Kagame is right: Why not invite Somalia to the EAC?

Saturday March 10 2012
Charles-Obbo new

When it emerged that the frail government of Somalia had written to Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki, the current chairman of the East African Community, applying to be admitted into the organisation, I sought the views of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame.

Kagame tends to be outspoken on matters of regional integration, and is the regional leader who was easiest to reach.

All I did was post the question on his Twitter page: “So Somalia wants a seat in the East African Community. How do you vote?”

He replied; “They and we, are better off having them in EAC.”

That kicked off a debate. Supporters of Somalia’s case said it should be admitted, because some of the better habits of the EAC countries might rub off on the unruly nation.

Opponents said Somalia was a basket case that would bring nothing to the EAC except its troubles.


On the face of it, demanding that a country be stable before it gets a place at the EAC table makes sense.

However, it’s the troubled and broken countries like Somalia that need the community more, not the stable ones.

East Africa’s examples tell us that often the stable members are smug, and frequently a stumbling to regional integration because they have been made narrow-minded by their petty gifts.

Troubled candidates like Somalia come to the community because they are running away from their demons, and come humbled by the knowledge that they cannot solve many of their problems on their own.

They are, as someone put in, “all ripe and ready for marriage.”

Different member

However, Mogadishu’s application is different, because it offers East Africa the opportunity to establish a new security architecture for the region.

There are armies from three EAC countries in Somalia trying to restore order as part of the African Union’s peacekeeping mission, Amisom; Burundi, Uganda, and conqueror-turned-peacemaker Kenya.

Ethiopia, a highly eligible political bachelor for the EAC, is also in Somalia.

If the Al Shabaab militants are defeated within the year, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda need not wind down their military mission there.

The EAC and Ethiopia could establish an East African Defence Alliance (EADA), and turn their troops in Somalia into the foundation of this defence pact and remain in Somalia as the EAC’s stabilisation force.

This requires that the EAC Secretariat be reformed to oversee some aspects of EADA.

Otherwise, its command would rest jointly with East Africa’s commanders-in-chief, the presidents.

To ensure that the EADA has money to run critical operations, EAC states could increase their VAT levies by 0.25 per cent, which would be turned over to the Secretariat to pay for operations.

EADA could also double up as a rapid response force to intervene in crises that endanger the safety and economies of the EAC, like the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya.

They could either help the national army, or knock sense into local heads.

To calm the nerves of countries like Tanzania, which is suspicious of what it sees as trigger-happy EAC partners, presidents would be given veto powers over EADA activities.

Then we would all get on with the business of East Africa.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group’s executive editor for Africa & Digital Media. E-mail: [email protected]. Twitter: @cobbo3