Somalia will become land of opportunity.

Halkaan ka akhri

Asked by journalists when he visited Washington, D.C. in 1958 why he was so persistent on the establishment of a continental government with a military high command, Ghana’s President Nkrumah’s answer was to the point: “Sooner or later, Africa will need the two institutions when things begin to fall apart.”

The Somali fall-out from 1991 when Siad Barre’s regime collapsed was the type of phenomenon which Nkrumah anticipated. And after two decades of chaos, the African Union has at last resolved to help its helpless member.

Armed troops from Djibouti, Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda are criss-crossing the Somali state with a view to establishing a stable working system.

It must feel fantastic for the Somalis as they begin to feel free again. They must be excited to see the international community dangling embassies and ready to help with funds intended for providing capacity and institutional building.

At first, the Somali Transitional Federal Government was suspicious of the pan-African intention. Were some African countries plotting to dismember Somalia for occupation, just like colonial powers did with regard to Africa in 1884/5?

But the Somali Government soon relaxed when it realised the African Union project was fully supported by millions.

As Somalia begins to recover, their application to join the East African Community should be given top consideration. There are those who wonder what the East African Community stands to gain if they admit a hopelessly fragmented and poverty stricken lawless state. Is it not going to be a burden?

True, but Somalia has been our burden for a long time. But as a legal member of the East African Community, our corrective and supportive approaches in their internal affairs will be understood.
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Dynamic people

Indeed, in a little while, the Somalis will be playing an important role in our lives, for they are a very dynamic people.

The history of East Africa cannot be complete without the Somali input. Far back into antiquity, the Somalis were the most important traders, sailors and internationalists on the eastern shores of the Indian Ocean.

They traded with pre-colonial Nile Valley, Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China. Very often they had drought and famine, but the Somalis had strong survival skills.

With their ease of mobility, their cohesion, and general health and strength based on high protein diet, the nomadic pastoralists were militarily and economically the most dominant factor over much of Eastern Africa.

But their colonisation by the British, French and Italians, who used the Somali coast as the vigil corridor over their Indian Ocean maritime activities, badly stagnated Somalia’s growth. At independence, they had no proper schools, no health facilities, no transport lay out, and no development projection.

With independence, the Somalis put militarism and ethnic nationalism above economic planning and infrastructure development. They soon collapsed.

But they have remained great traders, fishermen and cattle-keepers. It is also whispered that they are sitting on vast oil fields. We should allow the Somalis to join the East African fraternity.

This is not to say they will be allowed to wander aimlessly all over East Africa. We will expect them to stay at home to develop their country, except for those with regional permits to venture out.

Prof Ochieng teaches History at Maseno University.

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