Why we should welcome DRC to regional bloc with open arms

Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi arrives at the UK-Africa Investment Summit in London, Britain, January 20, 2020. [Reuters]

The Democratic Republic of Congo is likely to join the East African Community next year after the verification mission. That is good news to both economists and the hoi polloi.

By the year 2050, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) population will reach 195 million. That’s a market that should make anyone’s mouth salivate.

In the same year, Kenya’s population will be 92 million, Uganda 100 million, Tanzania 129 million, Rwanda 22 million, Burundi 25 million and South Sudan 20 million.

Do your maths, a whopping 583 million citizens will make East Africa by 2050. The United States’ (US) population will be 404 million.

India will have surpassed China to be the most populous nation on the planet with 1.64 billion citizens. Will that also make India the world’s most powerful economy?

It’s not just the market that should make us welcome DRC with open arms; joining EAC will easily pacify this expansive region.

This beautiful country has not had peace except the “forced” one during Mobutu Sese Seko’s rule.

If your neighbour is a quarrelsome couple, you can easily understand why a peaceful DRC would be good for all of us.

As we write, Ugandan soldiers are pursuing rebels in DRC.

It’s the resources, not benevolence, that attracts everyone to Congo. There are few minerals in the world that are not found in this expansive country. Some like Coltan are strategic as we shift from gasoline engines to electric cars.

It’s from Coltan that we extract niobium and tantalum.

Their uses range from alloys used for jet engines to turbines and lots of semiconductors. We can add uranium, the key ingredient in making nuclear bombs. The uranium used to make the first atomic bombs which quickened the end of World War II came from DRC.

Beyond minerals, Congo has vast rich agricultural land and virgin forests. Population projections indicate that such land will be critical in future if we ensure no degradation of the rain forests. Remember forests act as carbon sinks, slowing disown the greenhouse effect.

We shouldn’t forget that once Congo joins EAC, this region will stretch from one ocean to another, Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. And why is it not the African Ocean?

I have a dream that one day, I will drive from one coast to another, spending a night in Uganda and another in Rwanda. Can I drive across DRC in one day?

Think of a drive through a rainforest, with all the noise and life. If not interested in driving, a bullet train (Shinkansen) should be on standby. DRC is naturally East African, they talk Swahili and we love their Lingala.

I noted from my last visit to western Rwanda that they have similar aspirations, to become a modern nation in the shortest time possible. Rwanda switched from French to English as the official language. Will Congo do the same?

The diversity and pride in being members of EAC should be catalysts for economic growth. Will the name remain EAC or it should be ECAC (East and Central African Community)? I hope to start meeting students from all the EAC countries in my classes.

To buttress the EAC dream, we need to go beyond DRC’s admission. We need to actualise the East African dream; The vision of EAC is to be a prosperous, competitive, secure, stable and politically united.

What will this need beyond strong leaders? Will they shelve their countries’ ambitions for the greater good of the region? The European Union is a region worth benchmarking with.

The easier part is infrastructure. Shall we build a standard gauge railway from Mombasa to Kinshasa or Muanda? Think of loading goods at Lamu or Mombasa taking them by road or rail to the Atlantic Coast and back to ship? That will widen our market into west Africa. The journey through Cape is too long.

Shall we build roads through the rain forests of DR Congo? Shall we ensure Congolese benefit from their own resources? Who will lead in the rebuilding of DRC? East African countries can mobilise a Congo fund to build roads, rails and airports.

EAC can get a Big Four agenda for Congo or derive low lying fruits from African Union’s agenda 2063 which range from integrated rail network to outer space. We could involve the private sector to build the new infrastructure. Banks would love that.

Our banks are already in DRC. Some think China is waiting to unleash her money into EAC grand projects. After all, extending SGR to the Atlantic Ocean fits into her one belt, one road initiative.

The US could also come in to counterbalance China, after they let the Chinese gain ground. France seems to be losing its influence in Africa. Who will fill the void?

The fear of ISIS (Islamic State) which claims to be active in Uganda could catalyse the West and East to take a keener interest in Congo.

We should not forget that EAC needs to admit Somalia, whose problems closely mirror DRC.

The current map of EAC looks ugly, adding DRC, Somalia and later Ethiopia would make it complete.

Could we ask if EAC is becoming too big? After reaching the Atlantic, we should ask how far north or south we should expand. Shall EAC become a victim of its own success?

Shall EAC keep expanding till it becomes Africa? Could it one-day touch the Mediterranean sea and Cape? Will Africa one day become four countries; Maghreb plus Egypt, Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), EAC and the Southern African Development Community?

It seems the pan African dream of Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta and others is being realised step by step.

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