The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has applied to join the East African Community (EAC) regional bloc and there is speculation that some countries want the process of its admission fast-tracked.
In a letter to the EAC Chairperson Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, President Felix Tshisekedi said the reason for its application is its increased trade with the region.
The application will be tabled at the next EAC heads of state summit in November this year.
Since his inauguration in January, President Felix Tshisekedi has visited Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in a diplomatic charm offensive.
So what will DRC bring to the EAC stable?
A market of 80 million people – rich in natural resources and minerals, world’s top producer and exporter of Cobalt – these are just some of the enticing qualities that the six member bloc is eyeing.
If DRC’s admission is fast-tracked, the EAC will be a seven member bloc with a market of 260 million people. According to the EAC treaty, to qualify to be a member a country must be geographically near any of the members and observe tenets of good governance, human rights and democracy.
“Geographically the people also once we pulled Burundi, Rwanda in East Africa, in terms of nationality and identity you can see that is a big chunk of DRC,” says Eastern African Affairs Expert Dr. Duncan Ojwang.
Congo’s neighbours will have their eyes set on the big market. Exports from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania to the DRC stood at $1Billon last year.
“I think China is pushing DRC this way, using Kenya, there is the regional infrastructure plan, for example the SGR (Standard Gauge Railway) in Kenya, for it to be meaningful, even for China will have to proceed to Kinshasa.”
Challenges however remain; the East of the DRC is still battling rebels and an Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 1 200 people since last year.
The bloc will also be faced with the question of Somalia’s application which has been pending since 2016 as well civil strives in Burundi and South Sudan who have failed to restore order even after joining the East African Community.