Member states of the East African Community have agreed to set up a verification committee to analyse whether Somalia fulfils the requirements to join the bloc.
The Horn of Africa nation submitted its application in February 2012 to be a member of the community which currently brings together Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.
A Council of Ministers meeting that convened in Arusha, last week, approved the committee and directed partner states to nominate three members that would travel to Somalia in December to assess the requirements as stipulated in the EAC Treaty.
The vetting process will take over seven months, according to a subsequent communiqué from the meeting. The list of experts to participate in the exercise will be submitted by October 31.
The process will take into account the country profile and the level of compatibility with the EAC community stages of development in trade liberalisation and development, cooperation in investments and industrial development.
Other areas to be scrutinised include whether the conflict-torn nation has a well functioning monetary policy among other indicators.
Prudence Sebahizi, the national coordinator of the East African Civil Society Organisations Forum (EACSOF) believes that if Somalia joined, the EAC would benefit through cementing regional security.
“There is no much economic benefit (from Somalia) at the moment. Maybe we can look at the future but for now, Somalia’s membership should be mainly looked at from the security perspective,” said Sebahizi, who a few years ago was the chief negotiator for Rwanda during the negotiations for the EAC Common Market.
The EAC Treaty sets out conditions for membership, including adherence to universally acceptable principles of good governance, democracy, rule of law, observance of human rights and social justice.
It further stipulates that for a country to be allowed membership, it should be able to contribute towards the strengthening of integration within the region, geographical proximity between it and partner states and establishment and maintenance of a market-driven economy.
The Director of Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP) Prof. Pierre Rwanyindo Ruzirabwoba, an economist, observed that Somalia possessed opportunities for the community, calling for a faster admission process.
He added that it would create a wider market for the EAC goods since the country possesses a long coastline along the Indian Ocean.
“Unity is also a significant factor for the community. Somalis are our brothers and sisters who need assistance to fight the terrorists who have devastated their social fabric,” he said.
He said already, East Africa through Kenya, Uganda and Burundi is part of the process to restore security in the country that until this year, had not had a functioning state for over two decades.
Somalia, with a population of 10 million, borders Kenya the Southwest.
Concerning the intentions by South Sudan to join the bloc, the ministerial council established a High Level Task Force to initiate direct negotiations with the Juba government.
South Sudan applied for entry into the EAC only months after it seceded from Sudan in 2011.
Sudan itself had its request rejected on the premise that it shared no geographic boundaries with any EAC member state.