25.7.2022: Mogadishu, Somalia
It was last week when the newly elected President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud embarked on his sixth trip abroad to visit the East African nation of Tanzania. This comes as Tanzania hosted the East African Community (EAC) 22nd Heads of State summit in Arusha.
Somalia has renewed interest in joining the East African Community (EAC), focusing on the desire of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to stabilise ties with neighbours under his ‘Somalia at peace with the world’ manifesto.
“Somalia belongs to East Africa. There is not one country among the seven countries sitting here that Somalia is not linked to by business, by the community or by any other means”, said President Hassan Sheikh during his speech to the EAC Heads of State.
However, before we delve into the possible positives and negatives of joining the organisation for Somalia, lets take a look at the history between Somalia and the East African Community
2013: Somalia initially applies to join the East African Community
2016: Somalia’s application to the East African Community is rejected by the member states for “security reasons”. The Somali Foreign Minister at the time, Mr Abdisalam Hadliye denied that the reason was security concerns.
He told BBC Somali that a committee from the EAC would visit Somalia in April 2016 “to assess whether (Somalia) is eligible to join the organisation”. Mr Hadliye continued that he believed that Somalia had “fulfilled the requirements” set out by the organisation.
Interestingly, shortly after South Sudan’s membership was approved by EAC members despite the security and political situation in South Sudan at the time being not much different to Somalia to some degree.
According to the treaty establishing the EAC, new members are admitted if they respect the principles of “democracy, rule of law, accountability, transparency and social justice“.
Indeed, if South Sudan managed to fulfil the criteria, one has to ask him/herself as to why Somalia was initially rejected.
Somalia would re-apply to join the organisation.
2016-2020: For four years, the East African Community would again not begin the verification process for Somalia.
2021: The Somali Government asked the EAC Council to begin the process of verification and why there was such a long delay.
2022: Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud travels to Arusha to participate in the Heads of State Summit as a guest.
Following a series of individual meetings between President Mahmoud and leaders of the member states, the EAC confirmed that the organisation will finally begin the technical verification process.
It is important to note that this does not automatically secure membership.
Why the Delays?
Some analysts including myself believe this stems from Somalia’s poor relationship with neighbouring Kenya, the most influential and powerful in the East African bloc.
Economically, Kenya is at the top of the pile with US $110.35B in GDP in comparison to second place Tanzania which has US $67.78B in GDP.
Militarily, Kenya is also remains on top as well as diplomatically with Nairobi having strong ties to Western powers including the United Kingdom and the United States.
The reality is that, Kenya disputed the Somali waters in southern Jubaland region. Additionally, Somalia had accused Kenya of openly meddling in internal Somali affairs in relation to Jubaland and the re-election of regional leader Ahmed Madobe. All this translated to animosity between Nairobi and Mogadishu.
Finally, the idea of Somalia joining the EAC would imply that Somalia has relative stability. A narrative that would not suit well with some member states in the African Union Mission that want to see an extension to the mission in Somalia.
Consequently, the combination of all these factors most likely played a significant role in the hinderance of Somali membership in the EAC.
The simple fact that upon the re-election of Pro-Kenya President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud and the signing of the Miraa agreement in Nairobi did we finally see movement in Somalia’s verification process demonstrates just that.
Positives v. Negatives?
Some of the possible benefits of Somalia joining the group include:
- Possibly more relaxed immigration rules
- Access to the East African market
- Lower tariffs on Somali exports
- Legal & Financial protection increased in the region for Somali businesses.
However, while this sounds all good, the reality is that Somalia does not produce much, it’s industries are at its infancy at best. It doesn’t have effective institutions and it’s legal system is incomplete. Somalia will become a major consumer hub, a place to export EAC products to in exchange for money. An imbalance we see in Somali-Kenyan economic relations at the present time.
Somalia also provides the longest coastline access in Africa at a strategic location which will be beneficial for EAC states.
Combining all the above factors, can easily see Somalia become the loser in this game of economics and politics if it does not tread safely.