Navigating Complexity: Assessing Security Implications of Somalia’s Admission into EAC Bloc

By Alor Steven, Economist @CSBAG

As the East African Community (EAC) considers the admission of Somalia into its fold, it is crucial to delve into the complex security landscape that defines this Horn of Africa nation. Recent political and security developments in Somalia paint a picture of a country grappling with unprecedented challenges, making the prospect of admission into the EAC a multifaceted consideration.

Political Turbulence in Somalia has been a persistent concern, as highlighted by various UN Secretary General’s situation reports spanning from May 2021 to August 2023. The security situation within the country has consistently been labelled as ‘volatile.’ In the tumultuous year of 2021 alone, Somalia witnessed an alarming monthly average of 265 security incidents, further escalating to 236 in the initial four months of 2022, and subsequently, 227 during the period from May to July 2022.

Delving into the data provided by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) for the period between January and November 2022 reveals that the monthly average of security incidents, considering battles, explosions/remote violence, and violence against civilians, stood at approximately 239.

This disturbing trend raises legitimate concerns about the potential amplification of political instability within Somalia, with far-reaching ramifications for the broader East African region. If left unaddressed, the prevailing volatility in Somalia has the potential to transcend national borders and influence neighbouring countries in the East African Community (EAC).

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The interconnectedness of regional geopolitics and shared economic interests among EAC member states implies that any escalation in political instability in Somalia may have a ripple effect on the stability of adjacent nations. This could manifest through the proliferation of cross-border conflicts, increased refugee flows, and disruptions to regional trade and cooperation.

In essence, the heightened political turbulence in Somalia not only poses a direct threat to the internal stability of the country but also carries the risk of destabilizing the entire East African region.

The persistent threat posed by Al-Shabaab in Somalia has the potential to significantly affect East African countries in various ways, including security, economic, and humanitarian impacts. Here are some examples of how the Al-Shabaab threat might extend beyond Somalia’s borders and affect neighbouring East African countries:

Al-Shabaab has a history of launching attacks beyond Somalia’s borders, targeting neighbouring countries like Kenya. In the past, Kenyan cities, particularly areas along the Somali-Kenyan border, have experienced terrorist attacks attributed to Al-Shabaab. Such cross-border terrorism poses a direct security threat to East African nations.

Escalating violence and insecurity in Somalia, fuelled by Al-Shabaab activities, could lead to an increase in the number of refugees fleeing the country. Neighbouring East African nations, particularly those sharing borders with Somalia, may experience an influx of refugees, placing a strain on their resources and potentially contributing to social and economic challenges.

Adding another layer of complexity is the presence of ISIS-Somalia, with its base in Puntland. The group’s activities, including targeted attacks on security forces, contribute to the overall insecurity in the region. Understanding the dynamics of ISIS-Somalia is critical in assessing the security implications of Somalia’s admission to the EAC.

The security challenges in Somalia pose a direct threat to the stability of the entire East African region. Escalating violence, cross-border attacks, and the presence of extremist groups can lead to a broader regional security crisis.

Insecurity in Somalia can disrupt regional trade routes, impacting the movement of goods and services within the EAC. Economic ties between member states and Somalia may be strained, leading to economic downturns, reduced investor confidence, and disrupted business activities. 

In response to the Al-Shabaab threat, Operation Badbaado 1 was launched in April 2019, involving AMISOM, international forces, and Somali forces to recover Shabelle River bridge towns. While successes have been achieved, the operation remains ongoing. Concurrently, election security has become a high priority, leading to the establishment of a 9-member election security task force. The effectiveness of these initiatives will be crucial in ensuring stability during the admission process.

East African countries contributing forces to AMISOM and participating in Operation Badbaado 1 will incur expenses related to military operations. This includes costs associated with troop deployment, logistics, equipment, and maintenance. The deployment of military forces to Somalia may divert resources and attention away from other domestic priorities. This could impact investments in critical sectors such as healthcare, education, and infrastructure, potentially slowing down economic development in contributing countries.

Increased security concerns and military operations may disrupt regional trade routes, affecting the movement of goods and services. The potential closure or disruption of key transportation corridors could lead to economic losses for East African countries reliant on these routes. The operation’s focus on recovering towns and territories from Al-Shabaab control may involve humanitarian and reconstruction efforts.

East African nations may contribute funds to support these activities, further impacting their budgets. Maintaining regional stability through military operations requires diplomatic efforts and cooperation. East African countries may need to invest resources in diplomatic initiatives to foster collaboration among regional partners and address geopolitical challenges arising from the operation.

Several East African countries contribute troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which is involved in efforts to stabilize Somalia. The escalation of Al-Shabaab activities could lead to an increased demand for peacekeeping forces in Somalia, affecting the military commitments of East African nations involved in these missions.

The security situation in Somalia may strain diplomatic relations among East African countries. Disagreements over strategies to address the Al-Shabaab threat or disputes arising from the impact of regional instability could affect the collaboration and cohesion within the East African Community (EAC). Heightened security concerns can deter foreign investments and tourism in the East African region. Countries neighbouring Somalia may experience economic downturns due to reduced investor confidence and decreased tourism, affecting industries such as hospitality and transportation.

Humanitarian organizations operating in the region may face challenges in delivering aid to affected populations within Somalia. The spillover effects of the Al-Shabaab threat can exacerbate existing humanitarian crises, requiring coordinated efforts from East African nations to address the needs of affected communities.

Chronic communal and political conflicts, driven in part by the clan system and militias, constitute a major destabilizing force. ACLED data indicates that these conflicts accounted for almost 18% of security incidents in the reference period (January 2020 – June 2021). The prevalence of such conflicts underscores the need for a comprehensive approach to address underlying tensions. Instability in Somalia can spill over into neighbouring East African countries, leading to an increased risk of cross-border conflicts. Militias and armed groups operating in Somalia may seek refuge or launch attacks in neighbouring nations, contributing to regional insecurity.

Escalating conflicts in Somalia can result in a higher number of refugees seeking safety in neighbouring East African countries. The influx of displaced populations may strain resources and infrastructure, impacting the social and economic stability of host nations. Communal and political conflicts can disrupt regional trade routes and economic activities. Countries in the East African Community (EAC) that have strong economic ties with Somalia may experience interruptions in trade, affecting industries such as transportation, agriculture, and commerce.

Conclusion: The potential admission of Somalia into the East African Community (EAC) carries complex and multifaceted implications, especially considering the country’s significant security challenges. The intricate dynamics of ongoing conflicts, the presence of extremist groups, communal tensions, and fluid loyalty dynamics among armed actors in Somalia could have profound effects on the stability, security, and socio-economic well-being of the entire East African region.

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The challenges presented by Al-Shabaab, communal conflicts, the activities of ISIS-Somalia, and the intricate loyalty dynamics highlight the need for a careful and nuanced approach to integration. While Somalia’s inclusion in the EAC could offer opportunities for economic development, regional cooperation, and diplomatic collaboration, it also demands a thorough consideration of the potential spillover effects of insecurity, displacement, and economic disruptions.

For a successful integration that contributes to regional stability, the EAC would need to prioritize collaborative security measures, diplomatic engagement, and robust conflict resolution strategies. The admission process should be accompanied by comprehensive assessments of Somalia’s security landscape, with a focus on addressing the root causes of instability and promoting inclusive governance.

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