EAC Membership Is No Panacea for DRC’s Problems

It is simply because the EAC has no exemplary conflict resolution track record to speak of. 

About a week ago, The Chanzo published a thought-provoking article by a prolific socio-political commentator, and, for disclosure purposes, a friend, Mr Charles Makakala. Through his article, the author sought to advance two main arguments.

The first argument was anchored to the idea that the ongoing consideration for admitting the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) into the East African Community (EAC) carries a “game-changer” potential, mainly because of DRC’s natural wealth and “untapped” market size.

In his second argument, the author noted, “DRC’s biggest need is security” and added, “the EAC can help to deliver [it].” To reinforce this point, he made an observation that,  “EAC troops from Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda have been very active in DRC, sometimes fighting on opposite sides.”

This rejoinder focuses on the second argument, particularly the notion that the EAC is well-positioned to help DRC address its security problems.

Getting some facts wrong

Mr Makakala’s article is provocative because of three main reasons. The first reason is that it gets some very basic facts wrong. The EAC has never, as a block, authorised or facilitated the use of force in DRC.

Tanzania’s intervention in DRC in 2013 took place under a UN mandate, while Rwanda and Uganda’s incursions over the years have mainly been unilateral (and, at times, bilateral), in response to their own security or geopolitical needs. This is not to suggest that Tanzania was not involved in DRC prior to 2013. The senior Kabila (Laurent Desire) was able to acquire power in DRC in part because of Tanzania’s approval and support (see page 393).

The second reason is that the article disregards DRC’s complex political economy by suggesting that the EAC is able to resolve the country’s main problem – insecurity. DRC has, since independence, struggled to assert its territorial integrity.

The cold war produced dynamics that derailed the country’s opportunity to embark on a nation-building project. Political turmoil in Rwanda, from 1994, spawned contestations that exacerbated social and political schism in DRC.

As a result, DRC has failed to exist or function as a unified state, mainly because no regime has been able to sufficiently consolidate, and centralise power. Makakala’s article creates a wrong impression that the EAC has a unique capacity that neither the African Union nor the United Nations possesses.

No exemplary conflict resolution track record

The third reason is that the EAC has no exemplary conflict resolution track record to speak of.  The EAC attempted to mediate the crisis set off by the late President of Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza when he pushed for a third term in 2015.

The incumbent President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, was picked as a mediator, and the former late President of Tanzania, Benjamin Mkapa, as a facilitator. Unfortunately, the strengthening of bilateral relations between Tanzania and Rwanda during the same period, and geopolitical rivalry between Rwanda and Uganda undermined the mediation effort.

The stability seen in Burundi today is largely a result of leadership transition ushered in by the death of Nkurunziza, than an outcome of the EAC mediation.

There are other candid examples that show clearly that the EAC isn’t as capable when it comes to resolving conflicts. In 2019, a historic rivalry between Rwanda and Uganda escalated in the form of the common border closure.

This situation disrupted the EAC governance mainly because the  ‘Summit’, which is the supreme organ and made up of the Heads of States and Governments, could not meet for a while.

It is Angola that was finally able to broker a notable meeting, and a few follow up engagements, between the two parties. The irony is that DRC worked side by side with Angola, although it remains unclear what exact role DRC’s President Felix Tshisekedi played.

Makakala has initiated a good and timely debate. Unfortunately, his article ignored a broad range of empirical evidence and sought to create a positive illusion.

Dastan Kweka is a PhD student in Political Science at the University of Dar es Salaam. He can be reached at kwekad@gmail.com or on Twitter at @KwekaKweka. These are the writer’s own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of The Chanzo Initiative. Want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at editor@thechanzo.com for further inquiries.


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