How Tshisekedi Victory in DRC Will Make or Break EAC


DRC President, Felix Tshisekedi casts his ballot at St George College voting centre in Kinshasa during the election held on December 20, this year. Photo Credit: Peter Nyanje

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Many think Felix Tshisekedi’s victory in the recently held Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) election will bother his challengers, mainly Moise Katumbi. But Paul Kagame’s Rwanda and East Africa Community (EAC) should be concerned with Tshisekedi’s victory.

Tshisekedi, who is poised to win the election, has already declared that he is going to wage a war against Rwanda if elected and if the neighbouring country does not stop from invading DRC. Tshisekedi also wants Rwanda to stop invading his country on the pretext it is doing to control rebels who have been troubling Rwandese who live on the border with DRC.

Tshisekedi also wants Kagame to stop supporting M23 rebels, who have made the eastern part of DRC ungovernable for years.

It is also likely that Tshisekedi will ask for radical changes in how EAC handles internal affairs in the region. There is an excellent possibility that Tshisekedi will pull out of his country from EAC membership if the radical changes are not accepted.

Generally, DRC feels that EAC has duped it. One primary reason why DRC joined EAC is its belief that the regional grouping would help the country normalize things in the eastern part of one of the largest countries in Africa.

DRC believed that because most of the unrest in eastern DRC was caused by Rwanda, it would be easy for the regional leaders to prevail over Kagame and his country. But that has not been the case because the region has done little to assist in quelling rebellion in eastern DRC.

When EAC decided to send peacekeeping troops to eastern DRC, many believed that days for the troublesome M23 would end. But in less than two years, the EAC force has failed miserably to the extent that DRC decided to ask for its pull from the country.

“We decided to ask EAC forces to leave because they were not doing what they were supposed to do. People started to query why they were there. So, we decided to send them back home because when people begin to ask that, it means that they are not contented with them”, said Jean Pierre Bemba, the Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Defense when he talked to this reporter at his home in Maluku near Kinshasa.

Bemba said the presence of EAC forces was making things worse, and continuing to allow them to stay would have even endangered their security.

This shows that DRC has lost trust in EAC, though it is also a member of the Community. Instead, according to Bemba, DRC believes that forces sent by the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) would do its work diligently.

“We trust SADC forces, and they will arrive here soon. We also trust some countries like South Africa because we have seen what they can do under such circumstances. We believe that forces from these two can assist DRC in fending the rebellion in eastern Congo, which EAC forces failed to do,” stressed Bemba.

Economic Front

Lack of security is the main reason DRC joined EAC, believing the group would help her tame rebellion in eastern Congo. The country believed that with peace, DRC would be able to start strengthening its business and trade capacity to be an active participant in the regional economy.

But peace has continued to be elusive, and this means that DRC would not be able to benefit from trading in the region as it risks being the market for goods produced elsewhere in the area.

Speaking to this reporter in Kinshasa recently, DRC Minister for Finance Nicolas Kazadi noted that DRC’s low manufacturing capacity concerns the new EAC member.

“We know that under this condition, we risk receiving goods and products from our fellow members. That will not help our economy and our people,” he said.

Mr Kazadi noted that they will not block imports from other EAC members, but those who wish to sell their products in DRC should ensure they follow all the rules and regulations.

“In the meantime, we will be speeding to increase our manufacturing capacity to produce enough for export to EASC and other countries. We don’t want importers only, but exporters as well,” he stressed.

Recently, DRC received about $202 million from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to boost its public reserves. Mr Kazadi said this will help the country channel its meagre resources elsewhere, including to marshal local manufacturing.

As noted earlier, DRC joined the regional grouping, hoping to improve trade and political ties with its neighbours in East Africa. The country borders with all EAC member states except Kenya and Somalia (which joined just recently).

This means it would be easier for DRC residents to travel freely to other countries. It was expected to ease trade and make it much faster and cheaper.

Also, joining EAC gave DRC better access to Dar es Salaam and Mombasa ports as a gateway to Asia, the Far East and Europe.

Given the customs and tariffs agreement within EAC, DRC traders would benefit by exporting their goods to other EAC members easily and at reduced tariffs.

Given the logistical and infrastructure challenges, it was expected that only east of DRC would be at an advantage to start business and trade with other EAC members.

But that has not been the case because of insecurity which prevails in eastern Congo, with the country blaming Rwanda, another EAC member, for being behind the uncertainty in the area,

Yet, it is not easy for anyone from DRC to travel easily to other EAC states or from EAC states to DRC.

I recently travelled to Kinshasa and was about to be refused permission to board a plane in Dar es Salaam because I had not purchased a return ticket. I was told at a check-in desk that anyone who travels to DRC is supposed to have a return ticket. When I arrived at N’Djili airport in Kinshasa, I was also made to pay for a visa despite coming from a fellow EAC state.

This means the situation is much worse for those conducting business between DRC and other countries in EAC.

So, from both ends, political and economic, DRC has not benefited more from joining EAC.

Suppose Tshisekedi wins the election as projected. In that case, things might get worse given his recent spats with Rwanda, with which he plans to wage war and slaughter Kagame with a sword, which he was given as presented during the inauguration of Kinshasa Financial Centre recently.

For further exploration, find our political insights here.

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