Two years after his rise to power, Félix Tshisekedi is getting closer to his East African neighbours. During the first half of 2021, the Congolese head of state has multiplied his diplomatic challenges, to the point of initiating the process of integrating the Democratic Republic of Congo into the Community of East African States (EAC), an economic structure that includes Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda.
Economic benefits and security issues are among the reasons for Félix Tshisekedi’s rapprochement with his neighbours in the eastern part of the African continent. This challenge, both diplomatic and economic, is explained by the call for Kenyan troops to contribute to the pacification of the eastern region of the country, the launch of the construction of roads of common interest with Uganda, the signing of several agreements with Rwanda and the significant progress in the process of integration of the DRC in the Community of East African States.
Redefining the image of the DRC at the regional level?
It is a new brand that Felix Tshisekedi is making on the regional level. After two years in power, the head of state displays an image of a courageous and enterprising man in the face of his neighbours often cited in the destabilization of the country he leads since 23 January 2019. Does his label as current Chairman of the African Union galvanise his approach? It is difficult to say. « We have wasted so many years living in tension, in a war situation, sharing hatred and now it is enough. It is time to experience the other side: the sharing of peace, love and fraternal exchanges between our two countries, » said Felix Tshisekedi on Saturday at a joint press conference with his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame.
During the meeting in the volcanic city, the two heads of state agreed to continue their mutual efforts to put an end to the insecurity that hinders the momentum of development in the eastern part of the DRC in particular and the whole region in general. In passing, Kagame and Tshisekedi signed three agreements focusing on the promotion of investments and the fight against tax evasion and gold cooperation.
Before signing these agreements, the Congolese head of state launched, with his Ugandan counterpart, Yoweri Museveni, the construction of the Kasindi-Beni-Butembo and Bunagna-Rutshuru-Goma roads. He also asked for the support of Kenyan troops to help fight insecurity in the eastern region.
In addition to the security issues, the rapprochement between Félix Tshisekedi and his neighbours is an economic issue that should help the Democratic Republic of Congo to integrate the East African Community (EAC). This structure includes Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda. It facilitates trade between these states.
« I have always expressed my admiration for our compatriots in this part of the country (East Africa) who, despite the violence and difficulties, remain very enterprising, and there are many agricultural products (…) which are grown here and which have to be evacuated via East Africa to the Indian Ocean. All this requires that we harmonise our policies, our tariffs so that Congolese producers also find themselves, » Tshisekedi praised.
In sum, the rapprochement between the Congolese head of state and his eastern neighbours constitutes a new departure in the harmonisation of bilateral relations between these countries and, by extension, the development of this part of the African continent.