The Federal Republic of Somalia (3) will soon join the East African Community (EAC) but the EAC is different from all other regional economic integrations by explicitly stating its intention to create a federal sovereign country called the East African Federation (EAF). (1) None of the regional communities throughout the world is that ambitious. Even COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa), and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) which Somalia belongs don’t have that ambition.
So, why does the Somali Republic have to join such a country given that all our institutions are in disarray, our economy is in shambles, and our country is not unified? Why do we have to lose our sovereignty? We need to trade with our East African neighbors without losing our sovereignty and we must be an associate member rather than a full member.
Moreover, does the present Somali government headed by President Hassan Mohamud have the right to preside over the dissolution of the Somali Republic, deprive us of our God-given right to own our natural resources, and surrender our sovereignty by joining the East African Federation?
On June 6, 2023, the East African Community (EAC) heads of states’ 21st Extraordinary summit meeting in Bujumbura, Burundi recommended the membership of the Somali Republic to the EAC, adopted the report of the verification of the
Somali Republic’s application, and urged the secretariat to initiate the necessary steps, procedures, and negotiations to complete the process of the Somali Republic’s accession to the community. Thus, the Somali Republic will soon join the East African Community (EAC) after a few bureaucratic formalities are fulfilled, and in the next ordinary session of the heads of state, the Somali Republic will be admitted into the EAC and after the ratification of the treaty by the Somali parliament, Somalia will be a full member. But do the Somali people, understand the significance of this epoch-making, earth-shattering event that will permanently change the identity of the Somali people who have occupied the Somali peninsula since time immemorial?
Many Somalis that I talked to have no clue about this treaty or have a superficial acquaintance of it; many shrug their shoulders and brush it off as something inconsequential; others use the wrong analogy and compare it with the successful European Union. For this reason, I feel it is necessary that we open an honest discussion bereft of emotions and absolute, blind loyalty to the incumbent government that is pushing for this project. Let us start the discussion.
First, I understand fully that eliminating trade and non-trade barriers is beneficial to the welfare and the standard of living of the countries that create regional economic integrations. Trade among countries allows them to specialize in what they can do best and then trade with one another. And taking advantage of comparative advantage, factor endowments, and economies of scale, the economy of the member countries becomes more competitive, and the welfare gains, even if relatively unequal among them, can benefit all. There are few cases where free trade can be detrimental to the overall welfare of a country. Countries lose when trade diversion (4) is severe, and the country is obliged to import from members of the community that produce the goods at a higher cost than the previous suppliers now outside the community. In other situations, the inefficient producers of imported goods could be devastated when they suddenly find themselves competing with highly efficient producers of the goods from member countries of the community. Technically the latter case will be defined as trade creation even though it supplants the inefficient producers of a member country. But what matters is the overall gain of the community, and in the long run, the local firms could adjust their operations and be more competitive.
Second, the Somali Republic’s industries were destroyed because of the thirty years of civil war. Now, the country doesn’t have any industry to boast of and we will not be able to compete with any country on this earth in the foreseeable future. Yet, we have a vast exclusive economic zone that is rich in fish and oil, a vast territory that is blessed with minerals that are unexploited, and a decent arable agricultural land. Also, because of its location, Somalia can harness solar, wind, and wave energy. So, even before the first oil well becomes productive, we can borrow billions of dollars from foreign countries and international agencies to develop our maritime resources for the benefit of our people. We can create fishing communities along our long coastline and start helping our farmers to reconstitute their lives and use more efficient scientific methods to produce more yield per acre. Now our country is in very bad shape and is very close to falling apart. Also, it is infested with very militant terrorist groups that believe that everybody is an apostate who according to their perverted worldview deserves to die.
And the very fact that the EAC is accepting us in our present situation should be a red flag. ATMIS (African Transition Mission in Somalia) forces will leave in December 2024 but probably Kenyan, Ugandan, and Burundi troops will stay since they will evolve into the East African Community Regional force which will later metamorphose into the National Army of the East African Federation. This means they will be permanently stationed at the future EAF (East African Federation) headquarters at Halane in Mogadishu. These later troops will be in “their country” since the Somali Republic will become a province of the East African Federation!
Third, economic integration goes through various stages such as preferential trade agreements, free trade, customs union, common market, and economic union. As the community goes through these stages, the integration gets deeper. At the preferential trade agreement level, tariffs are reduced for the goods and services of some countries (5). An example is the Lomé Convention of 1975 between the European Economic Community (EEC) and certain previous colonies of some members of the EEC. Somalia became an associate member of the EEC because of that convention since we were previously an Italian colony. That is why Somalia used to export bananas to the EEC countries before it collapsed. The second stage is free trade, and, in this stage, the trade barriers and non-trade barriers are eliminated but each country is free to maintain its external tariff to the rest of the world. U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), formerly known as North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), is a good example. At the customs union stage, countries adopt, in addition to the elimination of the trade barriers between them, a common external tariff against the non-member countries of the community. Mercosur (6) (The Common Market of the Southern Corn) founded by Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay in 1991 started as a customs union. The Common market stage follows the customs union and labor, and capital can move freely between the countries. The final stage of economic integration is economic and monetary union, and at this stage, countries adopt a common economic policy and may adopt a common currency. It took Europe from 1957 (Treaty of Rome) to 1993 (Maastricht Treaty) to reach this stage. This is the general trajectory of economic integration, but countries can skip certain stages or freeze their economic integration at a lower stage.
East African Federation
The EAC agreed in 1999 to create an economic integration based on four pillars: customs union, common market, monetary union, and finally political federation. In November 1999, the three partner states Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania signed a treaty and embarked on the journey of economic integration. That treaty came into effect in July 2000. These countries had an earlier economic interaction and as far back as 1907, Kenya and Uganda had formed a customs union. And in 1967 they created the East African Community which later collapsed in 1977 due to ideological, and economic factors. So, the new treaty is a rehash of the previous one in a new form. It is the revival of the previous one albeit modified with the benefit of hindsight and the accumulated experience. Moreover, the three founders of the EAC countries were British colonies apart from Tanganyika (7) which was ruled by the Germans before the first world war. In the year 2007, Rwanda and Burundi were admitted into the union, and in 2015, South Sudan became a full member. And in 2022, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) joined the EAC.
Worrying about the slow pace of the integration, the three partner states of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania agreed, as far back as 2004, to fast-track the integration process and created the Wako committee to study ways of accomplishing that. After getting the Wako report, the partner states immediately went ahead with implementing the treaty objectives spelled out in Article 5, section2.
Thus, the EAC customs protocol establishing the customs union was signed in Arusha on March 2, 2004, and committed the member partner states to gradually reduce trade and non-trade barriers each year for the following five years to zero. The EAC Common Market protocol was established in Arusha in 2010 and entered full force in 2015. After this date, parring safety and security issues, the nationals of each country can travel freely in the territory of the EAC and there is also no restriction for capital to move from one country to the other. Each country is obliged not to discriminate against the citizens of the community and to treat them as the nationals of their country. In addition, they can establish residence wherever they want in the EAC.
The Somali Republic is also a member of COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, and IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development). So, since COMESA has more ambitious trade plans, let us compare it with the EAC.
The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)
The Preferential Trade Area for Eastern and Southern Africa (PFA), the precursor of COMESA, was established in December
1981 and the Somali Democratic Republic was one of the founding members. In 1994, the PFA was changed to COMESA and it has its headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia.
The Somali Republic’s status was reactivated in 2018 when former Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre reinstituted Somalia’s membership. Now, COMESA has 21 members stretching from Tunisia all the way to Eswatini and is the largest regional economic community in Africa. Most members of the EAC are also members of COMESA. So, it doesn’t make any sense why we must be in the EAC because COMESA will do almost everything that EAC can do for us. The only difference is that under COMESA we will retain our sovereignty while trading with its members but under EAC we will lose our sovereignty, our independence, and our freedom as a Somali state. A province under the EAF will neither be free nor independent nor sovereign. The international status of the Somali Republic will be demoted to that of a local province, and the Somali nation will be disbursed among 300 million people.
But why do we, Somalis, need to join this East African community?
We don’t have to join the EAC. It is not a must. It is a choice. But whose choice is it? Are the Somalis aware of what is going on?
Most Somalis don’t understand what is going on and those who heard about it have no idea what the Somali Republic is getting into. Yes, the East Africans are our brothers and sisters and because of our geographic location, we must trade with them. Every rational human being accepts that logic and one can deny it only at his or her own economic detriment with the consequent loss of welfare and standard of living. But benefiting from the community economically is different than losing our sovereignty permanently.
The nature of the community dictates that we will lose our sovereignty if we join it. And it is no secret that EAC will be a federation of partner states. Political Federation is one of the four pillars of the EAC, and it is stated explicitly in Article 5, section 2 of the 2000 treaty. In this sense, the EAC is different from all other economic integration communities that have been created so far. None of the eight African economic integration communities recognized by the UN8: AMU, UAMU, CEN-SAD, COMESA, ECCAS, ECOWAS, IGAD, and SADC, have in their objectives, except for EAC, the creation of a federal state. None of the treaties of these communities state explicitly the creation of a federation. Even the Continental African Free Agreement doesn’t mention that.
But nobody can deny that the predominately Kiswahili-speaking East African countries have the right to create an EAF. These countries have centuries of interaction and intermarriage; they have similar cultures and almost 90% of them profess and practice Christianity, and because they have similar cultures, they created an institution that will solely work on the development and diffusion of Kiswahili in the EAC. Their plan is to make it the lingua franca of the community. That is good for them but what about the Somali Republic? What will be the fate of our country and our nation?
The Somali Republic will fade away and disappear.
In May 2017, the EAC leaders agreed to introduce another step in the sequence of the pillars of the EAC. They adopted a confederal political system as a transitional model for the upcoming fully-fledged political federation. And they commissioned a group of experts to draft a constitution for the Confederate state. Things were going well and progressing, but the COVID-19 pandemic retarded the progress of it. With a new vigor, the group of experts restarted their work in May 2023 and now they are consulting with the local people in each partner country for ideas to create a people’s constitution that satisfies all and that has the support of the people and civil society.
Once the confederation is created and once it finally evolves into a federation, the EAC will be a single federal sovereign country with its capital at Arusha, Tanzania; the country will have a president, a single currency, and all the previously sovereign countries will lose their previous status and will be subsumed under a giant sovereign state called East African Federation. Each country will become a province in that federal state. The EAF will be an international sovereign entity upheld by international law and its sovereignty and its territorial integrity will be respected by the international community.
So, when the Somali Republic accedes to the EAC and the Somali parliament ratifies it, it means that the Somali Republic accepts the treaty, all the protocols, and the annexes of the community; it means that the Somali Republic is surrendering its sovereignty voluntarily and without duress or coercion; It means that there is no longer a country called the Somali Republic, and it means the end of the long journey of the Somali people to have a nation-state of their own. Your fate is no longer in your hands, and you are at the mercy of anonymous politicians in Arusha , Tanzania deciding your fate.
What is the consequence of the loss of sovereignty?
The first casualty will be our natural resources. It will no longer be ours only but based on the 1962 UN resolution (1803) of the permanent sovereignty of countries over their natural resources, it will belong to the EAF. Even the maritime dispute between Kenya and the Somali Republic that was adjudicated by the international court of Justice and that ruled in favor of Somalia will be irrelevant since Kenya and the Somali Republic will be two provinces in the same country. All Somalia’s natural resources, whether oil, gas, minerals, or fish, will be the common property of 300 million people. It will not be a solace that we equally share with theirs.
The second casualty will be our land. As our country -the Somali Republic- is a sparsely populated country, the Somali territory will be overrun not by an invading army but by the co-citizens of the EAF. According to the EAC common market protocol of 2010, all restrictions to the movement of labor and capital were to be eliminated by the year 2015. Now the EAC community members use the EAC passport or an ID card to move from one country to the other.
Moreover, once the community becomes a single sovereign country, everybody can reside where he or she wants. Within a few years, the Somalis will be a minority in their own country, and they will suffer the same fate as the Native Americans in North, Central, and South America.
Fellow Somalis, welcome to the world of indigenous minorities.
What about the European Union?
“But wait a minute, the European Union is the most successful economic integration, and its people are relatively happy, and prosperous, and are enjoying the benefit of the huge European market.” One may say and dismiss my assertions as emanating from a ‘narrow-minded’ nationalist.
The answer to that is that the European Union is not a political federation but an economic union. No more, no less. In the early 1950s, there was a debate between federal functionalists and political federalists. The federal functionalists drew on earlier intellectual contributions of functionalists such as David Mitrany (9) who believed that the cooperation of nations in non- political, technical areas will draw the world together and establish peace among nations. The United Nations and its multi-agencies are based on that concept. Later that concept was used by Jean Monnet (10) and Robert Schuman (11) to jump-start European cooperation on non-technical areas believing that as countries worked in these areas, and as others see the success, an enmeshed web of further success will snowball leading to spill-over to other areas and further integration.
On the contrary, the political federalists whose leading figure was Altiero Spinelli (12) feared the return of the previously privileged elites that ruled European states before the second world war and whom they suspected would pursue the same nationalist disastrous policies that brought Europe to ruin two times in the twenties century. To transcend nation-states with their attendant nationalism, they wanted to create a federal state of Europe where the previous loyalties would shift to a new European nation.
Both ideas competed for a while. The federal functionalists’ ideas started to grow roots in the form of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), and the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC). The ECSC community was the first to have a supranational institution called the high authority which is equivalent to the present-day European commission. Also, the Federalists seemed to be winning when the European Political Community (EPC) was proposed as an amalgamation of the EDC (European Defense Community), and the ECSC, but this project floundered when the French parliament failed to ratify the EDC out of fear of losing French sovereignty. Thus in 1957, only the ECSC, EAEC, and the EEC (European Economic Community) were included in the Treaty of Rome. The functionalist had won, and Europe embarked on that road.
Seeing that the European Union is successful, many people forget that its success is due to its focus and concern predominately on economic matters and policies that promote that. Sixty-six years after the Treaty of Rome, no European Union member has lost its sovereignty, and each country has the option of leaving the community. United Kingdom left the EU after a referendum (BREXIT). That option is not open for the East African Federation members. Once we become a member of the EAF, we will be locked in that entity forever, and we can’t withdraw from the federation peacefully. If we are unsatisfied and we want to leave, we will be treated like a rebellious province, and the EAF federal government will have the sovereign right to preserve its territorial integrity.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud is committing a very serious mistake when he thinks that Somalis will follow along with him to join the East African Federation and surrender their sovereignty. Certainly, this project will pit Somali people against one another and logically many Somali regions will reject this deal, trace their own path, and make deals with neighboring countries for better economic arrangements that fall short off either a union or federation. At the same time, this project will create a rift between the Somali people and our East African brothers and sisters because taking advantage of the Somali people at its worst hour when all its institutions are embryonic and weak; when its people are torn apart by conflict and mistrust; and
when its economy is in shambles will be the height of callousness and unfriendliness. But worse of all this project runs the risk of creating more recruits for terrorist groups.
Therefore, my advice to the Somali government is to back down and settle for a less ambitious, less suicidal goal such as being an associate member of the East African Federation instead of being a full member. And meanwhile, the Somali government should work hard to bring the Somali people together instead of adding more problems to our current ones.
- EAF will be a sovereign federal state consisting of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.
- Hamid Masheye is the former State Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Somalia.
- In this paper, Federal Republic of Somalia, Somali Republic, and Somalia refer to the same country.
- Jacob Viner, a Canadian economist, developed and popularized the concept of trade creation and trade diversion in 1950.
- Now, under World Trade Organization law, lowering tariffs without doing the same for all other countries will violate the Most Favored Nation principle (MFN). That is why Lome Convention was changed to the Cotonou Agreement and the number of countries was expanded.
- The Common Market for the South is known for its Spanish acronym Mercosur (Mercado Comun del Sur).
- Tanganyika joined Zanzibar in 1964 and formed Tanzania.
- Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Community (COMESA), Economic Community Southern African States (ECCAS), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and Southern African Development Community (SADC).
- David Mitrany was a Romanian who spent most of his adult life in Britain and the USA. He theorized about how to achieve world peace, believed that the cause of wars was nationalism and that cooperation of countries in non- technical areas will tie them together, and
- Jean Monnet was the head of the French Economic Planning Commission after the second world war.
- Robert Schuman was the French Foreign Minister in the early 1950s and he popularized the ECSC (the European Coal and Steel Community). ECSC is also known as Schuman plan.
- Altiero Spinelli was an Italian politician and a European federalist.