NAIROBI, KENYA —
The Democratic Republic of Congo this week became the seventh country to join the East African Community. The regional trade bloc, which includes Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda, now reaches a quarter of Africa’s population, stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic.
The 90 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo will be able to move freely and do business in six other African countries.
The leaders of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda welcomed Congo to the East African Community in a ceremony Monday.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta spoke, stressing cooperation as the group’s cornerstone.
“I proudly and warmly welcome our brothers and sisters from the Democratic Republic of Congo to the East African Community. We look forward to joining hands in strengthening our community together. Working together, we have more to gain than when we are separate,” Kenyatta said.
Ezra Munyambonera, an economic researcher at the Economic Policy Research Center, says Congo’s addition to the EAC will benefit all the countries in the bloc.
“It (the DRC) has a lot of resources [and it] joining the East Africa Community adds more to microeconomic conditions and microeconomic stability of the region in terms of foreign earnings and attracting investments in the region for wider economic growth,” Munyambonera said.
The mineral-rich nation is a member of two more regional blocs, the Southern African Development Community and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, or COMESA.
Erastus Mwencha, a former secretary-general of COMESA, says the continent needs to scale up its production capabilities to benefit from integration and take advantage of its natural resources.
“The tradable is not that much and so the region needs to develop trade with production, to really go beyond just looking at trade within but also to cater [to] the production aspect. The economies are not deep enough, we tend to produce primary products and because of that, they are not very much integrated,” Mwencha said.
The countries in the EAC bloc have not been able to fully establish a customs union, and while they are working on having a common currency by 2023, experts say that deadline likely will not be met.
Mwencha says the DRC technology sector will provide more opportunities for entrepreneurs.
“Whether you are looking at banking industries, fintech, because it’s a big country, which requires the banks to communicate throughout the country, or other services such as the education sector, health sector, there is a lot, in other words, of e-services,” Mwencha said.
As part of the East African Community, the DRC will enjoy lower tariffs and administrative barriers, something it hasn’t experienced for decades, despite using the ports of Mombasa, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to import most of its goods.