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The New Times, Rwanda
By: Gitura Mwaura
Somalia’s long held ambitions to integrate into the East African Community remain on course to be realised.
It is just a short step to their realisation if one looks at some of the recent developments. In July last year, for example, the country got admitted into the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
The membership is a thumbs-up sign that the country has gotten its feet back, earning it a place in the comity of the nations that make COMESA. Its joining increased the membership of the common market to 21.
The country now looks to join the East African Community. The patience should soon pay off after having applied to be part of the bloc in 2013.
With EAC member states already in COMESA, it’s just a matter of course that Somalia should be admitted into the East African Community.
The case for it is obvious, but bears restating. With Somalia’s bordering the EAC, everything is about geographical proximity.
And proximity in its turn implies immediacy of a relationship that must be consummated, particularly as manifest in the fluidity of socio-cultural and economic ties between cross-border communities and their respective countries.
Further, observe that in this contiguity is anchored the regional support playing a role in keeping the country propped up and holding together, despite the factionalism and the Al Shabaab menace.
The AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is an obvious example of this support.
But there is another kind binding the country to the region that may not be so obvious.
As the veteran journalist Charles Onyango-obbo described it not too long ago, the “invisible hand of East Africans” has been a big driver of regional integration.
In his analysis, he showed how the same hand plays between Somalia and countries in the region, particularly through the “Somali distribution networks.” You’ll find the irrepressible Somali business acumen anywhere you turn in East Africa.
But it is a hand Al Shabaab should not be allowed to compromise. In view of the terror group’s attacks, some observers have been suggesting that security concerns may be the biggest stumbling block to Somalia's admission to the East African community.
While one cannot discount the concerns, any threat the group may pose cannot be allowed sway to determine Somalia’s place in the region.
There’s much to be gained in Somalia’s membership, both for the country and region. First, in joining the EAC, the country will bring the total population in the region close to 190 million.
That’s a huge market to which one may add the Somali government’s recent overtures to build economic bridges with Ethiopia and Eritrea, especially after the rapprochement between the latter two.
As observers have pointed out will not only bequeath the Horn of Africa to the EAC but bestow the region with the longest coastline of the Indian Ocean on the continent.
The important gain, however, is that Somalia’s membership can only bolster the country’s rise back to its feet after the decades-old turmoil that has plagued the country since the 1991 overthrow of President Siad Barre's military regime.
The government of Somalia, therefore, has a point in its belief that admission into the regional bloc will play a key role in boosting the economy of the country while improving the trade relations with its neighbours.
Still, it has to wait a bit longer. While it may appear evident that strides have been made as suggested by the country’s inclusion in COMESA, the EAC’s has chosen to apply the “trust but verify” approach.
It was expected that assessment of Somalia's level of preparedness to merit membership should have been complete before the 20th EAC Heads of State Summit earlier this week in Arusha, Tanzania.
Noting the incompletion in its communiqué, the regional leaders directed the Council of Ministers to follow up on the verification and report at the next summit.
Conditions for membership that Somalia and other prospective members must fulfil are set out under the EAC Treaty. They include adherence to universally acceptable principles of good governance, democracy, the rule of law, observance of human rights and social justice.
In addition to geographical proximity, the other condition is the establishment and maintenance of a market driven economy.