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How the East African Community can help Somalia’s recovery

Somali President Mohamed Farmajo, Kenyan President Uhuru and Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed after a meeting at State House Nairobi on March 6, 2019 to discuss extensively on the source of the Kenya-Somalia border dispute. Image: PSCU

EDITORIAL | In March 2012, Abdihakim Ali Yasin, Somalia’s then special envoy for President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed presented to Kenya, a letter of intent to join the East African Community.

Kenya then was the EAC’s chair of the bloc and Moses Wetang’ula, as Foreign Minister received the application as Chairperson of the Council of Ministers.

Mr Wetang’ula said the application was a good step and that it could help the country’s recovery from years of civil war and insecurity from Al-Shabaab.

“There is no need to leave anyone behind. Our economies are bound together by a common history. This application will be assessed based on available procedures and we are hopeful Somalia will be admitted,” he told reporters then.

That move, however, did not go far, and it sort of died down with President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s election loss to Hassan Sheikh Mohamed later that year.

In truth, the EAC’s decision was not an outright rejection of Somalia’s application, as the Community had done with Sudan. It was, in fact, a delayed decision, pending Somalia’s acting on governance, civil liberties and other criteria set in the East African Community protocol.

Somalia, the EAC Council of Ministers argued three years later, was still insecure, had no functioning governance structures and rights of civilians were still an issue.

When President Mohamed Farmajo came to power in 2017, he indicated pursuing a country’s reintegration project by announcing a foreign policy change.

Under a new Somalia, Farmajo had told his audiences in 2017 that there will be a pursuit of respect for Somalia, tightening of mutual relations, but an outright rejection for external meddling.

Somalia made the re-application to the EAC and a decision about it is still pending before the EAC which must do routinely assessments before the Council of Ministers recommends final decision by the Summit.

Yet there were successes already. In July 2018, Somalia was admitted to the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), a bloc of 21 countries that includes all of Somalia’s immediate neighbours.

Comesa, created in 1994 is a bloc for free trade and aspires to create an Africa that is “fully integrated, internationally competitive regional economic community with high standards of living for its entire people ready to merge into an African Economic Community.”

Regional Trade policy analyst George Onyango argued Somalia’s entry into Comesa has put its foot into the EAC, even before the ultimate decision is made.

“Somalia is in IGAD, which technically is a political and security bloc. Being in Comesa adds a boost to its campaign to join the EAC because all of IGAD (except South Sudan) and EAC members are in Comesa,” he said, referring to the eight-member Horn of Africa bloc the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

“If you are meeting more of the same guys in these forums, they are likely to vouch for you, if they see you honouring the other obligations.”

Yet a ranking by the African Union’s Africa Regional Integration Index shows Somalia still lags behind on all indices for regional cooperation.

It demands visas for most Africans including neighbours, has little data on intra-regional trade tariffs, has not fully integrated with the regional value-chains and ranks at the tail-end of important infrastructure.

“Overall, Somalia performs relatively poorly across the board, particularly in terms of trade integration and productive integration,” the Index says.

It added: “Where specific policy measures that could boost its performance are concerned, Somalia could consider waiving visa requirements for nationals of a greater number of African countries and looking into other measures to boost intraregional trade in goods and integration into regional value chains.”

The EAC members include Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan. They allow free movement of people and common customs policy and traditionally.

Somalia, like the Democratic Republic of Congo, has struggled with a violent past. They are both awaiting the EAC to decide. If the Community can pool both into its fold, some analysts argue, the market size of the region could balloon from 150 million people to about 240 million, boosting local industries and interpersonal relations.

But there are first things first. When Farmajo took power in 2017, a situational report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) indicated he could bring hope to the country, but it had caveats.

“The hopes of a stable future for war-torn Somalia may be short-lived if the fraught regional dynamic, in particular, the mistrust felt by regional powers Ethiopia and Kenya, are not effectively addressed,” the ICG indicated, referring also to celebrations that followed his victory among the Somali community in Kenya and Ethiopia.

“Ensuring that this election ushers in a new dawn, and that Farmajo’s new-found political capital is well invested, a renewed diplomatic engagement by partners on numerous fronts will be required to support national-level reform and ease regional anxieties.

Somalis then were mostly sceptical of Ethiopia and Kenya’s ambitions in their country. Ethiopia, because it had initially unilaterally invaded their country in 2006, and followed that with a consistent policy of dealing with sub-regions of the country.

Farmajo’s election and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s coming to power in April 2018 changed that policy.

One MoU he signed with Farmajo in June 2018 indicated a desire for “joint investment in four key seaports between the two countries, and the construction of the main road networks and arteries that would link Somalia to mainland Ethiopia.”

They agreed to respect each other’s sovereignty and that they would work on a harmonious programme to develop each other’s’ potential. Little work has gone on those ports under MoU, however, largely because some of them are in autonomous regions currently having a frosty relation with Farmajo’s government.

But back to integration, some analysts argue Somalia may benefit only if it cleans its own house.

“Somalia’s infrastructure is still poor and there are no policies inherently supporting regional integration,” said James Munyiri, an Economist in Nairobi, referring to a previous Africa Development Bank report that said there had been a severe lack of basic statistics from the country.

“Perhaps civil war and other security matters are to blame, and that is excusable. But as the country rises, those are basics to benefit from integration,” he added.

Munyiri said Somalia stand a bigger chance of benefiting from the EAC because the Diaspora has already opened doors for the country. With significant Somali Diaspora in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania, the interpersonal relations have already been opened.

“Somalis are traditionally good entrepreneurs. All over East Africa, they are doing businesses. The government can follow them.”

The EAC itself has had its tiffs between member states, causing delays in cross-border trade between Kenya and Tanzania, and Uganda and Rwanda, for example.

“Those are expected hiccups; every country in Africa now knows protectionism will hurt their economies. Integration is a way to go,” added Onyango.

For Somalia, however, some say it might re-look at whether it should pursue the mooted Horn of Africa bloc with Ethiopia and Eritrea; or join a bloc that already functions.

A Spokesperson at the Somali Foreign Ministry said Mogadishu was keen on “tapping the fruits of harmonious regional cooperation.”


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