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Radio France Internationale
Radio France Internationale
Melissa Chemam with RFI

Somalia joins the East African Community, but questions remain over security

Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud © AP - Evelyn Hockstein

The 23rd Summit of East African Community leaders is opening this Friday with the integration of Somalia into the group dominating the agenda.

The seven member of the regional group currently consists of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

If Kenya and Rwanda lead economic growth and Kenya and Tanzania attract a booming number of tourists, the East African Community (EAC) itself has been hindered by conflicts across the region

Last year, the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Felix Tshisekedi requested and obtained the deployment of a military force to support the local army against armed groups in the east shortly after joining the EAC in July 2022,

The summit will also sanction Somalia's membership.

Africa and the Arabian Peninsula

Somalia submitted its application to be a part of the East African bloc in 2012, and is officially joining today.

Negotiations between the EAC and the Federal Republic of Somalia for the entry into the EAC began in August in Nairobi, Kenya.

Kenya’s cabinet secretary for the EAC Rebecca Miano, said that the admission of Somalia would be a major boost for the private sector.

“The Community is already contributing to peace and security in Somalia with Partner States providing troops as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia. The people of the rest of East Africa are eager to welcome their brothers and sisters from Somalia into the Community,”she said.

EAC Secretary General Peter Mathuki said of Somalia that its 3,000 kms of coastline links Africa to the Arabian Peninsula, giving it the opportunity to increase regional trade.

"Entrepreneurs in Somalia will have greater opportunities for investment, easing some of the social and economic pressures that have come with its isolation," Halkano Wario and Rahel Hassen wrote in their recent report for the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

"Since the collapse of the Mohamed Siad Barre regime in 1991, cross-border trade with neighbouring countries has decreased due to insecurity caused initially by civil war and later by al-Shabaab’s terrorist attacks," they explained.

Enormous security challenges

"Although there are many benefits to joining the EAC, the depth of Somalia’s security problems raises critical questions about the bloc’s readiness and capacity to ensure peace, security and regional stability," the ISS report reads.

Article 3 of the EAC Treaty stipulates the criteria for admitting new countries. They must adhere to principles of good governance, democracy, the rule of law, human rights and social justice.

But Somalia scores low on these requirements due to "decades of civil war and violent extremism".

"Accusations of corruption, and low levels of human rights and justice due to the breakdown of government institutions and the inability to conduct national elections, complicate its democratic credentials," the report also analysed.

EAC citizens are exempt from visa requirements and can travel freely within the region.

So the prospect of Somalia-based insurgents moving into member countries, an unregulated influx of economic migrants, and smuggling of contraband and arms could make some EAC states "jittery" about Somalians entering the bloc.

Another issue remains the rift between Somalia and Somaliland, a region that broke away in 1991 and claims independence.

"Somalia will be one of the least prepared countries," Dr Hassan Khannenje, an expert from the HORN International Institute for Strategic Studies, told ISS, and it may "not meet its obligations to the community".

He foresees a diplomatic impasse because some EAC members have a diplomatic presence in both capitals, Hargeisa and Mogadishu.

While it has still not been defeated, al Shabaab is however retreating from some of its key territories.

(with newswires)

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