By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
The past two weeks were eventful in the Somali calendar. The President of the Federal Government of Somalia and not the Somali State sought admission of the country into the East African Community (EAC) and got it on November 24th, 2023. The President was pleased but could not explain well to the Somali people why he got Somalia into the Swahili world organization. He only noted that the EAC was a large market, but he could not explain why it is important for Somalia to be a member and what benefit it would draw from such membership.
The President clearly knows that Somalia’s primary economic activity is livestock and subsistence agriculture, but every country in the EAC is also the same. Indeed, all the economies of the existing members are bigger and better than Somalia’s, which is a conflicted country, unable to manage its own territory, torn into clan fiefdoms, with no solid economic system, denoting the political instability still rampant in the country.
The President clearly notes that Somalia is invested by terror groups that can be unleashed into the EAC members should the admission be ratified by Somalia’s legislature, and it becomes official, for there will be free movement of people, goods, and capital within the economic community. How does he assure the other EAC members that the terror groups in his country would not move on to the other members with ease? He does not have the necessary security architecture.
Perhaps the second major event that occurred in the Somali calendar could help, namely the lifting of the thirty-year arms embargo on the country this week (December 1st, 2023). But the how is not clear as the soldiery of the country remain divided into clans and fixing this matter will take years if not decades to overcome the damage done to the nation over these past decades, when the nationhood of the nation was, indeed, questioned and many Somalis lost trust on each other.
The rules of the EAC membership are clear. It would not be official for Somalia unless the treaty is signed into law by the Federal Parliament of Somalia, which is bicameral. The member states would also have to be convinced of the benefits that the country would gain in its proposed membership of the EAC. Todate, it has not been made clear to either the Federal Parliament of Somalia or its constituent member states, let alone Somaliland, which stands out of any Somali problem, as a quasi-independent state with its own national agenda.
For those of us who do not like the membership of Somalia in the EAC, all is not lost as yet. We have nothing against the EAC, and we wish them well. But Somalia does not belong to that organization at present or in the future unless we meet them at the African Union level only. The fact that Somalis live in Nairobi is not a good justification for Somalia to be a member of the EAC. Somalis also live in London and Paris and Washington and Dubai and Brussels. Such presence does not justify Somalia to seeking admission membership of the European Union or the USMC or the GCC countries. Somalis do business in all those other locations and the President’s declared justification with respect to the presence of Somalis in East African cities is unjustifiable, outrightly wrong and unwarranted.
The President clearly knows that Somalia does not have an independent judiciary system. It does not have a constitution and it does not have a constitutional court and many of the infrastructures that would be needed to handle disputes among member countries of the EAC, should they occur. The President and his administration should have completed these important tasks before moving on to international matters such as the entry of the EAC. Certainly, this is not clearly right for Somalia and Somalis and those of the EAC who pushed the admission of Somalia into the EAC are no friends of Somalia. The Somalia Federal Parliament should take this into consideration in not ratifying the entry of Somalia into the EAC.
Somalia has disputes with Kenya both territorial and maritime, which remain unsettled. Unless the president wants to let go of Somalia’s maritime and territorial claims, and sign them off for Kenya, the entry into the EAC where Kenya is a full founding member, would cause headaches for Somalia in the future within the community. Note Somalia would be an insignificant part of the East African Federation that is expected to replace the East African Community.
Borrowing from Ali S. Aweys, as he commented in “Puntland Post” on September 10th, 2023, Somalia, “a country that is still grappling with the impact of state collapse” should not have rushed as it did to join the EAC, “whose members have a lot in common institutionally and politically” and I would add, ethnically and language wise. Somalia would be the odd member out as it is in the Arab League, another organization, where Somali leaders erred before, in joining.
The President is clearly oblivious of the fact that Somalia can be kept by stronger EAC members such as Kenya or Tanzania or Uganda and others, in an unending cycle of poverty, underdevelopment and constant turmoil, to exploit its enormous maritime exclusive economic zone, the only reason for which it was admitted into the grouping. Somalia’s economy is weak, underdeveloped and most people live off remittances from abroad. There is limited agriculture and livestock, as noted earlier and no industrial base of whatever nature, which would make Somalia a marketplace for larger economies in the EAC to dump their wares and goods.
The bicameral Federal Parliament of Somalia should not allow the President and his administration to abuse the sovereignty of the nation and hence not ratify the EAC entry admission for Somalia. They should not allow the EAC to make a mockery of the weaknesses of the Somali state, in its hour of need.
Dr. Suleiman Walhad
Dr. Suleiman Walhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at email@example.com.