Somalia joins East African Community – historic day or premature decision?

Thirteen years after its original application to join, Somalia has been admitted to the East African Community (EAC). But is it ready for membership yet?


Image : EAC

Somalia was admitted as the eighth member of the East African Community (EAC) at the Summit of the East African Community (EAC) Heads of State in Arusha, Tanzania, last Friday, in a move that President Sheikh Mohamud of Somalia praised as “historic” but which others have criticised as premature.

The EAC, which was founded in 2000, is widely recognised as one of Africa’s most integrated regional economic communities, with a well-developed customs union and common market, although plans to introduce a common currency by 2024 have now been pushed back to 2031.

Before Somalia’s accession, the seven members of the bloc (Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda) had a total population of 283.7m and a combined GDP of $305.3bn. In 2022, total trade stood at $78.75bn, with intra-EAC trade growing by 11.2% to $10.9bn.

President Mohamud said that the move would be a “beacon of hope” for Somalia and mutually beneficial for his country and the EAC. The bloc will expand its market to a further 17m people and gain more than 3,000km of shoreline, presenting great opportunities for the blue economy. The country is also credited with having a resilient private sector, while links with the Somali diaspora across the region could help boost trade.

However, Somalian membership poses challenges due to the country’s instability and the central government’s lack of control over the territory. The country has been in the throes of an insurrection by al-Shabaab jihadists since 2006, while breakaway Somaliland in the north claims full independence. Kenya abandoned its plans to reopen its border with the country this year due to security concerns.

The summit designated its chair, President Salva Kiir Mayardit of South Sudan, to agree with Somalia on when to sign the Treaty of Accession of the Somalia into the Community, while the heads of state directed the Council of Ministers to develop a roadmap for the integration of Somalia into the Community.

Hasty move ‘could destabilise’ Somalia

Writing on The Elephant website in September, before the admission decision was taken, Abdirashid Fidow, deputy CEO of the Anti-Tribalism Movement, a Somali community-based organisation based in London, outlined a number of factors that he believed could raise “valid concerns about Somalia’s readiness to effectively participate in the EAC”.

“Somalia must evaluate the readiness of its institutions, infrastructure, and economy to effectively engage with the East African Community,” he argued. “Comprehensive preparations are crucial to ensure that joining the community is a well thought-out and strategic decision, rather than a hasty move that could further destabilise the nation. Somalia needs to assess whether its infrastructure, institutions, and economy are sufficiently developed to cope with the challenges and demands of integration. Premature membership could strain Somalia’s resources, impede its growth, and leave it at a disadvantage compared to more established member states.”

Presidents welcome accession

However, the President of Kenya’s office greeted the news positively, saying it “presents an opportunity to the region to further integrate, expanding opportunities to the people. The move will boost connectivity, enhance trade and accelerate Somalia’s transformation plan.”

Meanwhile, writing on X, formerly known as Twitter, Somalia’s minister of information, Daud Awais, hailed the accession as “a significant diplomatic achievement”, while President Mohamud wrote: “Our commitment to regional unity, shared growth & prosperity marks a new chapter in our history. Grateful for the support of all EAC member states.”

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