How Somalia Erred In Joining The EAC – OpEd


Is it correct to say that Somalia has erred in its choice of friends, once again? Yes, indeed, Somalia has erred. Yesterday, it announced that it has joined the East African Community (EAC). It was, indeed, officially admitted into that Swahili world organization, of which Somalia and its people are not a part. Somalis do not speak Swahili and the Lingua Franca of the EAC is officially to be Swahili. How Somalis would fare in that organization is to be seen. But certainly, it would be worse than what happened to it in the Arab League, another organization to which Somalia does not belong but in which Somali leaders erred earlier in joining it. The Arab League is an Arab institution and Somalis are not Arabs and they do not speak Arabic which they only use for religious rituals.

What would Somalis do with Swahili, which they do not speak? Obviously, the working language of the EAC would be Swahili and Somalis would now have to learn Swahili and teach it in their schools. The Somali youth, who currently suffer from massive unemployment in their own homeland, would suffer more as jobs would be conditioned upon fluency in Swahili in the years to come. That is just for a start!!!!!

The EAC has broken its rules long ago, when it admitted South Sudan and the DR Congo into its fold. It broke Article 3 of its constitution which highlights which countries to admit or not to admit. Those that should be admitted must adhere to the principles of good governance, democracy, the rule of law, human rights and social justice. How does South Sudan and the DR Congo fare in any of these criteria. They would probably score 2 or 3 on a scale of 1 to 10. What about Somalia, in this regard? I believe Somalia would score minus 2 or minus 3 in such a scale. 

The country is in a civil war, has no governance beyond the presidential palace, which is secured by African Transitional Mission forces in Somalia. The country suffers from violent extremism, naked corruption, no human right protection mechanisms or justice, total breakdown of governmental institutions, inability to control large parts of the country, secession of parts of the country and many other numerous transgressions on a normal civic life. What kind of an institution is the EAC that admits into its fold such countries as DR Congo, South Sudan and Somalia? There must be an agenda that is not meant for the public or is this pure stupidity? No one can define or describe or justify this!

There are, indeed, many Somalis who have invested in Nairobi, Kampala and Dar es Salam, the capitals of the ancient East Africa Community. They mostly invest in real estate, but the process of investing must follow local rules, where basically investors would provide only part of the finance and the balance would be financed by local banks. 

It only creates an asset base, which is either Kenyan or Ugandan or Tanzanian, and where Somalis as future citizens can be deprived off these assets through legal means in those countries. The Somali diaspora across the globe have been lured to build other countries, which are not theirs? These countries have also become the sanctuary of funds stolen from Somalia. Many presidents, prime ministers and regional leaders of Somalia including the current ones running the show in Somalia have massive properties and hotels in the EAC, all stolen from Somalia. This is another strange Somali phenomenon! This is being encouraged by their own corrupt government officials.

The EAC knows that Somalia would be a problematic member in the group. However, its long coast of some 3,300 km rich in hydrocarbons, fish, geostrategic location, beautiful long white beaches, is probably worth the risk. The EAC has gambled well. They can now bring in Ethiopia into the fold, as Ethiopia is yearning for an outlet to a sea and since Somalia is already in a bind, there is no way it can wiggle out of this.- a perfect opportunity to take over Somalia’s extremely valuable long coast, the longest in the African continent. 

Somalia is an unstable country with non-operational governmental institutions and is home to an Al Qaeda branch, the extremely violent terror group that operates in the country. However, it appears to those behind the EAC admittance of Somalia that the valuable coast of Somalia is worth the pain and any agony related to the problematic Somali case. 

The EAC rules are generally based on common law inherited from the UK, the ex-colonial country of East Africa, but Somalia, a Muslim country, with basically rules based on Italian bureaucratic infrastructures, colored by Islamic Shari’ah, would not be compatible with those of the EAC. One must further note that Somalia has claims on all the neighboring countries. There is a Somali state in Ethiopia, a Somali state in Kenya and there is Djibouti, probably the only one of the original 5 Somali regions which Somalia recognizes as a separate country.

Now then, Somalia just joined an existing organization with its rules of the game in place. It really had no choice but to either accept or stay out. It opted to get in. Our article here presents mostly the negative aspects. We do not see any advantage in Somalia’s entry into the EAC despite the claims otherwise. Somalia is a loser in the contract just signed by none other than its federal president. He is responsible for all the consequences.

The EAC has gone through all the processes towards the creation of a truly integrated region. They have just processed one of the last steps towards creating a federal state to be called the East Africa Federation. The have achieved a common or single market status, and monetary union is to be finalized in the coming year 2024. Basically, this means that there are no tariffs within the internal trade, common external tariffs with non-members, freedom of movement of people i.e., labor, goods and capital. Somalia is at a disadvantage in all these matters for Somalia’s economic infrastructures are fragile, almost non-existent and weak. It cannot compete. 

We must in this respect note:

  1. The only trade that binds the EAC and Somalia is mostly the Khat business from Kenya to Somalia on which Somalia earns some taxes to help it meet some of the conditions of the IMF to earn debt relief. That tax would no longer be applicable, and Somalia would lose income and hence would have more difficulties with the IMF and the World Bank.
  1. Sovereignty of Somalia would be constrained, as it would have to conform to higher authorities now instead of deciding its fate on its own. Eventually upon the completion of the federation of the EAC member countries, Somalia would totally lose its sovereignty. It appears either the current federal government does not understand, or it does not mind. It is up to the Somali people and its parliament to revisit the pros and cons of the entry into the EAC group.
  1. Since free trade allows for free movement of capital, labor and goods, Somalia would be inundated by multilateral groups that have access to enormous wealth and investment capabilities not open to Somalis and would take over even the grasslands of the poor Somali pastoral nomad, either to create large agricultural projects, or vast mining projects or major port systems, navies both group and private navies and hydrocarbon drilling onshore and offshore without diligent and due care of environmental implications. Somalia would have little say in those matters.
  1. Joining a group means that whatever affects one part, would also affect the other parts. Since most African countries are not producers of manufactured goods but producers of primary products and raw materials, recessions and prices of these commodities in international markets would affect Somalia as well. Somalia would end up as a primary consumer market for the agricultural products of the neighboring countries, and especially food, as Somalis are notoriously known for their inability to produce their own food. It is a trading nation that imports almost everything. Somalia’s dependence on the EAC would then only increase to the disadvantage of Somalia in the long run.

As much as the federal Government of Somalia avoids telling the truth about the EAC membership, the facts are clear in the books of the EAC. It will become a unified state to be called the East Africa Federation, whose lingua franca will be Swahili. Somalis may as well begin now to learn Swahili and leave Somali to the dustbin of history. 

The new federation will have common representations across the world, so there will be no Somali ambassadors but EAF ambassadors. There will be a common currency and a common nationality. This will allow the members to speak with one voice and, therefore, there would no Somali voice in the future but an EAF voice in the table of nations. There will be one central bank , one constitutional court, and one court of appeal. There will be one EAF president and no Somali president. There will one EAF parliament and there will no Somali parliament. Markets will be combined, and resources pooled and there will no longer be a Somali policy with respect to anything.

Most people only consider the positive aspects of mergers but there will be disadvantages of any merger be it for corporations or countries. In this case,  there would be inefficient use of resources when the member states eliminate tariffs of similar goods despite constancy in import tariffs. Generally locally produced products tend to be of lower quality than imported products.  Tariff exemptions will cause Somalia to lose a lot of taxes particularly on khat and other goods imported from Kenya and East Africa in general. This may cripple the spending programs of Somalia, which is recovering from the long civil war. 

Many Somalis will lose their employment in Somalia as more skilled East Africans pour into the country. In the future, fluency in Swahili, may become a determinant factor in getting jobs in Somalia, and this would not be good for the Somali population which only speaks Somali. This would create more insecurities in the country due to lack of incomes, and hence hunger and social differentiation within the country in addition to its existing stratifications.

While the door is still open for the regional block, hopes for a Horn of Africa States block, under the leadership of the largest country, Ethiopia, seem to be dying as the three other countries of HAS, namely Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, may also join the EAC, irrespective as to whether they would benefit from the EAC membership or not. The idea of joining the EAC has become a popular but hollow dream of many of the region’s leaders. The EAC-soon-to-be EAF does not follow its rules. How would it follow future laws and rules of such a federation? We only see disaster brewing for the East African and Horn of African regions.  Time will tell.

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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