Mogadishu not ready for EAC, so what’s the hurry to bring it on board?
The Heads of State Summit has accepted Somalia into the East African Community, becoming the eighth member of the regional bloc boasting more than 300 million people, about 25 percent of Africa’s population.
Somalia applied to join the community between 2012 and 2017, but its request was initially rejected, owing to its security situation and weak governance.
After another application in 2019 and the admission of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2022, the Summit sent a verification team to Mogadishu.
Read: EAC sends team to Somalia to assess bid to join bloc
Somalia had to meet specific conditions, such as respect for universal principles of good governance, democracy, the rule of law, accountability, transparency, and social justice as established in the EAC Treaty, as well as recognise, promote, and protect rights by the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Why allow Somalia in?
There have been many voices in support of Somalia, led by the EAC Secretary-General Dr Peter Mathuki, who insists that its admission is very important because the country brings in over 3,000km of coastline, the longest in Africa, giving the region direct access to the Arabia Peninsula, a vital entry point for trade between East Africa and the Arab world.
There are, too, varied arguments about opportunities for investment into Somalia, trade, and infrastructure development, indicating that, after all, Somalis have been integral in the region, many living in Kenya, Uganda, and other neighbouring countries.
Prof Asiimwe Solomon Muchwa, an international relations and security expert, says Somalia should have waited to first clean its house before joining the regional bloc. He says the region may have wanted to expand, access more markets, and have a bigger coastline, but the challenges that come with Somalia may outweigh the benefits.
He says already, the region is struggling to handle issues brought in by South Sudan and DR Congo and there was no reason to rush in another war-torn member into the grouping.
Read: Inside EAC’s expansion ambition
Citing the example of how the European Union has kept Turkey at bay for decades, Prof Asiimwe says the community relaxed its rules and made many compromises that could come back to bite it.
During the discussion to consider Rwanda and Burundi’s applications to the Community, whose membership had remained the three principal countries of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania since its revival in 1999, former presidents Daniel Arap Moi (Kenya) and Benjamin Mkapa (Tanzania) argued that the applicants were not fit to join because their democratic credentials were questionable and had the baggage of war and civil strife.
They were later accepted, becoming full members on July 1, 2007, after Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame argued that the wars were not of their own making, but by external forces.
But after the strict scrutiny of Rwanda and Burundi, the region seems to have relaxed the rules and the verification committees seem to be visiting the respective countries with pre-determined positions.
For example, on the day Somalia’s application was rejected in 2016, the members admitted South Sudan, which was in the middle of a civil strife pitting President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar, forcing nearly a million people to flee into Kenya, Uganda, Congo, Sudan and Ethiopia. Eight years later, there seems to be no hope that South Sudan will fulfil any of the original principles of admission.
Read: S.Sudan assumes EAC leadership, clears debt
The country has still failed to hold elections and guarantee the security to its people, which would promote trade and free movement of citizens within and out of the country. The country got more involved in resolving internal conflicts than taking part in regional issues. At borders, travellers have complained of inadequate staff to handle issues of customs, immigration, and revenue and tax collection, and, until a couple of weeks ago, the country had been a serial defaulter of dues to the Secretariat.
The region again admitted war-ravaged DR Congo and, rather than reap the benefits of the nearly 100 million people market added, the member countries have been more occupied with the peace and security in its restive eastern part, where more than 100 militia groups operate.
Uganda, growing weary of attacks from the ISIS-linked Allied Democratic Forces hiding in Congo, was forced to send battalions in November 2021, while the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF), mobilised from member countries was deployed last November to help restore peace and stability in the eastern part of the country, but has not achieved much.
Therefore, admitting Somalia could be bringing more baggage for the member states and dragging the region more into conflict than its objectives.
Read: EAC partner states disagree on funding model
Somalia’s security situation poses critical questions on whether the region will be ready to handle the challenges the country comes with and whether there will not be a spill-over stretching the region’s capacity to guarantee peace, security, and regional stability.
Already, Uganda, Kenya, and Burundi forces have been deployed in Somalia for nearly two decades, but what had started as a short mission to help stabilise the country has been prolonged to many more years because of the threat posed by al-Shabaab militants and the government’s failure to marshal forces for their security.
To date, the president and his government cannot guarantee his own security or that of his capital Mogadishu, plus other government installations. It is the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (Atmis) doing the work and there is worry that their departure at the end of 2024 will create a void that al-Shabaab could occupy, which could send Somalia back to the pre-2006 chaos where militias controlled a large part of the country, including the capital Mogadishu.
Since the collapse of the government of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, there has not been any stable governance, security, or trade because the collapse of his government marked the beginning of a civil war that gave birth to Al Shabaab and their terror.
Read: The challenge of admitting Somalia into EAC
Does Somalia expect that EAC will manage its security? Maybe.
According to Halkano Wario, a senior researcher, the post-Atmis security structure could be worrying the country and their only hope is in a regional force. But Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania will still have to do the donkey work since not much is expected out of Congo, South Sudan, and Burundi, although the latter has tried hard to punch above its weight.
Article 3 of the EAC Treaty requires countries seeking admission into the regional bloc to adhere to principles of good governance, democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and social justice and in this, Somalia scores very low. Due to the breakdown of systems, there cannot be proper democratic practice; there cannot be respect for human rights, justice, and accountability.
The country has never been able to hold national elections. Accusations of corruption also abound since there are no checks or proper judicial systems to handle errant officials.
The citizens of EAC member states are exempt from visa requirements and enjoy free movement within the region. Bringing in Somalia could see the region welcoming the good and bad people. Al Shabaab may start moving freely into the region, there will be unregulated entry of migrants, the smuggling of contraband. Maybe even illegal arms will find their way into the region and complicate the security situation, especially in areas like Karamoja, where disarmament has been a tall order for Uganda and Kenya.
Ngovi Kitau, a former Kenyan ambassador to South Korea, says it would be a challenge for Somalia to join until they undergo significant economic, political, and institutional transformation.
Finance experts explain that integration makes sense when a country has the infrastructure and Somalia does not have the infrastructure to talk about as a result of decades of conflict; no roads, or railways, and internet use is still low, (less than 15 percent of the people have internet access) and building these need heavy investment which funds and expertise Somalia does not have.
Statistics from the World Bank show Somalia’s GDP per capita stands at $447, while Kenya its immediate neighbour stands at $1,851; Tanzania at $1,113 and Uganda at $990, suggesting an economic disparity that will affect its participation in economic activities and benefit fully.
True, the past few years have seen some progress in the administration, security, and stability of the country, despite threats from Al Shabaab, the introduction of national ID could help control the illegal movement of people, fight economic crimes, and funding for terrorists, but Somalia will need time to settle as a full participating member of the region.
Moreover, the citizens are not united on the integration discussion, while breakaway Somaliland could create a diplomatic problem if they do not allow negotiations into returning to Somalia.