By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
May 28th, 2023
In recent reports on the East Africa Community, it is noted that it is moving on to the federation process and discussions in this respect are underway. The process of achieving a federation, however, is complicated and would involve the creation of a federal government where current presidents and leaders of the various member countries would become governors of the member countries (more or less) and therefore, this poses unexpected reticence from the current leaders of the member states. Some skeptics say that it is Museveni of Uganda who is pushing the federation process. He is said to be preparing a retirement position for himself after giving up power to one of his relatives after a 45-year stint at the helm of his country, Uganda. He would be sitting in Arusha, Tanzania as the first Head of the EAC Federation. This frightens Kenya, of course, and perhaps Paul Kagame of Rwanda.
It is where some EAC lobbyists, sometimes, propound and promote the idea of a militaristic realization of the project as the politicians and some merchant class would not just give up their current powers with ease. They argue that East African bankers or customs officialdom or even traders and producers in a number of members countries would never agree on anything, despite the noble goal of the Community.
And it is because of this, they are now thinking about perhaps using military power to ensure completion and realization of the project. They note that the EAC already owns the East Africa Standby Force, which is a regional military institution designed to keep peace and security in the region and, of course, this points to the African way to solving impassable situations – military coups.
The EAC is an old community which has worked hard and for many years to achieve the current impasse, and they would find solutions in this regard, in due course. However, how would this affect aspiring Somalia, which unfortunately and wrongly wants to join it, or should we say, being persuaded? The EAC has already its laws and rules of the game, which the overwhelming majority of Somalis would oppose, including military coups under which many Somalis claim to have suffered much, and blame to have caused this seemingly unending civil strive in the country.
Those who believe that the East African Standby Force could perhaps handle the matter quicker than the politicians who deliberate and discuss before taking serious decisions that would affect their people and countries, are mesmerized how the East African forces in Somalia from Burundi, Uganda, and Kenya have become comrades in arms in Somalia’s operations under AMISOM and now ATMIS. They are forgetting that they had to go along with each other as they were under an African command, not an East African command. They are paid by non-East African sources, mainly from Europe. They are, indeed, mercenaries that have no loyalty to their original countries except in the process of earning more income than their original countries could afford. It also indicates why they have failed miserably in their mission except for the early days, when they were brought to an unknown land.
The irony in this whole process is why Somalia, which hardly controls its territory and kept afloat financially by the international community and hence economically dependent on others, should want to join another region with which it shares little. This would not be helpful to the country, and the thought of using military forces to subdue the Somali population is, in our view, dangerous?
The idea, they say, is to use the already existing forces from East Africa in Somalia as guinea pigs and militarily take over Somalia, which could then be used to handle the militia’s operating in the DR Congo. Here would be born an East African Army, which the other members of the EAC armies would also join, perhaps, forcibly or voluntarily.
They have not taken into consideration the armies of Djibouti and Ethiopia, the only two Horn of Africa States armies in Somalia, in the ATMIS program, which are more helpful and better placed to contribute to the solving of Somalia’s security hazards. They also do not take into consideration that the Somali army is as strong and may be stronger than any East African army given the weapons they are denied presently, and they have not taken into consideration also the fact that the natural block of Somalia is the Horn of Africa States, with which they share the same heritage that dates back to pre-history.
They hide the fact that many of the citizens of the East Africa Community themselves oppose bringing in other troubled regions into their fold. They already have problems with South Sudan and now the DR Congo. These countries remain unsettled today. Burundi and Rwanda are no different as to what would happen, when the strong leaders currently on the hot seats would disappear. Countries like Tanzania are not as enthusiastic, perhaps, as Kenya and Uganda, in the formation process, which is probably the main cause of most delays in the formation of a more complete EAC Federation. The fact that Arusha, in Tanzania, is the capital of the EAC is seen by most Tanzanians as a rouse and does not dissuade them from their skepticism of the project. They know Kenya and some other members of the EAC are eying their rich and vast lands.
Somalia owns one of the largest marine Exclusive Economic Zones in the world, some 833,000 square km, which is one of the country’s bargaining chips in any negotiation with any other party and it would be unnatural if it moves away from the Horn of Africa States region. The Horn of Africa States neighbors include Ethiopia and Djibouti, with which it shares a long border of some 1718 km (1640 km with Ethiopia and 78 km with Djibouti) as opposed to some 1005 km with Kenya. The people on the Kenyan side of the Somali/Kenyan border are also Cushitic stock (Somali/Oromo). Kenya should have been a member of the Horn of Africa States region. However, it is a founder and one of the basic pillars of the EAC, which would not allow it to forget and forgo all the hard work and achievements of that organization.
Somalia thus needs not an East African Community but an association of the Horn Africa States region, its natural allies including Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti and perhaps Sudan, sometime in the future. If it joins the EAC, Somalia would always be the odd country out in such a union as it is in the dysfunctional Arab League. It would be unnatural to join the EAC which already has its own laws and rules which may not be applicable to Somalia and which Somalis may find them offensive, especially when it comes to cultural/religious issues.
The Horn of Africa States region would be created together, from scratch and would hence be negotiated on a win-win rules of the game for all the four SEED countries and not an organization which says, “join us as we are,” which the EAC presents.
Somalia’s President and Special Envoy to the EAC, who seem to be bent on joining the EAC, should be aware that the majority of Somalis prefer to have as allies their natural relatives with whom they share considerable historical and cultural ties instead of joining the cultures and histories of peoples as far away as the Atlantic Ocean or the jungles of Africa in the Congo basin or as far south as Chamba in Tanzania, which Somalis know of or share little.
If Somalia has to join an economic group, it would be much easier and more beneficial for Somalia to co-found and join the Horn of Africa States instead of the EAC in all respects. The traditional highland/lowland formation of the region with farmers and pastoralists and fishermen would make a more feasible integration, for this would allow Somalia to put in the pot its huge maritime exclusive economic zone and receive hydropower and agricultural food production in return. The integration of the Horn of Africa States would also do away with the fear of the clashes within the region that marked it in the past over claims of land and territory.
The main reason for the Horn of Africa States region, like any other regional economic block, would be to aim at easing of trade and investment barriers within the region and helping in the development of functional transport and communications infrastructures, and promotion of macroeconomic and financial policies. This would, no doubt, lead to improvement of efficiencies, sharing of the costs of public infrastructures needed for development, and facing off other regional blocks and major countries collectively in negotiation processes. This would also ease troubles among member countries and hence install peace and security in the region. The Horn of Africa States region would be a winner for Somalia, if only they could hear and listen.