The East African Community (EAC) process of integration is one dictated by logistical pressures; the global transport and communication revolution has meant that economies are integrated along logistical lines and less on national lines.
The question of DR Congo acceding to the EAC was ruled out for the time being, but it is the only way that the EAC will work. Congo is being courted on all sides, by all regional groups such as SADC, Central Africa, West Africa, as well as East Africa.
The conundrum is that the various parts of DR Congo are oriented towards different directions; the old Shaba province is more connected to Zambia than to Kinshasa, the East is logistically bound to the Indian Ocean, and Kinshasa to the Atlantic Ocean.
All large countries have this phenomenon, for example in USA – California trades more with the Pacific rim than it does with Europe, and likewise the Eastern seaboard trades more with the West than the East.
The Congolese are lukewarm on membership mainly because the proponents of the accession have focused more on the potential mineral wealth and less on the real potential of Congo; it is a nation of 70-80 million people, and is thus potentially the second biggest market in Africa.
We need to focus more on the human capital in DR Congo and less on the minerals because that breeds a neo-colonialist outlook.
While we are bound by logistical ties, we must also have shared principles and values; these values are what underpin the whole system and guarantee investor confidence.
The Copenhagen criteria states the nations should have stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.
There should be existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressures, and market forces within the Union plus the ability to take on the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.
These are similar to the criteria used to assess potential membership of the EAC.
The first steps towards supranational integration are conducted on an intergovernmental level until regional institutions are robust enough to drive integration.
Of all the regional blocs, the EAC is best placed to succeed because it is bound logistically and culturally, and therefore Congo is essential to its success.
For reasons of sovereignty, we cannot accept Eastern Congo or Southern Sudan into the EAC, but the reality on the ground is that these regions will be in our sphere.
A compromise would be giving DR Congo associated membership, with all the benefits of integration and flexibility.
The associated membership of DR Congo would place Rwanda at the heart of the EAC; we are currently on the fringes, economically and geographically.
The old routes taken by explorers in the 19th century became the trade routes and have become set in stone and cannot be changed overnight.
Rwanda suffers from being “upstream” in that it is at the end of a logistical line; we need to extend that logistical line downstream by opening up Eastern Congo and Burundi, or forming a loop back via Tanzania to the ocean.