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Kenya cautious as Somalia makes inroads into EAC


by MARTIN MWITA
Wednesday February 14, 2024

The formal admission of Somalia into the East African Community has elicited mixed feelings in the region, with immediate neighbor Kenya seen to remain cautious about opening its borders.

Somalia was formally admitted to the EAC on November 24, after the Summit of the East African Community Heads of State at their 23rd Ordinary Meeting in Arusha, considered the Report of the EAC Council of Ministers on the Negotiations with Somalia into the EAC.

It resolved to admit Somalia as a full member of the community.

The Federal Republic signed a Treaty of Accession with the bloc in Uganda, on December 15, and within six months after the signing of the Treaty of Accession, Somalia is required to deposit the instruments of ratification with the EAC Secretary-General.

This means it has up to June to have met the requirements.

The latest developments now mean that Somalia is inching closer to fully becoming EAC’s eighth member, joining Tanzania, DR Congo, Burundi, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya.

According to the EAC secretariat, joining the community would enable Somalia to benefit from the regional infrastructure projects such as roads, railways, and energy networks.

“These projects aim to improve connectivity, enhance transportation links, and boost regional trade, ultimately supporting Somalia’s economic development and integration,” EAC Secretary General Peter Mathuki said.

Somalia has the longest national coastline of over 3000km in Africa, linking Africa to the Arabian Peninsula, which the region can tap into to increase intra-regional trade and improve the lives of East Africans, he added.

The coastline is expected to bring immense benefits for the EAC through the exploitation of Somalia’s blue economy resources such as fish.

The East African Business Council (EABC) has also welcomed the move saying it could help the region deepen trade and investments, as it works towards growing intra-regional trade to between 40-50 per cent, from the current 20 per cent.

Intra-regional trade within the EAC is on an upward trajectory, standing at above $10.17 (Sh1.6 trillion) as of last year.

It also creates an opportunity for EAC to go in stronger on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which it is negotiating as a bloc, even as it courts Djibouti and Ethiopia to come on board.

With Somalia, the EAC’s market expands to to 301.8 million consumers, according to EABC, a land area of 5.4 million square kilometers and a combined Gross Domestic Product of $312.9 billion (Sh50.8 trillion).

This improves EAC region strategic and geopolitical significance and prospects, according to EABC chief executive John Bosco Kalisa.

“I am happy that they were admitted. One of the elements of integration is strategic security. You can’t do business and investments when your neighbor is in conflict and unstable,” Kalisa told the Star during an interview in Nairobi.

“It was appropriate to admit Somalia because then you can join efforts in averting insecurity.”

However, geopolitical tensions and regional conflicts remain concerns, he noted, as they have the potential to disrupt trade and investment flows and rise Non– non-tariff barriers within the region.

The East African Women in Business Platform (EAWiBP), has also welcomed the move but says more needs to be done to ensure cross-border trade is smooth, where women and youth form the bulk of traders.

“With Somalia, there are a lot issues that need to be looked at even as they take the steps into joining the EAC. However, it creates a future market and opportunity for our SMES,” EAWiBP chairperson Elizabeth Thande said.

Insecurity mainly on the Kenya-Somalia border and parts of Somalia caused by the Al-Shabaab militia, and historical political instability in the country, are however seen as a stumbling bloc with Kenya seen to have a careful approach.

This is mainly on opening her borders for free movement of people and trade.

Kenya had in May last year agreed to officially reopen its border points with Somalia in Mandera, Lamu and Garissa within 90 days, in what would have ended a 12-year barricade that began in 2011, when Operation Linda Nchiwas launched to fight the Al-Shabaab.

The move was announced by Interior Cabinet Secretary Prof Kithure Kindiki and his Somalia counterpart Mohamed Ahmed Sheikh after high-level consultations in Nairobi.

“We have resolved that the border between Kenya and Somalia will be reopened in phases,” Kindiki had said.

It was to commence with the opening of Bula Hawa in Mandera in 30 days after the talks, which was then to be followed by Liboi (Mandera) in 60 days and Ras Kamboni (Lamu) in 90 days.

In July, Kindiki said Kenya will delay re-opening its border after a wave of attacks on the Kenyan side blamed on the Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab militants.

The Al Shabaab has been fighting for more than a decade to topple Somalia’s central government and establish its own rule based on Islamic law.

President William Ruto does not mince his world when addressing the issue of terrorism, where he has on several occasions said terror networks must be ruthlessly dismantled.

“We must dismantle terror networks and financial support infrastructure; this must be complemented by countering radicalisation and the propagation of extremism,” he said during the Somalia Frontline States Summit on regional efforts towards stabilisation of Somalia.

The President has said the war against terrorism in the Horn of Africa calls for a collective effort.

Ruto is however positive on Somalia’s entry into the community, saying it presents an opportunity to the region to further integrate, expanding opportunities to the people, with the move expected to boost connectivity, enhance trade and accelerate Somalia’s transformation plan.

Trading under the EAC is also expected to help eliminate, though not in totality, the smuggling of commodities, mainly sugar, and arms through the porous borders with Kenya, according to experts.

According to a paper by the Danish Institute for International Studies and the Centre of African Economies, “trading and smuggling of sugar in the Kenya–Somalia borderlands is a dangerous, lucrative, and highly political business.”

Meanwhile, Somalia joining the EAC is seen as an opportunity to further grow EAC’s trading with the rest of the world, where total trade stood at $62 billion (about Sh9.8 trillion) last year.

“We need to widen further, that is why we are pushing for Djibouti and Ethiopia to come on board. We need to have that huge market,” Kalisa said, noting this will place the region at a strong position when trading under AfCFTA and other international markets.

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