Cooperation between Africa and the Arab countries falls within an inter-continental partnership framework.
The Fourth Afro-Arab Summit was held on Tuesday, 22nd November, 2016 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea in Africa. The foundations of the summit were laid in 1977 when the first summit took place in Cairo, Egypt. In March 1977, a political declaration detailing the modalities for cooperation was adopted. A programme for sectoral areas of cooperation was also drawn.
More important, a resolution on organisation and method for the realisation of Afro-Arab cooperation which required the Foreign Ministers to hold a summit every 18 months, the Heads of State to meet every 3 years, while the adopted framework for the Permanent Commission for Arab-Africa Cooperation (PCAAC) required the Commission to meet every 6 months, was similarly adopted.
The Commission was made up of 24 Member States, 12 African and 12 Arab. And perhaps most interesting, but disturbingly, was the adoption of a resolution on economic and financial cooperation, which was more or less a declaration of intent by the Arab Member States to provide financial aid to the African counterparts.
The self-deceit and insincerity of purpose on which the cooperation was largely predicated in 1977 did not allow for a follow-up summit to take place on time. Put differently, all the pledges made were simply meant for the dustbin.
As observed by Dr. Chika Onyeani, publisher and editor-in-chief of the African Sun Times, it took another 33 years for the second summit to evolve for a simple reason: it was ‘a realisation on the part of African countries that the Arab countries were more interested in tying financial aids to African countries as to their support to Arab States on their position on Israel. African countries had felt betrayed by the financial promises made to them during the 1967 Israeli-Arab war for which they never received a dime.’
True enough, the second summit was held on October 10, 2010 (10-10-10) in the coastal city of Sirte, Libya. President Muammar Gaddafi, who presided over the summit, explained that two-thirds of all Arabs are African and they have racial, linguistic and geographic ties to the other third living outside Africa. The cardinal objective of the summit, as reflected in its theme, ‘Afro-Arab Cooperation: Towards a Strategic Partnership,’ is articulation of the modalities for strategic partnership. This objective partly explains why the theme for the third summit, which was held in Kuwait city on 19th-20th November 2013, was also ‘Partners in Development and Investment.’
In this regard, are African and Arab countries partners? If they are, is the partnership strategic? If it is strategic, to what extent is it based on sincerity of purpose? Nigeria’s president, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Ardua, noted in his opening address to the 12th Afro-Arab Parliamentary Conference that ‘the nations of Africa and the Arab world share a number of cultural and socio-economic similarities and common peculiarities in the face of the emerging realities in our rapidly changing globalised world.
It is vitally essential for our two blocks to work towards achieving improved strategic partnership and productive cooperation in jointly addressing the manifestation of globalisation and our peculiar development challenges’ (Daily Trust, April 22, 2009). From this quotation, it is clear that strategic partnership was still an objective as at April 2009.
As noted above, Equatorial Guinea played host to the 4th Afro-Arab Summit on November 22, 2016. At the summit, press reports have it that eight Member States (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Sultanate of Oman, Jordan, Yemen and Somalia) walked out of the summit in solidarity with Morocco who was protesting the presence of the POLISARIO delegation at the summit (Dailysun, November 24, 2016, p.18).
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Morocco, ‘Morocco and eight other Arab countries were forced to withdraw from the summit over the non-respect of the principles of Arab-African action. The participation in the activities organised by the two parties should be restricted to the UN member countries which was not the case with the presence of the emblem of a puppet entity in the meeting room.’ (The Moroccan Times, November 23, 2016).
This statement is most unfortunate. If the Saharawi Arab Republic is not a member of the UN, what is the status of the country at the level of the African Union and Africa as a continent? Is the Afro-Arab summit not about Africa on the one hand and the Arab countries on the other? Is the country not also Arab by whatever definition? Do the countries that walked out of the summit recognise the fact that their behaviour was very contemptuous of the whole Afro-Arab summit?
Even though Morocco recognised that she and ‘the other Arab countries that announced their withdrawal from the summit have always been fully aware of the importance of the Arab-African partnership and of the roles of these two groups in maintaining international peace and stability’ (ibid.), and that ‘the commitment of these countries to these principles has always been and will remain strong,’ it is important to ask the extent to which the Morocco’s praise singing and the commitment of the eight countries have been helpful to the final decision-taking by the summit. Put differently, after withdrawing, will Morocco et al implement the decisions taken in their absence? If decisions are taken regardless of the withdrawal, what purpose or impact was the withdrawal?
With the walk out, it has become necessary for Nigeria in particular to review cooperative relationship with Morocco in particular, and the other Arab Member States, in general. African leaders must stop accepting insults for black African people. Relationship with the Arabs has to be based on mutual respect and sovereignty of the African Union which has the necessary legitimacy to act on behalf of the whole people of Africa.
In other words, the excesses of Morocco have to be contained. Morocco as a country cannot and should not be allowed to impose its own national will on the collective wisdom of the whole of Africa. After all, Morocco is not a lead country in terms of development assistance to Africa.
According to the World Bank’s Arab Development Assistance: four Decades of Cooperation, published in June 2010, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates are ‘among the most generous in the world, with official development assistance (ODA) averaging 1.5 percent of their combined gross national income (GNI) during the period 1973-2008, more than twice the UN target of 0.7 percent and five times the average of the OECD-DAC countries.’ Morocco was not part of them.
Thus, Morocco, much preoccupied with the Western Sahara saga, has engaged more in hide and seek games. There is the urgent need to begin to take a deeper look at Arab politics, which does not underscore respect for black Africa.
Issues in Afro-Arab Cooperation
Afro-Arab cooperation covers the mining and industry sector; agriculture, forestry, fisheries and animal husbandry; energy and water resources; transport, communication and telecommunications; financial cooperation; educational, social, cultural and information; and scientific and technical cooperation. However, the purposes of cooperation in these sectors are necessarily defeated as a result of consciously created challenges by Member States.
First is the Moroccan factor. Morocco was an original member of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). In fact, in the making of the OAU, there were two main philosophical groups on how to manage the affairs of the African continent. Casablanca (Morocco) played active part in hosting the radical school which wanted political integration as a starting point. Monrovia (Liberia) played host to the functionalist school to which Nigeria belonged.
The Monrovia school argued that the newly independent countries should not be rushed into a yet-to-be well planned regional integration or United States of Africa. It favoured a gradualist and functional approach to begin with. Thus, Morocco’s profile in the making of a united Africa is never in dispute.
However, Morocco has a colonialist mentality which oppresses and combats the principles of self-determination and decolonisation in Africa. One major objective of both the OAU and the African Union (AU), the successor organisation, is total eradication of colonial legacies and exploitation in whatever ramification in Africa. On the contrary, this is precisely what Morocco has been fighting tooth and nail for, after the Spaniards decided to quit Western Sahara over which Morocco wants to have sovereignty.
The people of Western Sahara have claimed independence and reorganised themselves into the Saharawi Arab Republic. The POLISARIO is its military arm. The OAU recognised the republic and allowed the country to have an observer status to begin with. Morocco quarrelled seriously with this development but the OAU stood its ground and this led to Morocco’s decision to withdraw its membership of the organisation. Now, Morocco wants to come back to the AU. It has made significant efforts to relate with many African countries on one-on-one basis and not on the basis of Morocco-AU basis.
At the level of Afro-Arab summit, what was the legitimate basis for Morocco to walk out on African leaders? Morocco is not a member of the AU. Even if the summit is said to be about cooperation between Africa and Arab world and not between the AU and the Arabs, participation in the summit was never on individual country basis. It is essentially between the AU and the Arab League.
Apart from the fact that the OAU and the EU decided rightly or wrongly to admit the Saharawi Arab Republic into its midst, the International Court of Justice had ruled against any legitimate Moroccan claims to sovereignty over the Western Sahara, arguing that if Morocco did not have any title to the territory when the land was under the control of Spain, there is no way Morocco can have what it never possessed.
Morocco simply wants the territory as its southern province and has been populating the territory with all manners of people. African leaders must therefore resist any form of intimidation. All those Nigerian leaders who are asking for an entente with Morocco, and completely disregarding how the country has been disrespecting Nigeria, its people and government, should open their eyes to see more clearly.
Secondly, the motto or theme of the 4th Afro-Arab summit is ‘Together, for Sustainable Development and Economic Development.’ Even though anything can fall under the concept of development, there is no disputing the fact that greater emphasis is always on the political than on economic matters.
The case of the JASTA Law (Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act is quite relevant. It is an act enacted by the 114th US Congress to deter terrorism, provide justice for victims, and for other purposes. It was introduced in the Senate on September 16, 2015 by Senator John Cornyn, passed on May 17, 2016 by the Senate and on September 9, 2016 by the House.
However, President Barack Obama vetoed it on September 23, 2016 while the House decided to override it to become law on September 28, 2016.
Thus, the JASTA enabled relations of victims of September 11 to sue Saudi Arabia for damages. Press reports have it that the 4th Afro-Arab summit was not favourably disposed to JASTA, considering it as a violation of sovereign and territorial immunity in International Relations and a violation of the principles of universal jurisdiction.
In this regard, the right of sovereign and territorial immunity and universal jurisdiction, on the one hand, and the right to claim damages and deter terror, on the other hand, are in competition. Seeking to claim damages implies an indictment on the part of Saudi Arabia. Has Saudi Arabia been aiding and abetting terrorism? Why is the JASTA targeting Saudi Arabia? If Saudi Arabia has a case to answer, why should Africa join in condoning terrorism? The arguments of violation of territorial immunity are tenable but why should the culpability of aiding and abetting terrorism be protected under the pretext of sovereign immunity or universal jurisdiction?
Afro-Arab Summit and Donald Trump Factor
Future Afro-Arab summits is much likely to be fraught with difficulties because of the policy attitude of Donald Trump. Most Arab countries have developed a phobia for Donald Trump mainly because of his declared intention to ban Muslims from coming to the United States. This simply implies that the US under Donald Trump cannot but be at a logger head with the Arab countries. The support of African members of the Afro-Arab partnership cannot be taken for granted in the event of a dispute with the US, especially in light of Nigeria-Egypt experience.
When Egypt was engaged in a dog battle with Israel during the Israelo-Arab conflict over Palestine, Nigeria had to strain her diplomatic ties with Israel within the framework of African solidarity. However, when Egypt opted to settle the dispute with Israel out of the battle field, she went to Camp David to sign peace agreement with Israel but without any courtesy or due regard to Nigeria. No consultation, no information. Nigeria was simply cut unawares. The lessons drawn from the Egyptian experience cannot therefore allow for another experience to take place, especially that Donald Trump is not popular in Africa.
Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center survey showed on June 10, 2016 that 3.8% of Egyptians and 6% of Saudis support the US president-elect, Donald Trump, even though the two countries are the strongest allies of the US in the Arab world. In fact, Israeli lobby in the United States is very strong. Donald Trump has phobia for Nigeria. These factors are likely to impact negatively on Afro-Arab cooperation in the foreseeable future unless Donald Trump’s foreign policy attitude is reviewed.
Consequently, efforts should be made to prepare for the challenges of US foreign policy under Donald Trump in general, and within the framework of the Afro-Arab partnership in particular. It is unacceptable for Donald Trump to openly destroy the character of President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria and for the same president to come into the open to declare his readiness to work with Donald Trump.
This type of diplomacy is quite strange. In the same vein, Saudi Arabia should not have deported thousands of African migrants few days before the Third Africa-Arab Summit was to take place in Kuwait in 2013, if there was due regard for Black Africa. Policy makers will need to go the memory lane before finally guiding Mr. President on foreign policy matters.