By Abdullahi Ali Hassan
The newly elected president of the Somali Federal Government of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud attended the 22nd East African Community (EAC) summit held, on 21tst – 23rd July 2022, in Arusha Tanzania, to renew an application of membership to the EAC bloc that Somalia made in 2012. The EAC, a regional intergovernmental organization, was founded in 1967 by then three heads of states: Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Milton Obote of Uganda. The bloc was dissolved in 1977 and was reestablished in 1999, contains seven countries: Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, and the DR Congo which recently joined.
Regional economic blocs are instrumental in advancing the economies of member states. Europe with its advanced and mechanized economies formed the regional organization of the European Economic Community (EEC) to create common markets and customs in 1957 with a treaty signed by six countries: France, Belgium, Netherland, West Germany, Luxemburg, and Italy. The EEC evolved to the current European Union (EU). East Africa Community represent member states faced with multiple developmental challenges rooted in “technological underdevelopment and organizational incompetence’. It should be more natural for the weak to work together than for the strong.
Thus, to support his case, President Mohamud reiterated to the summit that “Somali belongs to East Africa. There is no one country sitting among the seven countries sitting here that Somalia is not linked to, by business, by community”. President Mohamud’s comments relevantly draw attention to the embeddedness of Somalis, entrepreneurial Somalis, across East Africa and their contribution to the economic well-being in the communities they work. However, one should expand the Presidents’ comment to explain the existing historical linkages of Somalis with the peoples of the member states of EAC which include language and culture. Research evidence shows that culture among coastal communities of Warsheikh, Mogadishu, Merca and Baraawe, for instance, is closely intertwined with that of communities of Kenyan and Tanzanian cities such as Mombasa and the island of Zanzibar.
In fact, several coastal communities in Southern Somalia speak Kiswahili as a mother tongue. The Bravanese Somali community in Bravo speak Chimini, a northern dialect of Kiswahili is one of such community. Another example is the Bajuni Somali community settled in in the small Indian Ocean islands of Chulo, Chovaye, Koyama and other areas of Jubbaland who also speak, a Bajuni- northern dialect of Kiswahili.
These shared culture and language of East African coastal communities is found in the career of Asha Abdow Malaika, the Somali singer, known as the Queen of Somali/ Kiswahili songs. She creatively blended Somali and Kiswahili songs which was admired by communities across East Africa and as well as the diaspora.
In addition to ethnic Somali Kenyans in the North Eastern region known as the NFD, Somali communities settled in Nairobi, Eastleigh since the early 20th century. Somalis were part of early founding communities of the City of Nairobi. Eastleigh became synonymous with Somalis thus it was dubbed as the ‘Little Mogadishu’.
On the business and economic front, Somalis have contributed to transforming East African cities by investing in local businesses. In the 1990s many Somalis who fled anarchy in Somalia settled in Nairobi and converted Eastleigh ‘Little Mogadishu’, then a residential suburb of Nairobi, into a bustling business zone. They established various business enterprises including export and import networks, and erected malls, lodges, and restaurants.
The heads of States of the member states of EAC noted that the verification process of Somalia’s request was not properly handled yet thus directed the EAC Ministerial Council to expedite the process.
Somalis share historical rich and diverse common experiences, which include culture and the Kiswahili itself, factors that can be leveraged on to build trust and networks for businesses and trade, with other East Africans.
Admitting Somalia to the East African Community will, ideally, increase the movement of goods, services, and people across the bloc to expand its gross of domestic production (GDP), and encourage the already established Somali businesses across the region. Also, with its long Indian Ocean± Red Sea route that link Africa to the Arabian Peninsula, a significant economic zone, and the rest of Asia by extension, Somalia can be a gateway to international trade.
Abdullahi Ali Hassan