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Somalia Joins East Africa Community Trade Bloc

On November 24, 2023, Somalia was admitted as a member of the East Africa Community trade bloc, expanding free trade across the region, for the EAC Summit in Arusha, Tanzania. Outgoing EAC chair, Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye, said at a summit of the grouping in Tanzania, “We have decided to admit the Federal Republic of Somalia under the treaty of accession”.

The EAC Countries span over 4.8 million sq km and produced over $305 billion in GDP in 2022, according to its official reports. Before Somalia, the DRC was the last country to become a member of the EAC in April 2022.

The inclusion of Somalia has been termed a “pivotal leap” forward for the EAC to expand across Africa and support Somalia’s national stability. In an earlier report, the EAC stated that Somalia’s “poor track record in governance, human rights and the rule of law” could hinder its smooth integration into the bloc.

Negotiations for Somali’s inclusion into the EAC began in August 2023, hosted by the Kenyan government. Daud Aweis, Somalia's minister for information, culture and tourism posted on X (Twitter), “Somalia officially joins the East African Community, reinforcing ties and opening new doors for progress and partnership”.

Considerations for Somalia

The expanding market opportunities for Somalia include the bloc’s large population as the consumer base and the existing customs union and markets for investors. Reuters also reported that the introduction of risk-tolerant entrepreneurs into the trade bloc will allow Somali businesses to succeed and boost exchanges across the country. Shuayb Haji Nur Mohamed, managing director of Salaam Somali Bank, said “It will be simpler for the large Somali Diaspora living across East Africa to access financial services and products”.

The excessive economic and security benefits for Somalia are explicit with its joining. The Institute for Security Studies analysed, “Entrepreneurs in Somalia will have greater opportunities for investment, easing some of the social and economic pressures that have come with its isolation. Since the collapse of the Mohamed Siad Barre regime in 1991, cross-border trade with neighbouring countries has decreased due to insecurity caused initially by civil war and later by Al-Shabaab’s terrorist attacks”. With the recent support provided to the DRC after the Great Lakes country joined the EAC, questions remain on Somalia’s requirements for military support from the EAC in a similar manner.

Considerations for the EAC                                                                                

To admit Somalia was a controversial and difficult decision for the EAC. Somalia has been enduring conflict since 1991 and the jihadist group al-Shabab has been controlling many parts of the country. With the provision for free movement between the EAC member states, Somalia’s integration will enable al-Shabab to access the East African region.

Further, the requirement for new countries to present their commitment to principles of good governance, democracy, rule of law, human rights, and social justice was also deliberated as Somalia was ranked the most corrupt country last year by Transparency International.

Still, the 3,000 km coastline would enhance the EAC’s connection to the Arabian Peninsula allowing access to the economic zone and benefits from Somalia’s marine economy.

Somalia’s application was initially rejected in 2016 on account of its civil strife and conditions encouraging forced displacement. Holding accountable elections and security for its population is still troublesome in the country. The EAC deployed the regional forces in the past to restore peace and stability in Somalia. It is argued that this was not entirely beneficial for the community and the inclusion of Somalia will add a greater baggage for the member states in addressing these conflicts.

Plan for integration

While some have argued that more consideration should have been given to this decision, the benefits of unification by the EAC are hoped to be expanded to all countries in the Horn of Africa.

The EAC Summit directed that within 6 months of signing the Treaty of Accession, Somalia would be required to deposit the instrument of ratification with the Secretary-General. The Heads of State directed the Council of Ministers to chart a roadmap for Somalia’s integration. Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud hailed the decision as a “historic one” emphasising the “mutual benefit” for both, Somalia and the EAC. He stated, “Somalia belongs to EAC with all Partner States linked to his country through historical, cultural and linguistic bonds, even as he added that Somalia’s borders would be bridges as opposed to barriers for trade”.

On the other hand, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for the EAC, Rebecca Miano, considered the past engagement for Somalia’s peace and security in a positive light, “The Community is already contributing to peace and security in Somalia with Partner States providing troops as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia. The people of the rest of East Africa are eager to welcome their brothers and sisters from Somalia into the Community”.

While the outcome of Somalia’s inclusion in the EAC cannot be seen yet, analysts have raised concerns over the corruption accusations and low levels of human rights and justice as a result of the breakdown of government institutions. The integration with the community does not provide a guarantee of support and stability, yet the influence of other countries in the region might be a dynamic new factor of consideration for Somalia’s domestic political condition.

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