What does DRC’s entry into EAC mean for South Sudan?

What does DRC’s entry into EAC mean for South Sudan?
The EAC Secretary General Peter Mutuku Mathuki (L), Chair of the EAC Council of Ministers Adan Mohammed (C) pose for a photo with the DRC Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Christophe Lutun Apala Pen’Apala. [Photo: Courtesy]

The Democratic Republic of Congo officially joined the East African Community (EAC) on Tuesday as its seventh member.

The approval for the admission of the DRC into the East African trade bloc was made by the EAC heads of state at a summit on Tuesday.

Despite the fact that DR Congo has officially become a member, the Congolese lawmakers still have to ratify the EAC laws and regulations before they come into effect.

DR Congo is admitted into the bloc six years later, after the admission of South Sudan. South Sudan was admitted into the EAC in October 2016. But since then, the country has not been fully integrated into the regional trade bloc.

There has been very little progress made in integrating South Sudan into the East African Community (EAC) Customs Union, mainly due to the disparities in policy, legal and regulatory frameworks. The three-year grace period requested by Juba to ready itself before being fully functional as a partner state through the adoption and implementation of EAC instruments has expired in 2019.

On March 1, 2022, the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) resolved to put aside debate on the committee report to send a strong message to Juba after Deng Alor Kuol, the Minister in charge of EAC Affairs, failed to appear in the house for nearly two years.  The lawmakers complained about the minister’s lack of seriousness in updating the EALA on the country’s progress toward full integration.

The admission of DR Congo into the EAC means that the members will shift their attention from South Sudan to the DRC to boost their economy. DR Congo is bordered by five EAC members’ state-South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and Tanzania, which could massively expand their territory and trade as far as the Atlantic Ocean.  

While South Sudan was considered the market hub for East African goods, its lack of commitment to implement the EAC instrument for the Customs Union forced the trade bloc to make quick admissions to the DRC after receiving its request for membership in 2019.

It is likely that the members will not be so interested in pushing for South Sudan’s full integration after the country failed to implement some of the key instruments. In the East African Community, both South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo share the same challenges of insecurity, poverty, and poor infrastructure, despite being the richest in natural resources.

The two countries still have a lot of homework to do to benefit from being members of the EAC. They need to improve their security as well as their infrastructure to equally benefit from the trade bloc. But with the admission of the DRC into the regional bloc, it means the EAC members’ states will now focus on feeding the newborn child after forcefully stopping South Sudan from breastfeeding.