DRC rule of law must improve to realise EAC potential, economists say

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Monday, 20 December 2021 10:31

Felix Tshisekedi, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Felix Tshisekedi, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has prioritised deeper ties with east Africa. (Tobias Schwarz/Pool Photo via AP)

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s prospective membership of the East African Community (EAC) won’t realise its full potential unless the rule of law becomes the norm in the east of the country, economists say.

The EAC’s council of ministers gave their approval at a meeting in Tanzania in November. The final decision will be made by the EAC heads of state.

Though the necessary political will for membership exists within the EAC, the situation in the DRC is “less clear”, Francois Conradie, lead political economist at Oxford Economics Africa in Cape Town, tells The Africa Report. The country is “not really East African” and much of its political class, especially Lingala and French speakers, will be “wary of giving up rights to a body on the other side of the continent”, he says.

According to the World Justice Project rule of law index, the DRC ranks 137 out of 139 countries covered globally and has the worst ranking in Sub-Saharan Africa. Lawlessness in the eastern DRC, where firms based in current EAC countries will seek to operate, is “probably the biggest obstacle” to the realisation of the potential of Congolese membership of the regional body, Conradie says.

  • Many Congolese “reflexively think of Ugandans and Rwandans as hostile forces bent on looting the eastern DRC for its mineral wealth”, Conradie says.
  • “This opposition is very evident in expressions of opposition to the current operations by Ugandan forces against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in North Kivu, so public opinion will tend to consider that these governments have ulterior motives in seeking to free up trade with the DRC.”

In November, the DRC agreed to allow Ugandan armed forces to enter its territory and pursue rebels blamed for massacres in the region. The eastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri have been under an official “state of siege” since May. Military control has failed to end the siege, with over 1,000 civilians killed since the siege came into force.

Market expansion

DRC President Felix Tshisekedi has prioritised deeper ties with east Africa and has sought to play a part in reducing tensions between Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. The DRC has abundant minerals like gold, diamonds, cobalt, and copper and brings a large potential export market with a population of almost 87 million. That would add nearly 50% to the population of the EAC whose members are Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Tshisekedi has reoriented his foreign policy ambitions away from the West and China towards his regional neighbours, says Indigo Ellis, associate director at Africa Matters in London. The DRC and EAC can mutually benefit from opportunities to expand shared railways, road networks and cross-border electricity systems, she argues. For Kinshasa, Ellis notes the importance of improved access to two of the EAC’s largest ports, Dar es Salaam and Mombasa, which are key export points for DRC’s minerals.

EAC entry will bring “long-term benefits in a progressively expanding regional market”, says Olivier Mbuku Lumenganeso, a Congolese banker and economist who is founder of the OML Partners investment advisory boutique. “The political will is obvious.”

  • DRC membership will expand the EAC market and the country will benefit from the experience of having to implement reforms, Lumenganeso adds. “I don’t see any particular reason for this not to be endorsed as soon as possible”, probably at the next heads of state summit, he says.

Still, DRC integration into the region will take time to materialise, says Greg Struyweg, an economist at Oxford Economics Africa.

  • South Sudan’s inclusion into the bloc has not yet shown tangible results for development, he says. South Sudan has failed to pay EAC membership contributions, and in 2020 had run up arrears of $28m.
  • Adding the DRC to the EAC, Struyweg  says, “should not be considered a quick political and economic fix for the region”.

Bottom line

Formal membership of the EAC will achieve little, unless the DRC’s rule of law deficit can be reduced.

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