease the movement of cargo and persons between towns there, which would in turn make it easy for the country’s exports there.
Analysts also say good roads will also make it easy for the authorities to improve the security situation and in turn aid smooth economic activities.
The current relative political stability in most of the DRC is also an incentive for the country’s economic growth and this gives hope for further growth of the market if the people’s purchasing power rises.
This however, largely depends on how it will be easy for the DRC and EAC authorities to ensure smooth connection by road (or rail as planned) between the border with Uganda across Eastern Congo to the Central and West of the country.
If this is achieved, then the reality of the EAC being connected to the Atlantic Ocean will bear fruit.
The other bottleneck that is likely to affect the integration of the country into the EAC is language.
The DRC is largely a French-speaking country. Other dominating languages are Kikongo, Lingala and Swahili which is mainly spoken in the east of the country.
While the official language of the EAC is Swahili, the commonest language of instruction is English which is also mainly prevalent in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and to an extent, Tanzania and South Sudan.
The other francophone country, Burundi is helped by the fact that Kiswahili knowledge and use is fairly widespread there.
Notwithstanding these assumed barriers, the success of the integration and the fruitfulness of the expansion of the EAC membership to seven or more countries largely depends on the goodwill of the leadership and the approaches taken to include the citizenry at all levels of integration.
The admission of the DRC should also raise debate on the admission of other members who have either been contacted before, like Malawi and Zambia, or those that have shown interest, like Somalia and Sudan.
It could also perhaps, for the better, bring a new dimension to the trade and political conflict between Uganda and Rwanda as the three countries have perhaps the closest traditional and historical ties on top of sharing resources like forests, minerals, tourism and conservation areas, among others.