The Horn Of Africa States: The Confusions Of Overlapping Memberships – OpEd


Africa is a large continent, much larger than it appears on maps and other geopraphical presentations. It is some 30 million square kilometers in size, about 8,000 km from North to South and some 7,400 km from West to East at its furthest corners.

Africa’s size is distorted by the original Mercator Map Projections, which was a deceptive presentation of the size of countries and continents. Africa can easily absorb the USA, China, India, Japan, Mexico and much of Europe combined. The continent enjoys one super organization, the African Union, which recognizes another eight sub-regional communities of which four are in the Eastern and Southern regions of the continent.

It would appear that the African Union does not have any particlular rules for approving regional communities and memberships thereof, for indeed, some 14 countries in East and Central Africa consitute the four regional communities of East Africa and Southern Africa. There are 14 countries that have multiple memberships in the four communities, which gives rise to the ineffectiveness of such organizations for they do, indeed, have differing rules, which may contradict each other and where one country can be easily a member of two, three or even all four organizations, hence highlighting the inability of such a country to have loyalty to anyone. No wonder most of the organizations are just expense items and/or begging-bowl organizations.

The four regional communities involve the countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Sudan, Comorros, Eritrea, Seychelles, DR Congo, Burundi and Rwanda. These countries are members of one or more of the following four communities: The East Africa Community (EAC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and  the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

In addition to the aforenoted community organizations, these 14 countries are involved in other organizations such as the Indian Ocean Community, the Economic Community of Central African States, the Economic Community of Great Lakes Countries, and others. The multiple memberships pinpoint to the fact that each country behaves on its own best interests and not on the basis of group interest.

Multiple memberships of differing communities give rise to confusion, duplication of activities and/or competition in activities, and most often heavy burdens and pressures of those who work in the foreign affairs of nations, where they have to attend to various events of differing communities, which sometimes may be taking place at the same time.

Another key issue with multiple memberships is related to the possibility that differing blocks may be working on conflicting and incompatible integration programs, that are at variance with the level of development of a state or states. Indeed, there is no coordination among the various communities with respect to the achievement of their goals and targets.

A further issue with multiple memberships would be related to conflicts that may arise out of the modalities for implementing mandates, despite the similarities of mandates of communities. Institutions like IGAD and the EAC are totally differing organizations and their goals and manadates differ, but both include countries such as Kenya, South Sudan, and Uganda and countries like Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Djibouti, which do not belong to the EAC which is moving towards creation of a federal country to be called the East Africa Federation (EAF). How do such countries share common goals when their policies are moving in different directions.

These multiple memberships only create more burdens for members with respect to multiple financial obligations, mulitple trade negotiations, multiple policy decision-making processes, procedures and, indeed, instruments.  No wonder, most East African communities appear to be failing in achieving their mandates, including the much-vaunted East Africa Community.

 It is why we advocate that the SEED countries (Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti) remove themselves from all these ineffective organizations such as IGAD, the EAC, COMESA and others and create a new Horn of Africa States Regional Block for it is impossible for any one country to belong to more than one community, unless they complement each other such as belong to the African Union, which is a political organization at a higher plain or the United Nations Organization and its various bodies.  No one can have two hearts at the same time.

Clearly multiple and overlapping memberships in differing communities and economic blocks only increases direct and indriect membership costs, have implications for the private sector, when doing business becomes difficult through multiple layers of economic regimes, slow down of business through mutliple procedural requirements and paperwork. Belonging to one organization or community eases procedural issues and hence improves the welfare of the citizens and people. It is thus necessary for the SEED countries to revisit their memberships of various inefficient organizations of which they are currently members or are aspiring to join and create a new organization that serves the region and hence avoid conflicting obligations.

Dr. Suleiman Walhad

Dr. Suleiman Walhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at [email protected].

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