•DRC has vast natural resources, including 60 per cent of the global cobalt reserves.
• The country also exports gold, copper and timber.
The entry of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) into the East Africa Community (EAC) marks a significant milestone for Kenya in terms of advancing her geo-economic influence in the region while strengthening intra-regional trade and investment.
The signing this week in Nairobi of the Treaty of Accession formally admitting DRC into the regional body was the culmination of a process in which Kenya has played an instrumental role in recent years.
In appending their signatures to the document, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi and his Kenya counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta, in his capacity as EAC Chair, paved the way not only for the integration of the expansive central African nation into the six-member strong East African union, but also the creation of a regional market with a GDP conservatively estimated at $250 billion (Sh24.3 trillion).
Essentially, the move ushers in a common market stretching from the Indian Ocean in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, and home to more than 270 million people.
DRC alone has a population of 95 million people, signifying its vital importance in the expanded bloc.
Also, apart from being the largest country geographically in sub-Saharan Africa, almost the size of Western Europe, DRC has vast natural resources, including 60 per cent of the global cobalt reserves.
Cobalt is a precious metal used in the manufacture of batteries that power smartphones and electric cars. The country also exports gold, copper and timber.
DRC also has significant energy resources and arable land that if harnessed, alongside its abundant mineral wealth, are capable of transforming the East and Central African regional bloc into an economic powerhouse.
Additionally, it is an important connectivity hub given that eleven major transport corridors facilitating trade in the Central, Eastern and Southern traverse it.
Already, President Tshisekedi is on record affirming his country’s willingness to jointly exploit his country’s vast natural and economic resources with her EAC partner States.
He has also hinted at a specialized EAC body overseeing mining, natural resources and energy-based in the DRC capital Kinshasa.
Kenya is strategically placed to continue playing a pivotal role in DRC’s integration into the regional bloc.
To start with, given DRC’s historically strained relations with some of its neighbours, Kenya is uniquely positioned to play the role of a trusted ally enjoying close bilateral ties spanning economic, political and even security interests.
Last year, the two countries signed defence and security pacts by which Kenya provided military personnel as part of a rapid intervention force under the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).
Stabilizing the expansive nation is crucial to rebuilding its economy and enabling it to play its rightful role in regional affairs.
The important factor to note here is Kenya’s growing geo-economic influence in the region.
Geo-economics is a term used to describe how nations leverage economic tools to propel their geo-political interests.
It was popularized by American military strategist Edward Luttwak, who argued that with the demise of the Cold War, the world was shifting from military power to geo-economic power.
A good example of a country that has successfully deployed its economic assets in projecting its political power is China with its Belt and Road Initiative.
That Kenya has taken a deliberate posture in strengthening ties with DRC is not surprising given the heightened activities of Kenyan companies in the regional economic dispensation.
Indeed, one of the most interesting dimensions of Kenya’s close involvement with DRC in recent years is the highly visible role of the private sector, with leading companies like Equity Bank at the forefront of reshaping the economic narrative of DRC by investing in key sectors like financial services.
This is a clear demonstration of how Kenyan businesses can proactively influence the regional geo-economic conversation by breathing life into bilateral agreements whose purpose is essentially to promote trade and investment.
The time is ripe for local SMEs eyeing growth in new markets in Africa to aggressively pursue opportunities in regional supply chains, with linkages to DRC and other EAC countries, especially in sectors like manufacturing, agribusiness, transport and logistics. This is the only way we can increase Kenya’s share of inter-regional trade.
With Kenya and DRC already linked by the Northern Corridor, the main trading corridor in the greater East and Central Africa region, local businesses should take advantage of the existing political goodwill, specifically Kenya’s strengthened geo-economic influence to penetrate new markets.
Mr. Murumba is CEO, Impulso Kenya Limited. [email protected]