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The Kenya Forum | Will Somalia Join the East African Community? - The Kenya Forum

February 8, 2023

Summary

Last week a cluster of African leaders traveled to Mogadishu to discuss the ongoing transition of security primacy from the African Union mission in Somalia. The leaders were however allegedly also discussing what comes next after the current mission, named ‘ATMIS’ (the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia).

More by Kenya Forum Somalia Correspondent

Will Somalia Join the East African Community?

Will Somalia Join the East African Community?

Between January 22nd and February 5th 2023, a delegation from the East African Community (EAC) was in Mogadishu to assess Somalia’s application for membership in the seven-country regional block.

What is the EAC?

The EAC is a regional intergovernmental organisation of seven states: Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania. The EAC aims to promote ‘a prosperous, competitive, secure, stable and politically united East Africa’.

Reasons for Somalia’s previous rejections

Somalia’s attempts to join the EAC stretch back to the formation of the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) in 2012, at the beginning of the first tenure of the current Somali President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

The reasons given for rejection then remain: the country’s legal system still lacks compatibility with that of other EAC countries; Somalia still has only a provisional constitution; and even such fundamental elements as agreement on the nation’s capital (currently Mogadishu) remain contentious.

So too is the status of the Somaliland Federal Member State, which operates as a separate country except in terms of international recognition. (Its neighbouring Federal Member State, Puntland, which lies on the Horn of Africa itself, isn’t far behind in not answering to the Mogadishu government.)

The EAC is no stranger to potentially difficult member states

As a result, many of the current EAC member states are wary of integrating an affiliate that brings with it a raft of structural internal issues.

The EAC’s recent experience in integrating South Sudan in 2016 and then the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2022 also makes members wary.

South Sudan struggled to meet the necessary levels of personnel in the vital cross-border cooperation areas of customs, immigration, taxation and revenue monitoring. Somalia, which continues to battle against the al-Qa’ida linked terror group, al-Shabaab, and rampant clannism, would bring even more significant security challenges (and responsibilities) for the EAC.

That said, the EAC did play a vital role in bringing about some degree of settlement with the M23 rebel group in DRC (although one EAC member, Rwanda, has been accused of fomenting trouble in its neighbouring state).

Somalia: a tempting but problematic applicant state

But Somalia’s problems run deeper and there is also the added dimension of it being a Muslim-majority country attempting to join a Christian-dominated coalition. Somali’s cultural claims to various regions of neighbouring countries (the Kenyan border counties, the Ethiopian Ogaden and the ethnically Somali portion of Djibouti) are also a cause for concern.

However, access to Somalia’s ports and its strong existing market in the Gulf is tempting. You never know, stability in Somalia might then offer an opportunity to see if all that speculation about enormous mineral wealth under the ground and the seabed are true. And then extract them.

Last week a cluster of African leaders travelled to Mogadishu to discuss the ongoing transition of security primacy from the African Union mission in Somalia. The leaders were however allegedly also discussing what comes next after the current mission, named ‘ATMIS’ (the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia). And that might, if the whispers around the campfire in the Somali capital are true, be an EAC-led force, perhaps using the East African Standby Force as its core.

This would be a major change of course for the EAC and one that would inevitably mean that the Kenyan military’s twelve-year involvement in Somalia might be destined to continue for quite some time.

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