In late January a mission from the East African Community travelled to Somalia to assess its readiness to become its latest member state.
The team from the seven-nation bloc – which comprises the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Uganda – will review Somalia’s institutional and legal frameworks; its policies, strategies, and programmes; and its areas of cooperation with the EAC.
For Somalia, membership has been a long time coming. Mogadishu first applied in 2012; a decision could now be considered by regional heads of state by the end of February.
Abdulsalam Omer, special envoy of the President of Somalia to the EAC, reaffirmed President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s call for quick admission.
“Somalia will benefit significantly through the increased movement of goods, services and people across the bloc in addition to expanding intra-regional trade. Further, the exploitation of Somalia’s blue economy resources such as fish will boost the regional economy,” he said.
EAC membership would also boost Somalia’s efforts to improve its multilateral and fiscal standing. Somalia is in the middle of an IMF programme which has disbursed $393.2m to date, and this year hopes to complete the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries global debt forgiveness process, which could reduce debts to $550m from $5.2bn.
But it also faces huge challenges of regional significance. In its October-December 2022 projection, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification reported that approximately 6.7m people across Somalia were likely to experience high levels of acute food insecurity, including over 300,000 likely to face famine. The crisis is exacerbated by a punishing drought, the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war, and Somalia’s vulnerability to climate shocks. Meanwhile, the danger of Islamist violence is ever-present – on 29 October, over 100 civilians were killed in an attack on the Ministry of Education.
Against this backdrop, EAC membership could prove useful. As well as amplifying the voice of its member states on a global level, the EAC offers a crucial regional forum for working collaboratively on Somalia’s challenges and formulating solutions with its leaders.
And the EAC’s ambitions go well beyond crisis management. Before 2026, the bloc is aiming for full implementation of a single customs territory, progress on its plans for a common market – including free movement of goods, people, labour, services and capital – and more controversially, plans for a single regional currency. It is also on a mission to expand. In April 2022, the DRC formally joined, massively boosting the EAC’s geographic reach and adding over 95m people to the bloc.
Advantages for EAC
Somalia’s admittance brings different advantages.
“Somalia has the longest national coastline of over 3000km in Africa, linking Africa to the Arabian Peninsula, which the region can tap into to increase intra-regional trade and improve the lives of East Africans,” EAC secretary-general Peter Mathuki said.
Of course, no regional bloc is without its problems.
In late January, EAC member states DRC and Rwanda appeared to be in danger of direct armed confrontation amid the ongoing M23 rebel insurgency in the eastern DRC, which Kinshasa, the US and UN experts say is backed by Rwanda. Here too, the EAC has been a voice of moderation, calling for armed groups in eastern DRC to lay down their arms while reiterating respect for the territorial integrity of the DRC.
So while the EAC is not without its own pressing challenges, the promise of membership sends an important signal of hope. It will confirm that from climate change to the food crisis, Somalia’s concerns are those of East Africa at large.