Felix Tshisekedi has been busy on the regional integration front since he became president of the Democratic Republic of Congo two years ago. But he has particularly been busier this year.
On June 25, President Tshisekedi met his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame in Rubavu to allegedly assess the damage caused by the recent Nyiragongo volcanic eruption among other bilateral discussions.
A week earlier, on June 16, Tshisekedi and President Museveni met at the border post of Mpondwe in the western district of Kasese to launch joint infrastructure construction projects. Museveni says Uganda’s footing of a substantial amount of money to construct the roads inside Congolese territory is aimed at boosting trade between the neighboring countries.
In April this year, Kenya and the DR Congo signed four framework cooperation agreements covering several economic sectors, security and defence as well as maritime transport. Among the four pacts, signed on the second day of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s three-day state visit to DR Congo, was the general cooperation agreement which provides a framework for joint promotion of economic, technical, scientific and socio-cultural programmes.
The economic sectors targeted by the broad framework are agriculture, education, health, sports and tourism. Others are environment, SMEs, housing, energy and infrastructure development. Also signed were two separate bilateral agreements on security and defence which provide mechanisms for cooperation between Kenya and DR Congo in areas such as counterterrorism, immigration, cyber security, and customs and border control.
The revitalized agreement on maritime freight is aimed at repositioning the port of Mombasa as DR Congo’s main gateway by streamlining the handling of the country’s transit cargo. “Indeed the relations between our two countries have been cordial over many decades and the relationship has continued to broaden and deepen especially since you ascended to power in areas of trade, security as well as our multilateral engagements,” President Kenyatta told his host.
In a joint press address with his Congolese host shortly after witnessing the signing of the agreements, President Kenyatta announced Kenya’s plans to expand its diplomatic footprints in DR Congo by setting up outposts in Goma and Lubumbashi.
“Kenya is committed to establishing a consulate in Goma as well as an honorary consulate in Lubumbashi,” Kenyatta said.
Resistance and attraction
For many, Tshisekedi’s gravitation towards East Africa has indeed been selling like a hot cake.
But according to Pecos Kulihoshi Musikami, who heads the Global Refugee Leaders Forum, a Goma-based non-profit, the idea does not resonate much with Tshisekedi’s main constituency; the citizens of DR Congo.
“On the contrary, ordinary Congolese have been asking why exactly Congo is getting into the EAC,” he told The Independent on June 30.
Kulihoshi says he is not convinced about the DR Congo’s current clamour to be a part of the East African Community.
“If you look at the driving forces, the DR Congo’s entry into the EAC appears a vague diplomatic approach of Tshisekedi,” he told The Independent.
Kulihoshi told The Independent on June 30 that Tshisekedi’s drive to integrate Congo into the EAC is not driven by trade or economics, which is the main driver of the other partner states. Instead, according to Kulihoshi, Tshisekedi’s main interest seems to do more with finding a long lasting solution to the restive eastern part of the country.
Kulihoshi says Tshisekedi has been clearer on this issue and he has on many occasions been telling the Congolese that to ensure there is peace and security in the eastern DR Congo; he needs to integrate the region with the EAC.
“I doubt Congo will be in the EAC in the next ten years. I think DR Congo is still militarily weak and so the country has to rely mostly on negotiations and diplomatic approach to end the conflict in eastern DR Congo. I don’t think Congo will need so much the EAC in the next ten years.”
Kulihoshi told The Independent that the collective mentality of the people of eastern DR Congo does not tilt towards East Africa.
“The Congolese are tuned towards Kinshasa which is to the far west of Congo. What they want more is to have the option to move towards Kinshasa. This is because of the Francophone culture which is quite different from the Anglophone culture.”
Kulihoshi adds that contrary to what the rest of the people in Africa think, the Congo want to take their country as a democratic society.
“Congo seems to be a democratic country and yet if you look at three of Congo’s EAC neighbors (Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda), they are autocratic in nature. Some of us who are so interested in understanding regional affairs, it seems there might not be a long term relationship between Uganda and the DR Congo or DR Congo and Rwanda or Burundi.”