DR Congo’s Final Step into the EAC

The heads of state of the East African Community, EAC, and countries are due to meet Tuesday, with the final step for the admission of the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, expected, according to officials at the secretariat. 

Expected because the various heads of state have at different fora expressed their desire to have DR Congo admitted, especially for economic purposes. The EAC Council of Minister were tasked to study the country’s bid and gave a positive recommendation in their report. 

According to the agenda, the DRC membership will be the main issue at the March 29th meeting. 
Following the official application by DRC last year, a verification mission was commissioned to determine the practicability of the DRC’s admission, and the mission’s recommendations were approved by the Council of Ministers, giving a greenling for the admission. 

Uganda’s Minister for East African Community Affairs Rebecca Kadaga told the media last month that the Council of Ministers, the top policy-making organ, had approved the admission. “The Council, sitting for its 44th Extra-ordinary meeting decided that DRC had satisfied all the required criteria to be admitted to the EAC. It was an historical decision to recommend the Heads of State grant admission of the DR Congo to the EAC,” the 1st Deputy Prime Minister said. 

This followed the 18th Extra-ordinary Summit of the heads of state in December that received and considered the report, and directed the Council of Ministers to fast-track the integration of the DRC. “The presidents directed the council to expeditiously commence and conclude negotiations with the DRC for admission and report to the next summit,” according to a communique released after the meeting. 

The Council noted that the negotiations with the DRC were concluded and a negotiation framework matrix was jointly adopted and recommended to the presidents’ Summit to consider admitting DRC in accordance with the Treaty. 

The EAC Secretariat was directed to develop and share with the DRC the proposed Treaty of Accession upon admission by the Summit, and develop a draft roadmap for the integration of the country. Ugandan lawyer, Adam Kyomuhedo is challenging the admission of the DRC on grounds of human rights violations, giving the example of the continued detention of Ugandan activist Samuel Mugumya. 

The FDC activist has been in DRC prisons since 2014. Kyomuhendo says the rights of Mugume right from arrest have been violated and he has never gotten a due trial, and therefore admitting to the DRC before his release would be a violation of the Treaty. 

Kyomuhendo last year filed a petition with the East African Court of Justice seeking an injunction on the admission process until Mugumya is released. It has never been heard. 

Analysts say the petition was not likely to be heard before the admission was completed, a view that was given in a previous case where some Ugandan businessmen were petitioning against the admission of South Sudan, still on human rights issues. 

Edwin Tabaro of KTA Advocates says while there could be ground for the petition, the circumstances are similar to those in the petition over S Sudan. “Though there is a clear precedent on this, it will be interesting to see if the Court upholds or changes the current position of the law,” he says.   

More than two dozen other activists are also said to be held in DRC on allegations of “planning a rebellion”. At this stage, the only huddle for the DRC would be if one or more partner states refused to endorse the admission, according to the Advocates. 

This, however, was only a possibility of Uganda and Rwanda, whose relations are just beginning to be mended, disagreed over the admission of DRC for geopolitical factors. 

But even then, the lawyers say the two countries have already separately showed interest in the move.

The DRC admission will add about 90 million people to take the EAC population to 280 million, while the market by economy size will increase from 220 to 260 billion dollars. 

It is also expected to improve the DR Congo gold trade and the East African industry as a whole, with Uganda, blacklisted as a main conduit of the gold mined and smuggled from the rebel-held East.

Uganda’s gold miners and traders have condemned the sanctioning of the Africa Gold Refinery owners by the US, saying this action will very likely affected the whole gold sector, because AGR is the main player.   The gold industry, as well as the general business community across the border also hope that the ongoing operations by the Uganda and DR Congo armies against the Allied Democratic Front rebels will make the situation clearer and more favourable to trade.