Eastern Africa hotspots Somalia and South Sudan could be admitted to the East African Community later this year after the bloc’s council of ministers put the ascensions top of the 2014 agenda.
The EAC secretariat said it was vetting South Sudan for possible admission into the regional bloc by April despite the deteriorating security situation in the world’s newest state.
“We are just waiting for official invitation from South Sudan and Somalia to begin the verification process because their suitability for admission will entirely depend on the advice we get from our technical team,” EAC Deputy-Secretary General Charles Njoroge told the Business Daily in Nairobi last week.
The Council of Ministers said it would send the verification teams “at an appropriate time” through its chairperson, Kenya’s EAC, trade and tourism Secretary Phyllis Kandie.
The EAC technical team is expected to undertake a maiden evaluation of Somalia.
Similarly, South Sudan whose membership was put on hold last year after the technical team cited poor market economy structures and weak governance institutions, was up to December tipped for admission into the bloc from April.
A power struggle pitting President Salva Kiir against his former deputy Riek Machar has pushed South Sudan back to armed conflict while Somalia is prone to terrorist attacks from armed groups.
While the official statements suggest the hostilities have not affected the status of the states’ applications, some members have called for suspension of the admission until an “acceptable” level of political stability is established.
Article Three of EAC Treaty authorises the Council of Ministers to negotiate admission deals with States with compatible social and economic policies.
Such States have to demonstrate progress in building a market-driven economy, ability to strengthen region’s economy, geographical proximity and interdependence of the bloc.
The article, however, pegs approval of membership on applicant’s adherence to “universally acceptable principles of good governance, democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights and social justice.”
Kenya and Uganda have particularly been keen on the admission of South Sudan which is already a key market for their goods. If admitted, Somalia and South Sudan would be Kenya’s third and fourth largest export markets after Uganda and Tanzania.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics data shows Kenya sold foodstuff, manufactured goods, medicines, chemicals and textile, to South Sudan worth Sh18 billion by the end of 2012.
Over the same period, Kenya’s exports to Somalia reached Sh19.2 billion, miraa forming 90 per cent of the consignment.
Kenya exported goods worth Sh16.2 billion to Rwanda and only Sh5.3 billion to Burundi, the two other EAC members.
Kenya – together with Uganda and Rwanda – have also been discussing with South Sudan some joint infrastructure projects like railways, roads, oil export pipelines and oil refinery
A number of Kenyan firms — among them financial services providers like Britam, Co-operative Bank, Resolution Health, KCB, UAP Insurance and Equity Bank — have established operations in South Sudan.
Official admission would see it drop tariffs and other cross-border restrictions, giving easy access to more goods from its neighbours.
If the two countries admission is rejected, they could still participate in the bloc’s affairs as associate members under Article Three of the treaty, without having a vote or benefits such as preferential access to markets.