The Summit of Heads of States of the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (CEPGL) has not met for more than two decades, thereby freezing infrastructure development such as energy and agriculture.
CEPGL groups together Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda. President Joseph Kabila of DRC is the current chairman.
CEPGL’s Executive Secretary, Herman Tuyaga, says over 20 development projects in security, energy, trade, ICT, environment, fisheries, and agriculture remain shelved until President Kabila convenes the Summit to approve them.
Teddy Kaberuka, an economic analyst, says CEPGL, with an area of 2,399,581 square kilometers and a population of 90 million people presents immense opportunities to member states if well harnessed.
“If CEPGL leaders were able to regularly meet and endorse joint development projects, the infrastructure status of the region would improve with the exploitation of methane gas in Lake Kivu, hydropower on river Rusizi, joint tourism, and much more,” he said.
With chunks of fertile land and good climate, CEPGL has huge potential for commercial agriculture to turn the area into a food basket for the continent.
The region’s seven-year development plan (2014-2020) lists priority projects that would cost about 1.6m Euros.
Top on the list is development of commercial agriculture to boost food insecurity, eliminate malnutrition and increase household incomes.
One of those areas seen to have huge potential for agriculture is the Rusizi plain, a lush 175,000ha on the floor of the Western Rift Valley, which stretches into the three countries.
According to Tuyaga, the area is being cultivated by people from the three countries but practice rudimentary farming.
“They practice poor cultivation and as such yields are so low. There is rice farming in parts such as Bugarama (Rwanda) and others in Burundi and Congo. But our wish is that the whole plain is jointly managed so that the private sector can invest,” said Tuyaga.
“For the private sector to efficiently invest there, a master plan is necessary. Investors need to know which area is best for what; and where irrigation barrages, feeder roads and transformation industries would be located.”
Last year, terms of reference for ‘an exploitation master plan’ were submitted to the African Development Bank (AfDB) to finance studies. But, like other projects, nothing will be accomplished without the Summit’s approval.
“Once the Summit is held, we hope to convene a round table with development partners, and bring all ideas together so that everyone knows what the other is doing. The Summit will unlock all projects,” Tuyaga said.
Energy is another potential CEPGL seeks to boost. DRC alone has huge hydropower potential estimated at 100,000 MW.
“The energy potential is huge and under exploited. The same applies to agricultural potential, fisheries and tourism. The poor infrastructure contributes to insecurity and hinders intra-regional trade,” reads part of the master plan.
Security concerns in the region emanate from a multiplicity of armed groups in eastern DRC. Insecurity is hampering socio-economic development and integration, but this too, will be turned around if the leaders remain loyal to the bigger picture, Tuyaga said.
In April last year, technocrats met in Kigali to fine-tune agreements that would see a shared hydro power project (Rusizi III) deliver 145MW in about four years. The three countries will share the power equally.
Tuyaga said studies on Rusizi IV to generate 287MW would also resume with the project to mature by 2025. He added that if the Summit convenes and the three leaders manifest the will to build the community as required, negotiations with investors in energy projects would not be difficult.
“Our partners appear to be hesitant as they say that ‘no one’ knows how things will evolve in CEPGL and thus even cause impediments since, when there are more risks, they request for more guarantees. These guarantees are difficult to negotiate as they raise the cost of a project,” he said.
Regional infrastructure, especially roads, will be needed to improve the business climate and attract investment. As such, border posts will be upgraded to One Stop Border Posts (OSBP) to boost cross border trade by 2020.
Roads are however not a priority in the joint 2014-2020 plan due to cost implications. “We realized the process of studies and resource mobilization would take longer if roads were also considered. The whole budget would come to about 6 billion Euros,” Tuyaga said.
Whereas in Rwanda, and to some extent Burundi, the road network is better, vast areas of eastern DR Congo remain inaccessible. By 2012, Burundi’s paved road network represented 21.6% of the regular 1,528km network while DR Congo’s paved road network represented a miserable 5.2% of the total 3,000 km network. In Rwanda, about 26% of the over 1,207km road network was paved.
Nonetheless, Tuyaga said, the wish is that roads from Rwanda and Burundi, into DR Congo go further inland instead of stopping at the borders.
“Our document indicates the desired future multimodal transport which would involve using a train to a certain point, water, road to the next point, and so on. With that, you can move goods from Kigali to Kinshasa, without using air, and it would greatly develop regional trade.”
The wish, Tuyaga says, is that the EAC’s railway projects could go further into DR Congo to create a larger sub continental rail network.
Foreign Affairs Minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, last month told MPs that Kinshasa had informed Kigali of its wish to have the Summit in Rubavu District, where CEPGL headquarters are located. It will be the first time the Summit is convened since 1992.