Ready or not? Somalia faces fresh EAC admission test
What you need to know:
- In 2019, Somalia made a bid to join the EAC.
- In 2021, during the 21st Ordinary Summit of the EAC Heads of State Summit, the summit directed the Council of Ministers to follow up on the verification exercise for the admission of the Federal Republic of Somalia.
- In October, the EAC Secretary General Mathuki paid a visit to President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud following the 22nd EAC Ordinary Summit’s directive reiterating to the EAC Council to fast-track the verification exercise for Somalia in accordance with the EAC procedures of admission of new countries into the Community.
- The Verification Mission is set for the end of February 2023.
The election of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud may have convinced the East African Community 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. The 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 overall instability at the time.
Last week, the EAC Secretary General Peter Mathuki officially launched the verification mission to assess Mogadishu’s readiness to join the community despite fears that Somalia, just like South Sudan and now DRC, 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 carry out the exercise till February 3.
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 one 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.”
Defending the sudden decision to kick-start the admission process, Dr Mathuki said Somalia was important to the region despite comparisons with South Sudan, which is yet to fully integrate seven years since its admission to the regional bloc.
“Admission of Somalia into the EAC would be very important because whatever issues they 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 Somalia. 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.
They could not train enough South Sudanese staff in customs, immigration, and revenue/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 the 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.
“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 Somalia’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 Mrs Tiri Marie Rose from Burundi (chairperson of the verification mission) and will work with Somalia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Abshir Omar, and the Special Envoy of the President of Somalia to EAC Abdulsalam Omer.
Under the treaty, the criteria for the admission of new countries into the community include acceptance of the community as set out in the treaty; adherence to universally acceptable principles of good governance, democracy, the rule of law, observance of human rights and social justice; potential contribution to the strengthening of integration within the East African region, and; geographical proximity to and inter-dependence between it (the foreign country) and the EAC partner states.
The other criteria for admission of a new member are: the establishment and maintenance of a market-driven economy; and; social and economic policies being compatible with those of the Community.