Outward-looking Somalia president keen to strengthen trade ties with Uganda
Uganda has stretched its muscles in the previous decade by engaging militarily in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The effort to stabilize war-torn Somalia has helped Kampala gain diplomatic points with the global north.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud made it quite clear during his two-day visit to Uganda this week that security was a top priority.
“As part of my state visit, I had a constructive meeting with [His Excellency] Kaguta Museveni today.” “We discussed further developing Somalia and Uganda’s strong bilateral ties in all areas of mutual benefit,” he added, adding that “Uganda is a great partner of Somalia in our battle against [international] terrorism.”
Since 2007, the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) have been fighting the Islamic rebel organization al-Shabaab in Somalia.
“Unifying and growing a nation requires a sound philosophy, which is how we developed the UPDF,” Mr Museveni said, adding, “When we send them on missions like in Somalia, they view it as their responsibility to defend their African brothers in the real spirit of pan-Africanism.”
Somalia’s proposal for membership in the East African Community was also high on Mr. Mohamud’s (EAC) bill. Mr Mohamud has made becoming the eighth EAC partner state his pet ambition despite just being on the job for three months.
The bloc’s Heads of State Summit last month resolved to expedite the vetting of Somalia’s application to join a community that is still grappling with its economic and political integration goals.
This is Mogadishu’s third effort to join the Community, with the first attempt occurring in 2012 and 2017, during Mr. Mohamud’s first term as president. In 2019, then-President Mohamed Farmaajo attempted, but failed, to join the bloc. The proposal was treated with such apathy in 2019 that the EU never dispatched a team of specialists to Mogadishu to determine if Somalia qualified for membership.
The return of Mr Mohamud, who is considered as a more outward-looking president among regional leaders, is largely believed to be a tonic.
“East Africa owns Somalia.” “There is no nation among the seven sitting here to which Somalia is not tied through commerce, community, or any other means,” Mr Mohamud said in July at the EAC Common Market Protocol Heads of State high-level retreat in Arusha.
Mr Mohamud got assurances from Mr Museveni during his two-day visit to Uganda that Kampala would support Mogadishu’s ambition to join the EAC. Mr Museveni said that he would support Somalia’s application since “the nation meets all of the prerequisites for membership in the bloc.”
Although Uganda has made significant contributions to Somalia’s relative stability, commercial links between the two nations remain at best sporadic.
“We sent the UPDF there, but our exports to Somalia are limited.” “The data don’t seem good at all,” said Mr Stephen Asiimwe, executive director of the Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU).
Kenya has developing trading links with Somalia, with which it shares a 681-kilometer border.
According to records, Kenya exported tobacco ($42 million or Shs158 billion), miscellaneous edible preparations ($19 million or Shs72 billion), pharmaceutical products ($16 million or Shs60 billion), soaps and lubricants ($6.79 million or Shs26 billion), cereal, flour, starch, and milk products ($6.4 million or Shs24 billion) to Somalia in 2021.
Kenyan exports to Somalia are up to $110 million per year (Shs414b). Somalia imports, on the other hand, are valued $905,000 (Shs3.4b).
Kenya, in addition to having a substantial ethnic Somali population, accommodates around 278,000 refugees and has invested heavily in Somalia’s post-conflict reconstruction. It has even held a number of seminars that have aided Somalia’s peace-building efforts.
Mr Asiimwe told the Sunday Monitor that he believed Mohamud’s visit would boost Uganda-Somalia commercial ties.
“They were discussing security and other bilateral agreements, but we said we could hold a summit since Uganda and Somalia are one country.” In Uganda, there is also a sizable Somali population.
“They are doing a terrific job in our transportation industry,” Mr Asiimwe said, adding, “We need to capitalize on this connection so that we can boost our exports to Somalia since that nation has a lot to offer.”
Many of the Somali refugees in Uganda set up camp in Kisenyi, a Kampala City slum dubbed “Little Mogadishu.” Somalis, on the other hand, do not solely live in slums.
“Our Somali community has developed because we have extremely affluent businesspeople like Omar Mandela,” Mr Asiimwe added, referring to the owner of Mandela Group (which includes Café Javas, City Tyres, City Oil, and City Lubes).
The Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) has also taken Somalia’s ties seriously.
“We want to build a joint investment committee that looks at prospects in Uganda and Somalia for cooperation and investments for both countries,” said UIA board chairman Morrison Rwakakamba.
Uganda has been significantly dependent on the Kenyan port of Mombasa due to its landlocked status. It has also progressively extended its use of the Central Corridor through Tanzania in recent years. According to Mr Rwakakamba, introducing a third choice would reap significant benefits.
“We want to take advantage of Somalia’s extensive coastline.” If they can join the East African Community, we would have more access to marine resources, but we also feel we need to enhance commercial flows between the two nations… “If you look at 2020, our exports to Somalia were over $67,000 (Shs252m), and our imports were around $6,000 (Shs23m),” he added, adding, “And the year before that, it was $550 (Shs2m) in imports.” As a result, trade flows between nations remain constrained. We need to find out how to expand on it. Now that we have Uganda Airlines, we have a chance.”
Uganda’s intentions to expand commerce with Somalia are conditional on the latter joining the EAC, a process that may take two years and is being met with skepticism from several member nations. Somalia was recently embroiled in a maritime boundary conflict with Kenya, the bloc’s largest economy.
Somalia severed diplomatic relations with Kenya last year, claiming that its neighbor had repeatedly intruded into its domestic affairs and violated its sovereignty. Kenya further irritated Mogadishu officials by withdrawing from an agreement to give visas on arrival to its people, despite the fact that both nations’ presidents agreed to it in 2019.
Due to simmering tensions, Mogadishu imposed a two-year ban on air shipments of khat, a moderately narcotic herb popular in Somalia. The embargo, ostensibly to combat coronavirus, had the greatest impact on central Kenya, as 50 tonnes of khat worth $50,000 (Shs188m) was transported to Somalia every day.
The embargo was recently revoked after discussions between Mr Mohamud and Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s departing president.
Somalia’s accession to the bloc is also met with suspicion, since the EAC has yet to function despite signing a lot of papers in protocols, as seen by trade disputes between Kenya and Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, and Uganda and Rwanda.
“We have not integrated Congo, but we are currently working on Somalia,” Mr Dan Wandera-Ogalo, a member of the first East African Legislative Assembly, said, adding, “Why don’t we concentrate on what we have before adding additional members?”
So far, goals such as the East African Customs Union, an unified currency planned in 2024, and the establishment of an East African Central Bank have remained on paper.
“Most protocols are ignored by countries, and they are only used when it is convenient for them.” There are no clear repercussions for nations who breach them, yet you hear that more members are being admitted to the Community,” Mr Wandera-Ogalo said.
However, the business sector does not believe that the development is being rushed.
“I believe we need greater integration and faster integration for trade to flow smoothly.” You must follow the same rules and structures. If I want to travel to Congo right now, I need a visa and there are a lot of fees, but if we merge, those hurdles will be gone. “I think that we urgently need Somalia in the East African Community,” Mr. Asiimwe stated.
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