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DRC may hold key to prosperity in East Africa

By Dennis Munene | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-06-09 09:29
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A medical worker prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Goma, capital of North Kivu province, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Aug 21, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

In Africa's COVID economic recovery strategies, countries need to embrace the trinity of unification, regionalism and multilateralism to spur industrialization, economic growth and development.

As Africa as a whole is one of the most affected economies in the world, the World Bank estimates that approximately 40 million people on the continent have been pushed into extreme poverty due to the pandemic's devastating impact.

However, the pandemic merely triggered compounded issues that Africa has suffered from for decades.

In his book What Is Africa's Problem? Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said that the "penetration, subjugation and exploitation of Africa by European powers over a period of 400 years has been directly and largely responsible for the present dismal state of Africa's socioeconomic conditions".

According to Museveni, the domination robbed Africa of much of the innovative elements that would have played a crucial role in the industrial, technological and economic advancement of the continent. Thus, African countries must recalibrate their individual and regional economic strategies and shun policies that advocate unilateralism.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is one country that has chosen unification, regionalism and multilateralism over unilateralism. On April 8, the DRC signed a treaty of accession to the East Africa Community, becoming the seventh member of the regional bloc, which also includes Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Rwanda.

Faced with the challenge of immense poverty, the DRC has about 60 million people who live on less than $1.90 a day, the international poverty line. This comes at a time when the country with a population of more than 94 million has ample natural resources such as gold, diamonds, aluminum, cobalt and copper, significant arable land and hydropower, as well as immense biodiversity and the world's second-largest rainforest.

The East Africa Community, which aims to strengthen the ties among its member states through a common market and a common customs tariff to help achieve economic growth in the region, faces a tall order in the re-engineering of the economy of the DRC-a country that was once ravaged by conflict and war. However, will the DRC have an impact on the East Africa Community?

Now one of the most progressive regional economic communities in Africa, the East Africa Community has had its share of problems. Having collapsed in 1977, it was reestablished after the signing of a treaty in November 1999 that took effect on July 7, 2000, following ratification by the original three partner states of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The DRC intends to tap into the community's market of approximately 300 million people to recalibrate its devastated economy and spur economic growth and development in the regional bloc, making the agreement a win-win situation.

As a regional bloc, the East Africa Community is the gateway for most developing and developed countries to access the Horn of Africa, and to strategically position themselves in matters related to trade, manufacturing and industrialization, socioeconomic issues, and peace and security. Thus, the regional bloc needs to enhance or achieve economies of scale, division of labor and specialization.

Thus, for the Democratic Republic of Congo to have an impact on the East Africa Community, it needs to specialize in the industrial revolution in the regional bloc. The DRC is currently the world's leading producer of cobalt (68 percent), which is used in the manufacturing of batteries, and the fourth-largest producer of copper, which is used in the assembly of electric cars.

Indeed, the East Africa Community's problem is not the absence of natural resources, but the absence of high-tech industries. China stands as an example of a country that rose from an agrarian society to an industrial power. Today, Chinese industrialization has brought modern economic development to the country, lifting more than 850 million people out of poverty.

Industrialization is liberating. Therefore, the industrial revolution can be realized in the East Africa Community if member states put their resources together and build high-tech industries that will provide value addition for their mineral ores.

Key components used in making computer monitors, circuit boards and electric vehicle batteries are among products that can be exported to developing and developed countries by the East Africa Community's member states.

In 2020, mineral ores brought in $17.8 billion for the DRC, accounting for about 91 percent of the country's total exports and 36 percent of its GDP. However, with value addition, the DRC would have reaped more from its exports.

There is no way that the East Africa Community can emancipate itself from backwardness without carrying out an industrial revolution. Therefore, will the DRC provide the magic bullet and spur industrial revolution within the East Africa Community?

The author is executive director of the China-Africa Center at the Africa Policy Institute in Kenya.

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