The Political Miscalculus Of The EAC (Part IV) – OpEd


They say these days that the world is more violent and less stable in many respects. Inconceivable things seem to be happening, which is jolting many in many unexpected ways. Who would have thought that East Africa Community would think of absorbing Somalia and hence remove in one stroke of a pen Somali nationalism out of the picture? But they did so, on November 24th, 2023, about a month ago, when the EAC admitted Somalia into its club, not explaining to the Somali population that there would be no independent Somalia in the days, months or even years to come, when the EAC converts itself into the EAF or the East Africa Federation. 

They did not fully explain that the East African Community would be converting into an East Africa Federation, a new country with a new capital, Arusha, a new constitution, a new bureaucracy with a single head of state at the top and there would no longer be independent countries of Kenya, Tanzania, DR Congo, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, and South Sudan, which will all be converted into federal member provinces or states. The irony is that none of the populations of these countries including Somalis have been told of what is on the offing and to come. They only talk of superficial matters of unverified commerce and economic gains and travel easing among the countries. They do not talk of the deeper issues involved such as the increase in illegal trafficking of both people, goods, including drugs and the oncoming theft of the wealth of the region through the EAF bureaucracy, which is to come.

However, we do not see any problem with all the other countries for they are of the same stock and culture – Bantu/Nilotic, Christian and/or animistic, if they choose to be part of the new setup. Somalia is totally different for it is the only Islamic country among the group with one single homogenous population different entirely from the populations of the other seven countries. Indeed, the Somali population is Cushitic, and belongs more to the Horn of Africa States region which include Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti, which together also contain some two hundred million people and a coastal belt of some 5,500 km along the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. It is a surprise that the Somali Government tries to explain to its population not to be afraid of the venture and that Somalia should be taking risks. What kind of a nation takes the risk of losing its sovereignty and nationhood? Somalia is certainly not! The United States, Russia, China, or Japan will not do so either!

They often say that nationalism has been a defining ideology that has impacted nations and peoples over the past two hundred years. It represents the essence of being independent with the right to govern oneself without another nation or group of nations imposing its/their will on one. Somalis lived in the Horn of Africa region for thousands of years and kept their independence except for a brief period of about a hundred years when Europeans showed up in the region. But even then, the Europeans did not have an easy ride or stay and had to leave in the second part of the twentieth century. It would appear that the East Africa Community which originally consisted of only three ex-British colonies of Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, together East Africa, expanded quite rapidly to include Rwanda, Burundi and then South Sudan and DR Congo. That rapid expansion has probably caused it to overreach, as the Community saw itself as unstoppable. They made the big mistake of taking on Somalia, which represents a difficult lump to swallow.

The poor explanation in a western-style town hall in Mogadishu by the Somali government recently does not explain well the entry of Somalia into the EAC. The larger Somali population live in the vast expanses of the country from Loyado in the far northwest to Ras Asyer in the far northeast to Ras Kaimboni in the far south of the country. They were not impressed. The town-hall meeting was to impress the EAC, but the EAC is not stupid enough to believe that gathering of family members and a small group of supporters in such a meeting represents the Somali population who live not only in the vast spaces of Somalia but across many other countries of the world. The government should have been in Hargeisa, Somaliland to explain itself in such a town hall.

The reading of the Somali government of the country’s recent political developments, all in the direction of stability in governance infrastructures was flawed. The country is, indeed, recovering from the chaos of no governance and anarchy of some three decades, but it is not ready for grand standing moves like joining institutions such as the EAC which needs deep and thoughtful studies before the country can move on to embrace it. A cost/benefit analyses as to whether to join or not or for that matter any other organization such as the creation of a Horn of Africa States regional block, was not made as the country and government are not in place yet in a functional infrastructure. The president and his entourage do not represent the wishes and will of the people with respect to great foreign political moves. The Government’s job was to continue the reconciliation process among the Somali clans and people, and regions, so that a stable Somali country was in place. The government’s job was not to take the country to join institutions like the EAC with which Somalia and Somalis share little, as a fait accompli, which is exactly what has happened.

The fault is, however, not that of the Somali government, which appears not to be in control of itself or the country but the fault of the EAC which should not have accepted a country as chaotic as Somalia is. The EAC would now have to pay a price for it has brought into its midst all the chaos of Somalia into the EAC, which as we highlighted in the previous articles, are many.

In this regard, one should look into the EAC itself as an organization and as a community as it claims. The members of the EAC have many differing views on future development, have disputes among themselves and the organization may be beautiful in the eyes of those politicians who want to leave the past legacies behind. But a closer look only shows that the organization is wobbly and unorganized. The recent refusal of the DR Congo to allow election observers from the EAC is evidence that all is not well in the EAC. The border disputes between Rwanda and Uganda, the political disputes between Rwanda and Burundi and of course, the problems of the DR Congo and South Sudan, which involves most EAC countries cannot be ignored.

The EAC’s recent rapid expansion appears to have been overreaching just as the Axes Alliance of Germany and Japan overreached during the Second World War, which left them to be defeated in the end. The EAC may be heading in the wrong direction as expanding and embracing Somalia represents. They should have learned from their own history as the Common Market of East Africa disbanded once only to be reconstituted in 1999/2000 in the present form of the EAC. There are, indeed, many commitments among the group in paper, but practically, free trade does not occur in the region. One should look at the trade relations and activities between Kenya and Uganda or Kenya and Tanzania and others and one would note that the EAC is just a paper organization. All the trade that takes place in the EAC region appears to be driven by what is convenient for one at any one time. The relationship of Somalia would be no different and many Somalis should not be taken by surprise when they are stopped at the borders!!!

The EAC is not what is explained by the Somali Government nor how the EAC presents itself either. It is a trojan mule and who knows what this mule is hiding?

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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