EDITORIAL | In March 2012, Abdihakim Ali Yasin, Somalia’s then Special Envoy to President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, presented a letter of intent to join the East African community in Kenya.
Kenya was then the EAC’s chairman of the bloc and Moses Wetang’ula when the foreign minister received the application as chairman of the Council of Ministers.
Sir. Wetang’ula said the application was a good step and that it could help the country recover after years of civil war and insecurity from Al-Shabaab.
“There is no reason to leave anyone behind. Our economies are bound by a common history. “This application will be assessed on the basis of available procedures and we hope that Somalia will be admitted,” he told reporters.
This move did not go far, however, and it kind of died with President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s election loss to Hassan Sheikh Mohamed later that year.
In fact, the EAC’s decision was not a direct rejection of Somalia’s application made by the Community to Sudan. It was, in fact, a delayed decision pending Somalia’s action on governance, civil liberties and other criteria set out in the Protocol to East African Society.
Somalia, the EAC Council of Ministers argued three years later, was still insecure, had no functioning governance structures and civil rights were still an issue.
When President Mohamed Farmajo came to power in 2017, he hinted at pursuing a country’s reintegration project by announcing a foreign policy change.
Under a new Somalia, Farmajo had told its audience in 2017 that there would be a pursuit of respect for Somalia, tightening mutual relations, but a direct rejection of external interference.
Somalia submitted a new application to the EAC, and a decision on it is still awaited before the EAC, which must routinely make assessments before the Council of Ministers recommends a final decision before the summit.
Yet there were already successes. In July 2018, Somalia was admitted to the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), a bloc of 21 countries that includes all of Somalia’s immediate neighbors.
Comesa, founded in 1994, is a bloc of free trade and strives to create an Africa that is “a fully integrated, internationally competitive regional economic community with high living standards for all its people ready to merge into an African economic community.”
Regional trade policy analyst George Onyango argued that Somalia’s entry into Comesa has set foot in the EAC, even before the final decision is made.
“Somalia is in IGAD, which is technically a political and security bloc. Being in Comesa adds a boost to its campaign to join the EAC because all IGAD (except South Sudan) and EAC members are in Comesa, ”he said, referring to the eight-member African Horn bloc intergovernmental agency on development.
“If you meet several of the same guys in these forums, they will probably guarantee you if they see you respect the other commitments.”
Nevertheless, a ranking according to the African Union’s Africa Regional Integration Index shows that Somalia is still lagging behind all indices of regional cooperation.
It requires a visa for most Africans, including neighbors, has little data on intra-regional trade rates, has not fully integrated with the regional value chains and ranks at the end of important infrastructure.
“Overall, Somalia is doing relatively poorly across the board, especially in terms of trade integration and productive integration,” the index said.
It added: “As regards specific policy measures that could increase its performance, Somalia may consider waiving visa requirements for nationals of a larger number of African countries and exploring other measures to increase interregional trade in goods and integration in regional value chains. “
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 waiting for EAC to decide. If the community can bring both together, some analysts claim that the market size of the region could balloon from 150 million people to around 240 million, increasing local industries and interpersonal relationships.
But there are the first things first. When Farmajo took power in 2017, a situation report from the International Crisis Group (ICG) stated that he could bring hope to the country, but it had warnings.
“The hope for a stable future for war-torn Somalia may be short-lived if the full regional dynamism, especially the distrust of the regional powers Ethiopia and Kenya, is not resolved effectively,” the ICG indicated, referring to the festivities. which followed his victory among the Somali community in Kenya and Ethiopia.
“To ensure that this election ushers in a new dawn and that Farmajo’s newfound political capital is well invested, renewed diplomatic commitment from partners on many fronts is needed to support national reform and ease regional concerns.
Somalis were then mostly skeptical of Ethiopia and Kenya’s ambitions in their country. Ethiopia, because it had initially unilaterally invaded their country in 2006, and followed it with a consistent policy of dealing with sub-regions of the country.
Farmajo’s election and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in April 2018 changed this policy.
An MoU, which he signed with Farmajo in June 2018, expressed a desire for “joint investment in four major seaports between the two countries and the construction of the main road network and arteries that would connect Somalia with mainland Ethiopia.”
They agreed to respect each other’s sovereignty and that they would work on a harmonious program to develop each other’s potential. Some work has been done on these ports during the MoU, however, mainly because some of them are located in autonomous regions that currently have a cool relationship with the Farmajo government.
But back to integration, some analysts claim that Somalia can only benefit from it if it cleans its own house.
“Somalia’s infrastructure is still poor and there are no policies that in themselves support regional integration,” said James Munyiri, an Nairobi economist, citing an earlier report by the Africa Development Bank, which said there had been a serious lack of basic statistics from the country.
“Perhaps it is due to civil war and other security issues, and that is excusable. But as the country rises, it is fundamental to benefit from integration, ”he added.
Munyiri said Somalia has a greater chance of benefiting from EAC because the diaspora has already opened doors for the country. With significant Somali diaspora in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania, interpersonal relationships have already been opened.
“Somalis are traditionally good entrepreneurs. Everywhere in East Africa they run businesses. The government can follow them. ”
EAC itself has had its tiffs between member states, leading to delays in cross-border trade between Kenya and Tanzania and Uganda and Rwanda, for example.
“Hiccups are expected; Every country in Africa now knows that protectionism will hurt their economies. Integration is a way to go, ”Onyango added.
For Somalia, however, some say it may be looking at whether to pursue the clumsy Horn of Africa bloc with Ethiopia and Eritrea; or join a block that is already working.
A spokesman for the Somali Foreign Ministry said Mogadishu was eager to “tap the fruits of harmonious regional cooperation.”