Mogadishu has rekindled its decades-old desire to join the East African Community and Arusha has not completely slammed the door on Somalia’s face.
Last year, the Summit directed the Council of Ministers to initiate a verification exercise for Somalia’s admission, a key requirement for determining the eligibility of a potential member. That push gained a new agency at this year’s High-Level Retreat on the EAC Common Market Protocol and Heads of State Summit as the DR Congo occupied its seat as a member.
In principle, the expansion of the Community, should be welcomed. In practice, caution is advised. On the pro-side, Somalia’s admission, which must happen someday, is in line with the African Union’s agenda for an economically seamless Africa. On the flipside, a rushed admission of Somalia will not necessarily yield the anticipated benefits within a reasonable time span.
Even the AU envisages a more paced continental integration process. The building blocks—the regional economic communities — must first achieve minimum efficiencies, before they can come together to form a grand African Customs Union.
Politically driven, the EAC’s rushed expansion is probably attractive to a generation of politicians focused on leaving behind a legacy. But it has the potential to dilute and hobble progress.
The EAC’s own history should be lesson enough. The other should be Turkey’s enduring frustration with its failure to be accepted as a member of the European Union. The founding members of the EAC — Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania — had a lot in common, having all been British colonies and partners in the East African Common Services Organisation. That created a cultural bond yet even with this heritage, it has not been plain-sailing.
Despite its economic development and being a key cog in Europe’s security architecture, Turkey’s application to join the EU has been pending for decades because it does not meet the values threshold set for membership. As much can be said of Somalia, South Sudan and the DRC.
The EAC is not mature for further expansion because it is not working optimally. Despite commitments on paper and as has been amply demonstrated by Kenya and Uganda, free trade does not happen because of what is written in the protocols, but rather what is convenient to one member at any one time.
As was to happen, disagreements between the old members resulted in a rift that was euphemistically called the Coalition of the Willing with Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda sidelining Tanzania for various reasons. Yet even the CoW would later splinter when Rwanda and Uganda fell out, resulting in a three-year trade blockade. South Sudan is yet to add value and it remains to be seen how the partners will negotiate the DR Congo’s complex security and political baggage.
The EAC has made progress but key benchmarks for economic integration remain elusive. The immediate causality of this merry-go-round will be milestones such as the East African Customs Union, the single currency due in 2024, and the East African Central Bank, which must now pause as we induct and haggle with the new members.
Rather, the EAC should focus on achieving efficiencies, and trade policies to work, instead of spatial growth.