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Somalia Becomes the Eighth Member of the EAC – Back to the Roots?

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The time has come! On 24 November 2023, the heads of state and government of the East African Community (EAC) approved Somalia’s accession. Thus, Somalia will become the eighth member of the Economic Community, with a population of around 300 million. Somalia’s membership was already in the offing in June of this year.[1] The EAC is now one of the largest regional alliances in Africa and the world, laying the foundations not only for a conflict-free future but also for realising Africa’s enormous economic potential for the benefit of its inhabitants.

Somalia Achieves Crucial Foreign Policy Successes

For Somalia, this is another milestone in its post-war development. In addition to lifting the arms embargo by the UN Security Council on 1 December 2023[2], the International Monetary Fund decided on 1 November to grant the country an extended credit line of USD 100 million.[3] The funds are not only urgently needed support for the reconstruction of the country and in the fight against terror, but also, in the words of the IMF, confirmation that “Somalia has maintained strong implementation of wide-ranging reforms to help strengthen key economic and financial policy institutions, which is paving the way for Somalia to reach debt relief at the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Completion Point in December 2023.” This means that Somalia is on track to meet the HIPC requirements, which means that international lenders such as the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the IMF, the Inter-American Development Bank and all Paris Club countries will once again classify the country as creditworthy and interest-free loans will be available in some cases.

This positive development shows that the path of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s presidency is recognised and supported by international partners. However, it also shows that a great deal is happening within the country. In addition to the travel diplomacy to neighbouring countries right at the beginning of his presidency last year and the alliance he forged against Al Shabab, these are important and perhaps even somewhat surprising successes for a country that was on the brink of violent political conflict until the presidential election in May 2022.

The Economic Benefits of Accession Outweigh the Risks

In particular, regional integration and cooperation through the country’s accession to the EAC will benefit Somalia economically. Although the World Bank recently downgraded its growth forecast from 3.6 % to 2.8 %[4], this should only be a small dent in economic development. For years now, Mogadishu, in particular, has been experiencing a rapidly growing economic upturn, a considerable increase in construction activity and the establishment of all kinds of companies. Therefore, the economic advantages that Somalia brings to the EAC outweigh the disadvantages. These include a coastline of around 3,000 miles, abundant fish, a large livestock industry, agricultural potential, and suspected further raw material reserves currently being explored. The country also has great tourism potential and opportunities in the environmental sector. In addition, with its very young and increasingly well-educated population, the country is home to a digitalised, tech-savvy and progressive generation of young businesspeople. Somalia is, therefore, not coming to the EAC as a supplicant but as a nation that will further strengthen the Community. Therefore, the international Community, the EU, and solid bilateral partners such as Germany should continue to support this path.

However, Somalia Continues to Face Many Internal Challenges

This support will continue to be necessary for the foreseeable future. Even though there are positive signs, there are also many uncertainty factors – irrespective of the fight against terrorism. First and foremost is the faltering constitutional reform. Numerous committees were appointed last year, and important representatives from politics and society were tasked with reviewing the constitution. Since then, however, the work seems to be taking place behind closed doors at best. This does not do justice to the formulated claim of a genuine Somalisation of the Constitution. Rarely in recent years has the time been better than at present for a social discourse on the way forward. It is about the democratic foundations, such as the right to vote (one person, one vote), but also the organisation of the legal system and federalism. The Federal Government must also ask itself how it intends to secure future parliamentary participation in the EAC. In any case, the provisional constitution 2012 does not contain an opening clause, as in Germany, for example, with Article 23 of the Basic Law. The development of the federal states is also a factor of uncertainty. There is considerable tension not only in central and southern Somalia, where the prescribed legislative periods have been extended, but also in Puntland, the former anchor of stability, due to the current presidency’s desire to extend the election period.[5] Relations with Somaliland and its separatist part Khatumo are equally tense. The status of the capital, Mogadishu (Banadir), remains unresolved and harbours political and economic risks. This is because the flourishing economy in Banadir accounts for a significant proportion of the entire country’s tax revenue, particularly as far as the federal government is concerned. Therefore, a political conflict over future status can quickly become a fiscal and economic crisis for the federal government.

These are not unusual problems but rather the difficulties that must always be expected in Somalia or issues that have needed clarification for years. Taken together, however, they can lead to coalitions emerging in the slipstream of the fight against terror, regional and international efforts and the country’s stabilisation, which hope to gain better political or economic conditions for themselves from a country in crisis mode. The presidency would, therefore, be well advised to place its political focus more strongly on domestic policy in the coming year. This also applies in particular to the period following a successful military campaign against Al Shabab. This is because immediately after liberation from the hostage of terror, expectations of a better future are quickly linked to the gain in prosperity and the functioning of statehood.

The geopolitical challenges also hover above these internal Somali, predominantly political tensions. For example, Somalia is severely affected by the global energy and food crisis. In recent months, food and energy prices have risen so sharply that they seriously threaten economic recovery. Somalia is also affected by climate change more than almost any other country. Even though there has recently been hefty rainfall in the country, the drought that has lasted for years has caused enormous damage and has also made entire areas uninhabitable for a long time.

Regional Cooperation is an African Lifestyle in European Clothing

Moreover, despite this, the path of regional cooperation will change the country and come very close to the Somalis’ lifestyle. This is because the contractual structure of the EAC only looks like a European import at first glance. Borderless regional integration is a typically African characteristic. Trade links via the East to North and West Africa have existed for a long time. The Incense Route connected the Horn of Africa with ancient Egypt and even partly with Europe around 3,000 BC. Before colonisation, there was freedom of movement across large parts of Africa and free trade in goods and services. This large trading area, therefore, attracted traders from all parts of the world very early on. The coasts of Somalia, in particular, have been hubs of East-West trade for many centuries. There was a single internal market long before the current development, and this was only eliminated by the colonial demarcation of borders. It was not only the trade, i.e. the possibility of transporting goods from one place to another, but also the law that was standardised. Particularly with the expansion of Islam from the 8th century onwards, the rulers’ commitment to Islam also had an economic component. Traders could, therefore, rely on transactions being carried out in accordance with standardised Islamic law.

A Return to the Pre-Colonial State with the Help of EU Law?

The EAC is, therefore – somewhat romantically speaking – a return to the traditional lifestyle in the region. This return is now realised through the law, i.e., by cooperating with nation-states. Law thus becomes an essential instrument for controlling the (re)integration process. In this respect, the EAC treaties and their legal acts have a unique role. Depending on the claim to the validity of Community law, there are complex interactions between national law and the legal acts of the Community. As already mentioned, in the case of Somalia, the question arises as to how participation in this Community is to be secured in parliamentary terms. This is because it is not only about Community policies but also about the control of participation itself. Like the European Union (EU), the member states of the EAC are committed to comprehensive cooperation. With the Summit, the Council, the Secretariat, the East African Legislative Assembly and the East African Court of Justice, there is an organ structure very similar to that of the EU. Article 16 of the EAC-treaty[6] names regulations, directives and decisions as regulatory instruments, which also correspond to the terms regulation, directive and decisions of the European treaties. These will trigger direct implementation and application obligations in Somalia, which can be invoked directly by business people and private individuals in the EAC member states.

Gradual Integration and Leap into the EAC Acquis

The integration process of the EAC functions as a step-by-step model. Economic integration is to be followed by a political community. The stages are set out accordingly in the treaty. Art. 75 creates the customs union, which came into force in 2005; Art. 76 establishes the union of the common market, which came into force in 2010; and Art. 83 describes the harmonisation of financial and monetary policy with the aim of a common currency, which came into force at the end of 2015. Since 2017, the goal of a political federation has also been formulated by the EAC. However, Somalia can not climb these steps step by step. The logic of the treaties states that Somalia is entering the acquis that has already been achieved. Somalia is, therefore, entering directly into a single market with a customs union and a harmonised financial and monetary policy with all rights and obligations, even if specific transitional periods are necessary.

The great success of accession is, therefore, followed by homework that Somalia must complete in the coming years. The fundamental prerequisite is that the federal states and the federal parliament (House of Peoples) are involved. In addition to political participation, however, an implementation strategy for the substantive law of the EAC is also required. For example, the question arises about how private disputes can be resolved when there is hardly any court structure or enforcement law in Somalia.

Conclusion

Ultimately, however, Somalia is on an excellent path. The political integration efforts of the current presidency have done the country much good. The successes in the fight against Al Shabab are noticeable everywhere, and the path of regional cooperation will also keep Somalia on the road to success in the long term. If the presidency tackles the domestic challenges with the same vigour, Somalia is on the threshold of becoming an essential key state in the region. It would undoubtedly be desirable for the battered country.

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