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  • Seleman Kitenge & Brian Chaggu

The Democratic Republic of the Congo Membership in the East African Community

The Democratic Republic of the Congo Membership in the East African Community: National Security Concerns to the Bloc


This paper identifies and analyzes the national security concerns of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) membership in the East African Community (EAC). It utilizes and analyzes existing literature and the Armed Conflict Location and Data (ACLED) dashboard tool to identify national security threats to the bloc. The paper concludes by calling for the EAC to take serious measures to address the unending conflict in the DRC by creating strong peace and security institutions that will be capable of forecasting threats and proposing different ways of curbing security concerns at both the domestic and regional levels. It also calls for reforms in laws, policies, and institutions as well as strengthening DRC’s counter-terrorism capacity by facilitating the process of developing a proper strategy to address terrorism and violent extremism threats that can affect other members of EAC.

Keywords: The Democratic Republic of the Congo, East African Community, Economic Integration Theory, Regional Security Complex Theory, National Security, Conflict,


The Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC) admission to the East African Community (EAC) is a continued road map and vision for the Pan-Africanism ideology advocated by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere (First President of Tanzania and Pioneer of Pan-Africanism). He championed a gradual approach to regional integration as opposed to Kwame Nkrumah's universalist approach to opting for a federation of African states. Mwalimu Nyerere upheld and lobbied for the creation of an East African Federation. This was a functionalist approach of gradual integration based on need and international cooperation in matters relating to the economy (SIHMA, 2017).

Mwalimu Nyerere was to argue that the United States of Africa could not be attained in a single step; that it was too huge a step to take all at once; and that, just as African independence had been a process, so too would African unification be a process. In this perspective, the DRC's membership in the East African Community (EAC) is not only vital for the regional bloc but also a dream come true for one of its founding fathers, the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, who aspired to African regional integration. The Theory of Economic Integration by Balassa (1961) discusses the political and ideological aspects of the integration process. Balassa’s five stages of economic integration constituted a free trade area, a customs union, a common market, an economic union, and total economic integration. Balassa’s vision of total economic integration coincides with an ultimate federation or confederation. The EAC has currently surpassed two stages, and in 2010, it launched a common market for goods, labor, and capital within the region, to create a common currency and, subsequently, a full political federation. In 2013, a protocol was signed outlining their plans to launch a monetary union within 10 years. Recently, a committee was established to start the process of drafting a regional constitution.

Regardless of the huge socio-economic potential that comes with DRC membership in the regional bloc, we cannot ignore the political instability concerns and spillover effects that come with it. According to Investopedia (2020), the spillover effect refers to the impact that seemingly unrelated events in one nation can have on the economies of other nations. Although there are positive spillover effects, the term is most commonly applied to the negative impact a domestic event has on other parts of the world such as an earthquake, stock market crisis, or another macro event (Investopedia, 2020). Such spillover is contributed by weak governance systems and poor infrastructure development in the country which has been impacted by decades of civil war that hinder the DRC from maximizing its full economic potential. The spillover effect can be linked with Buzan and Wæver’s (2003) theory of Regional Security Complex, which refers to the situation in which the security issues of states are interconnected to each other in a way that is not possible to separate them reasonably.

Noteworthy, the DRC is the world’s biggest producer of cobalt, a major component in the manufacture of rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles, and Africa’s main copper producer. It is also a major producer of gold, diamonds, uranium, coltan, oil, and other precious metals, making it one of the most resource-rich countries in the world (The East African, 2022). The African Business Magazine (2009) indicated that the total mineral wealth of DRC was estimated at USD 24 trillion equivalent to the GDP of Europe and the United States. These resources, coupled with appropriate transport infrastructure, can boost the EAC’s industrialization agenda through reduced transactional costs for labor from lower-to-higher-productivity activities (Cilliers, 2018). Hence, this would lead to economic transformation in the East African economies, which is key to achieving economy-wide productivity improvements, job creation, and sustained progress in growth and poverty reduction (WTO, 2018). Moreover, not only does DRC share borders with four of the six countries of the EAC, but it also shares the EAC’s official language, Kiswahili, with about 50% of the population fluent in the language (Kambale, 2004). While Swahili will simplify trade relations between DRC and other EAC partners, it may also facilitate the smooth movement of rebel or terrorist groups operating in the country who take advantage of its instability to smuggle natural resources unnoticed. Given similar accents to tribes in neighboring countries such as in the Western part of Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi, it might make it difficult to scrutinize them, hence failing to prevent the scourge of illegal resource acquisition and smuggling which can impact DRC’s economic prosperity as well as that of its neighbors who share direct socio-economic ties with the country.

The study aims to analyze the security challenges for the East African Community related to the DRC membership. It illuminates the situation in the DRC to better understand the national security implications and to chart a course for the regional bloc as a whole to offer solutions for sustainable peace and security.

There has been little discourse concerning such issues regarding the DRC membership and its impact on the EAC. Rather, much discussion was focused on the prediction of DRC as a potential member of the EAC and its impacts economically, politically, and socially. This paper aims to interrogate the current situation of DRC as a member of the bloc and further examine the national security concerns. The literature review is based on scholars on regional integration and security studies such as Bela Balassa, and Buzan and Wæver. Different reports such as the African Union Report on Integration and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have also been reviewed.

The paper considers the question: How can the DRC's membership trigger security concerns? A complete review of the literature is used through desk research to provide a way forward on the subject matter under investigation to respond to the research question.

The paper uses qualitative research methodology. The analysis is based on desk research, which includes data collected from both primary and secondary sources such as books, journals, policy papers, political commentary, policy briefs, news items, dissertations, opinion pieces, blog posts, and other online resources. It conducts an in-depth analysis of the subject matter through such data to reach a well-informed conclusion on the research question. The theoretical perspective used for the study is based on the Economic Integration Theory by Bela Balassa and the Regional Security Complex Theory by Buzan and Wæver.

Furthermore, the data utilized in the study is deemed open source because it was derived from an examination of information available on open-source or public platforms, including online and offline libraries (Kitenge, 2020). A holistic understanding and synthesis of the existing literature were used to address the multiplicity of emerging topics (Torraco, 2016).

Statement of the Problem

Although the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has recently joined the East African Community (EAC), it has had social, political, and economic ties with the EAC partner states since the establishment of the community. For instance: Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda for so long have been at the forefront of contributing to several peace-building efforts in the Great Lakes Region particularly in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Also, these countries on many occasions have hosted a significant number of refugees providing them with humanitarian aid. Therefore, the joining of DRC into the bloc further deepens the interaction between DRC and the EAC member states.

DRC membership in the bloc brings with it immense socioeconomic possibilities that can increase due to the free movement of goods, services, and unrestricted movement of people. Therefore, while DRC’s membership in the bloc has expanded the market to reach over 300 million people as well as brought in a huge natural resource base to the community, it also comes with a national security price that can be paid by other partner states. This takes into account political instability and other national security concerns such as terrorism, refugee influx, public health crises, and environmental threats that trigger spillover effects on the bloc. Moreover, the Congolese population has been subjected to rampant rape and sexual violence, major human rights violations, and great poverty as a result of poor governance and the presence of various armed groups (Center for Preventive Action, 2022). As a result of the removal of border restrictions as part of the regional economic integration process, all of these difficulties constitute a threat not only to DRC but also to neighboring countries in the bloc.

The Objective of the Study

The objective of the study is to interrogate the national security concerns of the Democratic Republic of the Congo EAC’s membership.

Literature Review

The Theory of Economic Integration

Balassa (1961) defines economic integration, identifies its stages, discusses political and ideological aspects of the integration process, and specifies what he means by "economic welfare." Balassa’s five stages of economic integration constituted a free trade area, a customs union, a common market, an economic union, and total economic integration. Balassa’s vision of total economic integration coincides with an ultimate federation or confederation.

Balassa explains that the theory of economic integration can be regarded as a part of international economics, but it also enlarges the field of international trade theory by exploring the impact of a fusion of national markets on growth and examining the need for the coordination of economic policies in a union. Finally, the theory of economic integration should incorporate elements of location theory too. The integration of adjacent countries amounts to the removal of artificial barriers that obstruct continuous economic activity through national frontiers, and the ensuing relocation of production and regional agglomerative and deglomerative tendencies cannot be adequately discussed without making use of the tools of locational analysis. Concerning DRC's inclusion in the bloc, this means it will enjoy the aspects such as common external tariffs, one-stop border posts, and quotas. These aspects play an important role in easing and facilitating deeper economic interaction. However, such economic interaction propels the challenges of the DRC to affect other members of the bloc as explained by Regional Security Complex Theory.

Regional Security Complex Theory

This is a theory proposed for the first time by Barry Buzan and Ole Waever (2003), which explains the regional security complex (RSC) as a group of states whose primary national security concerns are so closely intertwined together that they cannot be extracted or addressed independently of each other. The basic idea of the theory is that international security could be clustered in different geographically shaped regions. In practice, evidence shows that security issues, and consequently threats, are more likely to occur within a specific region. In a definite region, the security of every actor is interrelated with the security of other actors. Security interdependence, in general, is stronger within a region and diminishes when distance increases.

This implies that the security challenges in the DRC are now part and parcel of the EAC. Therefore, they need to be addressed as a bloc to actualize the EAC dream.

Since attaining independence, the DRC has been severely hampered by humanitarian, human rights, and security challenges. Massive abuses by militia groups and military forces have been occurring frequently. This has in turn rendered millions and created a serious refugee crisis in neighboring countries in the bloc. Tanzania for instance has been actively engaging in the peacekeeping mission (MONUSCO) in DRC for a good number of years as well as hosting many refugees in the Kigoma region (North-Western Tanzania).

The recent ongoing rising tensions between Rwanda and the DRC demonstrate the need for an immediate response and an end to the internal security issues posed by the militia groups in the DRC. On June 13, 2022, the M23 rebels captured the town of Bunagana, an important town for cross-border trade between the DRC and Uganda. The DRC has long accused Rwanda of supporting the M23. The accusations have surged again in recent months.

Rwanda has retaliated by claiming that the DRC military forces injured several civilians in cross-border shelling. As a result, the chairman of the EAC, former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, called for the deployment of the recently formed East African Standby Force. “The East African Regional Force shall be deployed to the Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu provinces immediately to stabilize the zone and enforce peace in support of the DRC security forces and close coordination with MONUSCO (UN peacekeeping force),” said President Kenyatta.

Truth be told, if the ongoing security concerns are not addressed promptly, there is a possibility that the crisis could spillover to neighboring countries. A stable DRC is a prerequisite for effective cooperation with the other EAC member states. It also has to be noted that the economic prosperity of the bloc depends highly on a secure and politically stable bloc.

Figure 1: The Democratic Republic of Congo: Conflict event dataset, Source: ACLED (2022)

As far as national security issues are concerned, figure 1 above indicates a series of violent activities that not only pose concerns to DRC but also to other members of the bloc who have been hosting refugees and engaging in peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions through MONUSCO and other regional peacekeeping initiatives. Moreover, the existence of terror groups such as ISIS-DRC, which has conducted a series of terrorist attacks in North Kivu and Ituri provinces in Eastern DRC, is likely to take advantage of the lapse in border security facilitated by the free movement of people to further seek to expand their operations against neighboring member states.

In addition, security instability in the DRC makes it even harder for public health professionals to contain and address the eruption of infectious diseases such as the Ebola virus epidemic, Measles, COVID-19 pandemic, and the like, which can easily spread to neighboring states. In this context, the spillover effect of insecurity in the DRC is likely to jeopardize the national security of other members of the bloc considering the nexus between public health and the effect of the conflicts. For instance, the Ebola virus epidemic in the DRC continues to pose threats to other EAC member states because of the relationship between public health and national security. In this case, improving public health facilities in the regions bordering the DRC is critical for the safety of the people in the bloc. This also emphasized by Field (2011) who noted that the concept of security must, by necessity, expand beyond military considerations and include the security of people and the environment, since it is recognized that peace is more than the absence of war or the containment of conflict. This calls for the EAC partner states not only to look at the traditional state-centric notions of security but rather consider other elements of human security concerns which might threaten not only the security of DRC but also the entire bloc.

In recent years, terrorist groups have been expanding their reach to establish more influence in more territories across Africa. Their easy target has been fragile states where governance structures are incapable of creating the necessary resilience to advance their objectives. This observation has been supported by the United States Institute of Peace (2019), which emphasized that fragile states provide the best conditions for extremist attempts at state-building and hence for showing the soundness of extremist ideological agendas.

Moreover, as indicated by the US National Strategy for Counterterrorism, “these groups stoke and exploit weak governance, conflict, instability, and longstanding political and religious grievances to pursue their goal,” (United States Institute of Peace, 2019). In this setting, the DRC, like many other unstable African countries, is becoming a new haven for terrorist groups seeking to expand their reach. The DRC is already experiencing a series of terrorist attacks as highlighted above. For instance, ISIS-DRC, also known as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and Madina at Tauheed Wau Mujahedeen, among other names, is responsible for many attacks across North Kivu and Ituri Provinces in Eastern DRC. Under the leadership of Seka Musa Baluku, ISIS-DRC has been notorious in this region for its brutal violence against Congolese citizens and regional military forces, with attacks killing over 849 civilians in 2020 alone. (US State Department, 2021)

In addition, the Institute of Security Studies (2016) pointed out that terrorist groups are increasingly becoming part of the criminal networks that grab and smuggle minerals in the DRC. The institute further highlighted that in 2013, civil society groups in North Kivu discovered the existence of Al - Shabaab mercenaries in Bunagana, near the Ugandan border. Their presence in this area is a spillover from an Al - Qaeda affiliated group based in Southern Somalia.

Therefore, it is against this background that the EAC members need to take deliberate measures to first, ensure that the spillover effects of the groups operating in DRC do not affect their countries. Secondly, prevent their borders from being smuggling routes for illegal resources that can facilitate terrorism financing in the DRC and beyond. In this context, the need for immediate and radical actions to enhance natural resource governance in the DRC and the broader region, as advocated by the Institute of Security Studies (2016), is critical going forward.

For the past two decades, the intensity of the armed conflict that has plagued DRC has gradually decreased (Rufanges and Aspa, 2016). The situation of violence and instability in the east of the country, which began with Laurent Desiré Kabila's 1996 coup d'état against Mobutu Sese Seko and culminated in his surrender of power in 1997 persists (Rufanges and Aspa, 2016). As a result, regardless of the country's being rich in terms of natural resources, instability has prevented it from prospering socially and economically, which presents a major concern to other EAC members hoping to further benefit from DRC’s membership.

According to UNHCR (2018), 82,000 refugees and asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) live in the Nyarugusu camp in the Kigoma region. Some of the refugees have combatant experience which poses security concerns to Tanzania as a host and the EAC region at large.

Subsequently, eliminating rebel groups in Eastern DRC and restoring normalcy to allow civilians to fully participate in socioeconomic activities without fear of assault will help to address national security concerns caused by civil wars and refugee influx in the EAC. However, poor communications and infrastructure, bad roads, heavy jungle, high rainfall, and irregular armed groups make it a difficult environment for UN operations (Field, 2011) and regional peacekeeping and peacemaking efforts in DRC. Hence, improving communications and infrastructure should be part and parcel of the regional and international community efforts to address insecurity in the country.

Therefore, the above analysis with respect to Economic Integration Theory and Regional Security Complex Theory demonstrates that insecurity in one member of the region means insecurity for the others. In this case, DRC’s ongoing insecurity is inseparable from the bloc's security and it is up to it to take collective security measures to address the crisis in the country.


Overall, DRC’s membership is likely to have a positive socio-economic effect on the bloc. However, experts have warned that DRC’s history of political unrest is a key aspect the EAC should address to yield significant mutual benefits.

According to Risch (2009), the state in the DRC can be described as a force of disorder. Nevertheless, the unending conflict in the DRC could be a turning point only if serious measures are taken to improve the security situation in the country. This should include creating strong peace and security institutions that will be capable of forecasting threats (early warning systems) and proposing different ways of curbing security concerns at both the domestic and regional levels. In addition, the provision of extensive military and counterterrorism training for the Congolese security organs will be crucial in minimizing the spillover effects of the existing armed groups and terrorist organizations.

Furthermore, utilizing existing joint forces or a standing army to deal with security issues in the DRC and the EAC at large will complement current efforts by the international community on the peacekeeping operations led by the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).

According to Englebert and Tull’s (2007) view on African statehood, most of Africa’s collapsed states had never resembled the ideal type of modern Western polity. Specifically, they argue that the DRC never possessed a monopoly of coercion, let alone a legitimate one. The DRC also never enjoyed the rule of law or functioned within the context of rational Weberian bureaucracy. In their view, what has collapsed was never any real existing state in the DRC, but rather the vision or dream of the idea of what should constitute a developmental, progressive Congolese state. Their observation is substantiated by the existence of several armed nonstate actors that have weakened governance systems and created a state of chaos in the DRC to make it a failed state.

Therefore, considering such weak governance structures within the DRC that impede the rule of law and democratic principles to prevail, total reforms of laws, policies, and institutions will help the country to build its statehood and a resilient domestic system that can address the root causes of insecurity and governance challenges.

Notably, numerous observers and commentators have emphasized the necessity of expanding the government's role in maintaining peace in the DRC during the past few years (De Carvalho, 2007). Nevertheless, the government still struggles with capacity issues, which restricts or prevents its ability to exert control over the entire DRC area (Neethling, 2011). In spite of that, DRC’s membership in the EAC community might facilitate the process of improving its internal capacity to ensure peace and security.

Lastly, the EAC as a whole needs to work closely and tirelessly with the DRC to facilitate the process of developing a proper strategy to address terrorism and violent extremism threats that can impact the socio-economic progress of the EAC. This should include strong cooperation on border management and control between the EAC member states and DRC authorities. On top of that, the intelligence exchange on prospective terrorist suspects among security organs to prevent strikes on EAC member states is a critical component in building sustainable peace and security in the region.


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List of Figures

Figure 1: Source: ACLED

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