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Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. Photo Credit: AMISOM Public Information, Stuart Price, Wikipedia Commons.
By Dr. Theodore Karasik
Somalia’s greater incorporation into East Africa is a major undertaking by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud whose election in May 2022 was notable for a policy program that views integration as the key to security in the Horn of Africa.
The Somali president has traveled the region in a push to advance his country’s future, and has asked to join the East African Community, a regional intergovernmental organization composed of seven countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda. The Tanzania link is important when it comes to developing coastal trade links between the two countries.
Recently, Mohamud traveled to Arusha in Tanzania seeking an official invitation for Somalia to join the EAC common market. The Somali leader has had a vision of joining the group for the past 10 years. However, with its personality politics and competing agendas, the organization is far from perfect. Despite this, the region is witnessing increased regional trade, with many companies expanding their operations to other countries in sectors such as finance, manufacturing, hospitality, tourism and education.
Safety is a key feature that Mohamud needs to guarantee. By addressing concerns over the Somali terrorist group Al-Shabab now, he will save blood and toil later in an area that suffers from or is close to pockets of severe poverty and inter-ethnic conflict.
Somalia’s many strong regional supporters have been working with these countries to begin addressing regional security issues.
Mohamud visited Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Kenya, Turkey and the UAE to discuss options on stopping Al-Shabab in order to enhance economic viability, while participating more widely in counterterrorism operations.
Talks also dealt with the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is at the heart of disagreement between Addis Ababa and Cairo. The Somali president is trying to balance the water issue with the more serious Al-Shabab threat.
Ethiopia and Eritrea are working together to limit Al-Shabab’s activities. Mustafa Omar, president of the Somali region of Ethiopia, has said that Ethiopia is planning to create a “security buffer zone” aimed at countering the terrorist group’s attacks. An increased military presence in Djibouti monitoring Al-Shabab is part of a growing web of security connections to combat terrorism and ensure major infrastructure projects work.
These include the LAPSSET — Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport — corridor program, East Africa’s largest and most ambitious infrastructure initiative, which brings together Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan. However, three years after Kenya and its landlocked neighbors invested funds to build infrastructure linking their economies, little has happened. A number of LAPSSET projects stalled after Al-Shabab terrorists attacked and killed local residents, forcing contractors to flee. A joint counterterrorism effort against Al-Shabab is essential if these “access” projects are to succeed.
The Somali president is calling for increased attention to the threat posed by Al-Shabab, which has increased its operations since he took office. The terrorist group, which has been fighting Somali governments and African Union peacekeepers since 2007, wants to show it can operate in Ethiopia, as well as in Somalia and Kenya.
Almost 500 Al-Shabab fighters crossed into eastern Ethiopia last week, clashing with Ethiopian forces along the border. Reports suggest the terrorists may have penetrated up to 100 miles into the country before being stopped, and further attacks are considered likely.
The US is taking the Somali situation seriously after seeing China using “debt trap” politics among these countries. Samantha Power, the US Agency for International Development administrator, announced a $476 million aid package to tackle Somalia’s humanitarian crisis after meeting with Mohamud. The US provided almost $707 million in assistance for the people of Somalia in 2022.
Meanwhile, other countries, such as Turkey, are organizing, training and equipping Somali counterterrorism forces as part of combined security efforts in the Horn of Africa.
Overall, the Somali leader is putting Mogadishu on a course that can lead to greater integration of East African states by addressing both counterterrorism realities and economic necessity.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is a senior advisor to Gulf State Analytics and an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Lexington Institute in Washington, D.C. He is a former Advisor and Director of Research for a number of UAE institutions. Dr. Karasik was a Lecturer at the Dubai School of Government, Middlesex University Dubai, and the University of Wollongong Dubai where he taught “Labor and Migration” and “Global Political Economy” at the graduate level. Dr. Karasik was a Senior Political Scientist in the International Policy and Security Group at RAND Corporation. From 2002-2003, he served as Director of Research for the RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy. Throughout Dr. Karasik’s career, he has worked for numerous U.S. agencies involved in researching and analyzing defense acquisition, the use of military power, and religio-political issues across the Middle East, North Africa, and Eurasia, including the evolution of violent extremism. Dr. Karasik lived in the UAE for 10 years and is currently based in Washington, D.C. Dr. Karasik received his PhD in History from the University of California, Los Angeles.
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