The Summit of the East African Community (EAC) Heads of State at their 23rd Ordinary Meeting held in Arusha, Tanzania on Friday, 24th November 2023, resolved to admit Somalia as a full member of the Community after 13 years in a move the President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud described as a journey of resilience and perseverance against many odds but with a singular commitment to peace and cooperation in East Africa and the African continent at large while also terming the decision as a historic milestone that would be mutually beneficial to both parties.
Somalia’s entry into the EAC brings the total membership to 8, coming after that of Burundi in April 2022, the other members being the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, the target being to bring on board Ethiopia and Djibouti to fully integrate the Horn of Africa according to Mr Peter Mathuki the Secretary-General EAC.
With its 3000 KM Indian Ocean Coastline linking the region to the Arabian peninsula and opportunities for the blue economy, a resilient business community and viable diaspora links, Somalia also brings with it additional 17 million people, bolstering the community to a 300 million people market size covering a land area of 4.8 million sq. kilometres, a combined gross domestic product of $305bn and trade put through of $78.75bn as in the year 2022 with an intra-EAC trade growth rate of 11.2% according to the EAC website.
Initiated by former President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in 2011, Somalia has been an over a decade-long wait characterised by intense lobbying and shuttle diplomacy that saw the current president appoint a special envoy to expedite the process against apprehension and hesitation about the country’s instability, weak governance and economic frameworks characterised by sporadic insecurity occasioned by Al Shabab’s 16 years insurrection and occupation of parts of the country, massive smuggling, poor infrastructure and weak if not non-existent institutions.
Somalia is a fragile Horn of Africa country that has been at war for about three decades since 1991, when the government of its then president, the late Mohamed Siad Barre, was overthrown. Many parts of its territory remain under Al Shabab occupation even as Somaliland endeavours to secede. Worse still, Somalia remains in perpetual conflict with its neighbours like Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya, resulting in occasional diplomatic spats even as it remains in constant conflict between its federal government and member states.
Insecurity in Somalia within the context of borderless and integrated regional markets portends a high risk of deterioration of peace and stability and the escalation of latent conflicts, threats of terrorism and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons within the shared borders of Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda.
However, while underscoring the significant contribution and potential benefits of Somalia’s admission into the EAC, Somalia’s president assured commitment to address the systemic challenges granted support by the member states.
As part of the ratification process, the summit of heads of state tasked H.E Salva Kiir Mayardit, the Summit’s Chairperson and president of Southern Sudan, with the responsibility to schedule the signing of the treaty of accession into the community and thereafter deposit the instruments of ratification with the Secretary general.
Even as it may be argued that Somalia has taken formidable strides to reign on the Al Shabab terror group and the attainment of internal peace and stability like other members of the community, including DRC and Southern Sudan, that are facing turmoil, pundits point out that such inadequacies and the perpetual state of conflict in Somalia and it’s neighbours including it’s diplomatic tiff with Kenya over a maritime dispute that culminated into a dispute at International Court of Justice (ICJ) after the failure of out-of-court settlement. Its frosty relationship with its autonomous region of Somaliland is some of the issues that will stand in the way of Somalia’s full integration into the EAC if not overburdening the already overstrained EAC through additional responsibilities in troop contribution and peacekeeping commands.
There is a general feeling both within and outside Somalia that its accession was albeit rushed and has salient implications with immense bearing on the affairs of the community and Somalia as a country, a report released recently by the Heritage Institute, a Mogadishu-based think tank for instance, draws a situational analysis painting a grim picture of Somalia’s capacity to fully integrate granted its poor ratings on human rights, governance and rule of law.
Drawing on Somalia’s unique infrastructural and governance weaknesses, the report portrays a more dependent relationship, with the EAC having to grant a shot in the arm for Somalia if the community’s shared aspirations are to be realised.
Abdirashid Fidow, the Deputy CEO of the Anti-Tribalism Movement, a Somali community-based organisation in London, on his part while writing on the Elephant unequivocally stated that there was need for Somalia to assess whether its infrastructure, institutions, and economy are sufficiently developed to cope with the challenges and demands of integration to avoid premature membership that could strain Somalia’s resources, impede its growth, and leave it at a disadvantage compared to more established member states.
As a new member, the peace, stability and security situation in Somalia and its socioeconomics now have a direct contribution and bearing on the attainment of the EAC’s principal objects of free movement, realisation of borderless and integrated regional markets, expansion of regional markets and trade, removal of customs duties/non-tariff barriers, enhancement of free movement of labour and capital amongst member states and inter-regional trade, imperatives that cannot be attained devoid of the prerequisite conducive environment peace and security being pivotal.
For the ratification of admission to issue, the applying state has to fulfil eligibility criteria pegged on good governance, rule of law, human rights and socioeconomics, among others and after that, submit the appropriate instruments for accession, parameters that Somalia doesn’t seem to meet considering the instability and other systemic inadequacies including having been ranked by Transparency International as the leading corrupt country in Africa in the year 2022.
As a measure of Good governance and respect for the rule of law, for instance, EAC member states are required to have dispute resolution mechanisms in the form of an independent judiciary, a benchmark which Somalia fell short of, hence its inability to participate or benefit from the community’s judicial processes.
The admission of Somalia into the EAC now introduces the additional responsibility of ensuring stability and peace in the volatile nation; Somalia brings with it formidable security threats courtesy of Al Shabab, worsened by the festering proliferation of small arms and light weapons and massive smuggling enabled by its porous borders.