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Somalia looks forward to joining, supporting EAC initiatives – envoy

In an interview in July 2016, the then Somali Minister for Foreign Affairs and Investment Promotion, Abdusalam Omer, who was in Kigali to attend the 27th AU Summit, acknowledged challenges his war-torn nation faced. He was optimistic his motherland would triumph over al-Shabaab terrorists and eventually become peaceful.

Seven years later, in July 2022, during an East African Community Heads of State meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, President Mohamud, who was a special guest revived his country’s request to jointhe regional economic community. In August 2022, the Somali President appointed Omer, also the country’s former Central Bank Governor, as Presidential Special Envoy to the EAC.

Abdusalam Omer talks about, among others: the verification mission launched by the EAC on January 25 to assess Somalia’s readiness to join the bloc; Somalia’s potential contribution to the region’s integration agenda; and how he would reassure East Africans that admitting Somalia would not open doors for al-Shabaab to spread terror in the region.

The excerpts;

After your President revived your country’s request to join the bloc, the EAC launched its verification mission to assess your readiness to join the bloc. How, in your opinion, did the assessment go?

I think it went tremendously well. This was the first opportunity for the Government and the people of the Federal Republic of Somalia to showcase not only the wholesome and far-reaching changes taking place on the ground in Somalia since we first expressed our interest to join this community. But it was also an opportunity for an in-depth audit of the vast potential Somalia has with its economic growth, industrious and entrepreneurial human capital and the ever growing political clout Somalia is gaining in the African, Islamic and Arab world.

The well prepared experts and technocrats from the EAC Secretariat and officials from the member countries have seen this progress. And our expectations are that this will be transmitted back to their respective organizations and states. In other words, our expectations are very positive in that we will see Somalia joining as the proud new addition of the member states of the East African Community.

What’s your country’s level of conformity with the criteria for admitting foreign countries as provided in the EAC Treaty? What will Somalia bring to the EAC, should it be admitted?

Under the EAC Treaty, the criteria for the admission of new countries into the Community include acceptance of the Community as set out in the Treaty. The Federal Republic of Somalia accepts the current composition of the member states of the Community, its organs, Assembly [East African Legislative Assembly] and directorates, and the procedural systems of governing the Community in its current state. We look forward to contributing our views and wishes for the betterment of the Community and its citizens.

How about the adherence to universally acceptable principles of good governance, democracy, the rule of law, observance of human rights and social justice; Social and economic policies being compatible with those of the Community?

Somalia with its many historic challenges has nonetheless held successive democratic elections and peaceful handovers for the past two decades which has been difficult in many African countries. We look forward to strengthening our courts systems and the safeguarding of human rights in the country.

The United Nations independent expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, Ms Isha Dyfan, in her address to the General Assembly’s third committee noted, “I am pleased with the Government’s approach to civilian protection.”

She also noted, “The election of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud by a decisive majority of the Federal Parliament of Somalia in May 2022, and the setting up of the framework for governance, including the appointment of a new Prime Minister and cabinet, offers an opportunity for the acceleration of the implementation of the human rights agenda, including undertaking long standing legislative and institutional reforms.” The Federal Government is determined to accelerate the promotion of human rights of the citizens of Somalia and we also seek to gain experiences from world-leading countries like Rwanda on issues like gender equality and women participation in politics.

Tell us about Somalia’s potential contribution to the strengthening of integration within the region…

Somalis as a people, and the Government of Federal Republic of Somalia, are inherently inclined for integration and free-market principles that enables people, goods and services and capital to move freely and unimpeded across the Community. This will see the Community having a new member that doesn’t become a challenging player to further integration on the Customs Union, Common Market and harmonized Common External Tariff. We look forward to joining initiatives such as the One Network Area for East Africa enabling the abolishment of roaming charges for our citizens and making it more easy for people to transact business in the region. We will be supportive of any agenda that delivers greater ease of doing business in the region and bringing citizens closer to each other.

As regards the criteria of geographical proximity to and inter-dependence between it (the foreign country) and the EAC partner states, the Republic of Kenya is an immediate neighbor to the Federal Republic of Somalia.

How does Somalia fare on the criteria of establishment and maintenance of a market-driven economy?

The Government does not own any commercial entities and doesn’t foresee any participation in vital sectors such as commercial banking, telecommunications or utilities. water; electricity and gas provisions in the country are fully privatized, and Somalia just saw the opening of the only first privately built, owned and managed deep-water container port in the eastern part of the African Continent in the city of Garacad.

These developments should convince anyone of the conviction with which the Somali Government upholds, and respects the principles of free market and enterprise. We hope to add our experiences of this to other fellow community members in their quest for economic liberalizations and privatizing state enterprises.

For more than 10 years, you wanted to join EAC but circumstances did not permit. Where do you derive optimism that the time has come for Somalia to join now? What has changed?

The country has made great strides in the security sector and the country is gearing up to take over all security matters from the African Union next year. Economic growth, public financial management reform and trade liberalization is picking up tremendous pace despite the challenges that persist in the global economy and a new Government that is determined to harness not only the potential the country has in its possible contribution to the community, but also, to utilize the the technical know-how and good governance experiences of member states such as Rwanda.

So, how would Somalia benefit if it became the eighth member of the EAC?

Somalia with its people and enterprises would gain access to a large market for its agricultural, vast fisheries resources and the ability to invest by the Somali telecommunication and financial companies into the member states. We have much to gain.

But how do you explain to East Africans the situation of your want away or self-governing territories like Somaliland and Puntland?

The Somaliland and Puntland federal states are part and parcel of the Federal Republic of Somalia and as such will be joining the Community if application is successful. Issues of self-governance are not something new or unconventional. Somalia has chosen a federal model of which the levels of powers and responsibilities are being defined as we are in the process to achieve a more perfect Federal system.

We wish to see a strong and united Federal Republic where everyone’s ambition is harnessed regardless of which part of the country they reside and we take much inspiration from the arrangements that exists in the brotherly nation of the United Republic of Tanzania as per the status of Zanzibar, and we will seek to learn from their experiences. Kenya’s successful devolution of power to County Governments will also be a source of inspiration to us in this regard.

Are Somalia’s social and economic policies compatible with those of the EAC?

Somalia is currently in the process of negotiating its accession to the World Trade Organization and as such will see not only world-class institutional and regulatory frameworks being drawn up and enacted, but also, we wish to spearhead these kinds of initiatives in the Community.

When you visited Rwanda, in July 2016, as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Investment Promotion, you were very optimistic about victory over al-Shabaab. Seven years on, al-Shabaab still causes problems. Why have their ‘opportunistic attacks,’ to quote your own words, not ended?

The fight against terrorism is a worldwide struggle that requires regional cooperation and beyond.

How do you best reassure East Africans who might fear that admitting Somalia would open doors for al-Shabaab to spread terror in the region?

Despite the security threat posed by al-Shabaab in Somalia, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has declared an all-out war against the militant organization and initiated a multi-pronged approach to counter them. To date, the Somalia National Army-led efforts have resulted in clearing Al-Shabaab from virtually all HirShabelle and Galmudug states in central and southern Somalia. This is accompanied by a raft of financial measures including, the successful identification and seizure of the groups illicit assets in the banking system, crippling their financing to do more acts of terror against the Somali people.

Moreover, the significant security concerns in the region are transnational and not limited to specific nations, thus greater cooperation will see us all stand to benefit from Somalia’s inclusion in the EAC. Membership in the EAC would result in deepened and more extensive collaboration on security matters, including on counterterrorism and intelligence sharing, combating organized crime. This will thus foster greater peace and stability in the region.

How did you promote Somali investments in Rwanda when you were Minister for Foreign Affairs and Investment Promotion?

The success story of Rwanda’s business climate is well-known across the region and Africa. Delegations from Somalia have visited Rwanda to learn the enabling business environment and the ease of doing business with international and national partners.

Last year Somalia and Rwanda signed MoU on investment to enhance and strengthen between the two countries. The key strategic areas include mutual investment, trade cooperation, education, skills development and institutional capacity building.


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