The test in admitting Somalia into East African Community
The election of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud may have convinced the East African Community (EAC) secretariat that Somalia was ripe to join the bloc, even though the country’s institutions are still under reconstruction.
This week, the EAC began assessing the country’s eligibility to join the bloc. This move comes on the backdrop of previous admissions for South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, both of which have a serious burden of conflict.
South Sudan was formally admitted in 2016 but has failed to fully adopt the bloc’s protocols.
Somalia had first applied to join the EAC in 2012 but was declined at that time owing to its troubles with Al-Shabaab and lack of a suitable legal stability at the time.
Last week, the EAC Secretary-General Peter Mathuki officially launched the verification mission to assess the country’s readiness to join the community despite fears that just like South Sudan and now DRC, Somalia may not be ready to fully integrate.
The verification team of experts from the EAC Partner States arrived in Somalia on January 25 and is expected to do its work till February 3, 2023.
Speaking during the official launch, Dr Mathuki disclosed that the report would be presented to the heads of state summit that is likely to take place in a month’s time.
“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.
“The EAC technical team in Mogadishu will engage Somalia to ensure that the verification is finalised and a report completed in time in readiness for presentation to the EAC Council of Ministers.”
Important to the region
Defending the sudden decision to kickstart the admission process, Dr Mathuki said Somalia is important to the region despite comparisons with South Sudan, which is yet to fully integrate seven years since its admission into the regional bloc.
“Admission of Somalia into the EAC would be very important because whatever issues there could be in Somalia, maybe the Al-Shabaab or anything else, we are able to handle them within the framework of EAC; it becomes our responsibility,” said Dr Mathuki.
“Already we have our own men and women in uniform in Somali. Some from Burundi, Kenya and others from Uganda. Therefore, it is only fair that Somalia now starts thinking about joining the community so that we can now be able to support them.”
South Sudan’s civil strife meant the country concentrated on resolving its conflicts rather than plan how to reap the benefits of a common market.
The country could not train enough South Sudanese staff in customs, immigration, and revenue and tax collection at the border points, resulting in a slow EAC integration process.
In May 2021, President Salva Kiir urged East African leaders to waive visa fees for South Sudanese. Kenya and Uganda are the only EAC partner states that granted Juba a waiver on reciprocal basis.
Compared with South Sudan, there are concerns that admitting Somalia would serve to drag the region more into conflict than business.
But Dr Mathuki thinks otherwise.
Vibrant economic zone
“Somalia’s long Indian Ocean-Red Sea route that links Africa to the Arabian Peninsula is a vibrant economic zone. The exploitation of Somalia’s blue economy resources such as fish and the expansive coastline is also set to boost the regional economy,” said Dr Mathuki.
Somalia shares borders with one EAC partner state, namely Kenya, and has strong historical, linguistic, economic and socio-cultural links with all the EAC partner states.
Somalia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Abshir Omar expressed enthusiasm for the team set to assess his country’s readiness to join the bloc, saying that Somalia will benefit greatly because of the free movement of people from Somalia and other countries without a visa, if they are fully in the EAC.
“Somalis are already present in the East African region. The Somalis started integrating with their brothers and sisters of the region way before the request of formalising the decision of joining the EAC,” he said.
The verification mission will be chaired by Ms Tiri Marie Rose from Burundi.
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