Written by 8:23 am Opinion

Somalia, the EAC and the Politics of Regionalism.

Zakaria Deeq

The East African Community is an intergovernmental body comprised of seven East African countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Republic of Tanzania, the Republics of Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Uganda. It has its headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania.

The East African Community (EAC) was first established in 1967 but discontinued in 1977 due to political and economic differences between member states. It was then re-established in 2000 with the purpose of encouraging regional integration while also enhancing economic, social, and political cooperation. Since then, the EAC has undertaken a number of initiatives, including the creation of a common market, a customs union, and a planned monetary union, among others.

The EAC’s past practices mainly centers on legislative and regulatory harmonization, trade and investment promotion, infrastructure and social service development. The EAC has also worked to address issues like conflict resolution and environmental protection.

While the EAC has had some successes in its main pursuit of regional integration, it has also faced some challenges, such as political tensions among member countries, unequal economic development, and limited resources for implementing its initiatives. Nonetheless, the EAC has always maintained that its committed to its collective shared vision of a prosperous and integrated East Africa and strives to achieve it.

Why Somalia should not try hard to join the East African Community:

More than a decade ago, Somalia unsuccessfully tried to join the regional body to become a member state. Paradoxically, in the intervening years South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo joined the body in 2016 & 2022 respectively– countries who also have raging conflicts in them.

Somalia has not been admitted to the East African Community due to a number of factors, including the country’s longstanding political instability, terrorism, and general incompatibility with the EAC model. For starters, Somalia has been plagued by political instability for decades, making it difficult for the country to meet the EAC’s membership criteria. Second, terrorism is a major concern in Somalia, with Al-Shabab and other extremist groups posing a threat to regional security and stability. Finally, Somalia’s governance structures has been cited to “not fit the EAC model,” which it has been dully informed, are based on democratic principles, the rule of law, and market-oriented economic policies. Qualities which it honestly needs– desperately!

On the last week of January 2023, the EAC’s Secretary General (Dr) Peter Mathuki officially launched the verification mission to assess the country’s readiness to join the community. During the official launch, Dr Mathuki stated that a report would be presented to the heads of state summit, which was expected to take place in a month. “The verification team is set to make findings relating to the institutional frameworks in place, legal frameworks, policies, strategies, projects and programmes, areas of cooperation with other EAC partner states and expectations from membership,” said Dr Mathuki.

This was comforting to president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, President of the Federal Republic of Somalia, who in his part urged the East African Community to expedite his country’s admission.

The president stated that Somalia’s admission to the Community has been a long-awaited dream for the Somali people and government, and he urged the Secretary General, Hon. (Dr.) Peter Mathuki, to expedite the admission process so that his country can be admitted to be EAC’s eighth member.

In reading and analyzing the region’s media coverage on this, I could not help but notice this article  on the Daily Nation, Kenya’s biggest newspaper and the most widely read in the East African region. In it, the writer, one Gitau Warigi says out what I assume every policy maker probably thinks of Somalia’s admittance into the EAC but wont say out loud. Mr Warigi starts out his piece with “Somalia is considered problematic in its current form…. It’s unstable, with no functioning institutions and with the worst terrorist problem in the region — that of Al-Shabab. In this view, Somalia is a basket case that will bring nothing to the EAC except agony.”

He also reminds his readers that the EAC did not ‘defer’ as was then said regarding Somalia’s request to join in 2012 but rather utter rejection. He makes an important note on the country’s incompatibility with the common law system in place across many member states as laid down by colonial Britain. He also puts heavy emphasis on the lack of a complete constitution arguing, it has a provisional one and appears to be indecisive on where the capital should be. He goes a step further to say “Though Somalia is geographically in East Africa, it does not have much in common with its EAC neighbours. It doesn’t meet the fundamental legal requirements of the EAC Treaty. Aside from lacking a constitution, its territorial integrity is fluid. That is fatal.” continuing with “And in a continent where religion matters, Somalia’s EAC inclusion would make it the only wholly Muslim member. Within EAC countries, Muslims are in the minority.”

This comprehensive piece degenerates real quick and talks of Somalia’s citizenship law which he says offers citizenship to “all Cushitic people in the Horn of Africa such as the Oromo and Borana, and not just to Somali speakers.” This couldn’t be further from the truth as Somali citizenship is strictly given to only those whose fathers are ethnic Somalis as the community has been patrilineal since time immemorial.

Warigi further speaks of Kenya & Ethiopia’s unease with Somalia’s malleable position on granting citizenship to anybody who is a Somali as both countries have significant Somali populations and their past hostilities over her irredentism. Towards this he says “A disconcerting number in the cabinet (Somalia’s) are Somalis from Ethiopia, which has bred suspicion from that neighbour. The ‘Ethiopians’ include Prime Minister Hamza Barre, who comes from the same Shilabo region his late namesake and third president of Somalia, Siad Barre, was born.” at this point I cannot help but question why would a proponent of a prosperous EAC be alarmed by citizens of one nation making to the leadership in an another? Isn’t that good for regionalism? But no! That is not his concern because of the aforementioned ills of the country were just setting the stage for his main issue as a Kenyan because, in his own words “Kenya harbours resentment over their maritime feuds. EAC members have their border issues, of course, such as Kenya’s dispute with Uganda over Migingo. Ordinarily, though, such spats tend to be sorted out internally. However, Somalia has never hesitated to internationalise her quarrels. She was quick to take Kenya to the International Court of Justice over their Indian Ocean row.” He then disingenuously ends his piece with the problem of terrorism as the ultimate deal breaker for Somalia’s ascent to the EAC.

One may wonder why I gave this much airtime to an opinion column from this seemingly concerned writer, although that is a valid thought to have, his piece, to me brings forth many issues I believe top East African Community bureaucrats as well as the region’s lay people view the Horn of Africa nation Somalis call home, with the same if not worse lens.

Equally troubled South Sudan, although formally joining the EAC in 2016, is yet to fully integrate into the body while The Democratic Republic of Congo (which also has longstanding conflict and political instability like Somalia’s) joined in 2022. It is important to note that the later did so with tense relations and ever increasing confrontations with Rwanda (another member state), I cannot help but think to myself why is it easy for them and not Somalia? Your guess is as good as mine– Warigi’s article is a good starting point.

Instead of Somalia trying hard to join a body that has rejected its application already and with considerable hindrances in place, If my advice was sought, I would suggest one remedy; Increased integration with the Horn of Africa region and special agreements with individual EAC member states. This, in my opinion, can be achieved in the following ways:

1. Focusing on Political Stability: Somalia’s political history has been turbulent, with decades of civil war, piracy, and terrorism. However, the country has made strides toward political stability in recent years, which may be jeopardized by the uncertainty of joining the EAC. A more viable option for Somalia’s future is to focus on integration with its immediate neighbors, who have relatively stable political systems.

2. Tackling Common Regional Problems: terrorism, poverty, and environmental degradation are all common regional issues in the Horn of Africa. Constituent countries can address these challenges collectively by pooling resources and expertise to find lasting regional solutions. Inclusion of Somalia in such efforts will be much easier if it focuses on integration with its immediate neighbors rather than trying to join the EAC.

3. Seeking Natural Trade and Economic Partnerships: Somalia’s proximity to neighboring nations in the horn of Africa, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Kenya, means there is a natural opportunity for economic partnerships and trade. These nations already have established trade agreements and economic integration, making Somalia’s inclusion in these agreements is much easier than trying to join the East African Community (EAC) from scratch.

4. Exploiting Cultural and Historical Ties: Somalia shares considerable cultural and historical ties with its neighbors in the horn of Africa. These nations practice the same religion and some similar cultural practices, making integration much more seamless. This cultural integration is not as apparent with the EAC, which poses a stark culture clash and makes integration much harder.

Finally, focusing on integration with its neighbors in the Horn of Africa would be far more beneficial than attempting to join the EAC. These nations’ shared history, culture, and natural resources make integration much more feasible, allowing Somalia to contribute to and benefit from collective efforts to address the region’s common challenges.

Zakaria Deeq is a Journalist & Trainee Diplomat who focuses on International Relations, Conflict, Security and Statehood. You can reach out to him on [email protected] or Twitter

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