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Somalia officially became the eighth member of the East African Community (EAC) on Friday, marking a significant step in the bloc’s efforts to enhance free trade within the region. The inclusion of the Horn of Africa nation, with its population of 17 million, will expand the EAC market to over 300 million people.
The decision to admit Somalia was announced by the former EAC chair, Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye, during the EAC summit in Tanzania. Somalia now joins the existing members of the bloc: Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.
The EAC, headquartered in the Tanzanian town of Arusha, was established in 2000 with the aim of promoting trade by eliminating customs duties among member states. The common market was formed in 2010. Excluding Somalia, the combined EAC countries covered a land area of 4.8 million square kilometres and had a combined gross domestic product of $305 billion. In 2022, total EAC trade amounted to $78.75 billion.
Somalia’s admission may pose additional security challenges for the bloc, given the country’s ongoing struggle against the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shaabab group. Kenya and Uganda, EAC members, have contributed troops to an African Union force deployed to Somalia since 2007 to counter al-Shaabab.
While the entry of Somalia into the EAC is considered a pivotal leap in the bloc’s expansion across East Africa, concerns have been raised about Somalia’s governance, human rights, and rule of law issues, potentially hindering its integration. The country has also faced diplomatic disputes with neighbouring countries, including Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Kenya, although recent efforts have been made to repair regional ties.
The EAC is aiming to expand its market size as it hopes to integrate all countries in the Horn of Africa. Earlier this year, EAC Secretary General hinted that Djibouti and Ethiopia would also join the bloc.
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