05 Jun Afro-Gulf Relations
The history of Afro-Gulf relations dates back to the pre-Islamic times. The people of the Arabian Peninsula first knew about Africa when the Arabs of Yemen, then so-called “The Sulaimaniyah Race”* founded the Kingdom of Axum in 325 BC. That kingdom was one of the most powerful African civilizations with trade routes extending to the Arabian Peninsula.
After the spread of Islam, relations between African countries and the Arabian Peninsula began to strengthen. That phase of relationship marked historical events, starting by the visit of Africa’s greatest King, Kanga Mansa Musa to the Arabian Peninsula in 1324, the stay of African scholar Omar al-Fouti in the Arabian Peninsula for twenty years, and ending with the caravans of Africa’s scholars who migrated from the far African West to the Arabian Peninsula, escaping the oppression of European colonization following Berlin Conference or the so-called Congo Conference in 1884-1885. Here, we have to distinguish between Berlin Conference which dealt with colonization and trade in Africa and the one held in 1878 that reformulated the famous Treaty of San Stefano.
The Arabian Gulf States gained independence in the same period most African countries gained their independence, namely in the past century’s 1960s and early 1970s. The relations between the two sides began to improve in various diplomatic and economic fields; however, this cooperation remained limited for the past decades and the Afro-Gulf relations have only recently been strengthened.
Today, the GCC countries are aware that their economic presence in Africa exceeds their political presence. This is due to several factors, most important of which are the political instability in some African countries besides the negative, mistaken and unfair image Gulf counties hold of African countries, a matter that hindered Gulf political action on the African scene.
Despite the fact that Gulf policy succeeded to some extent in launching some business and investment projects in some African countries and contributed to creating job opportunities, which undoubtedly resulted in partial economic boom in those countries, but the GCC countries did not exploit their investment and economic superiority to enhance their political interests except after being involved in military confrontation with Tehran in the south of the Arabian Peninsula near the eastern coast of Africa.
In addition, suspicions began to haunt the Gulf street after Washington established the so-called African Consultative Council, and the extension of the Growth and Opportunity Act for ten years, the establishment of the US Military Command in Africa “AFRICOM” in 2007, and the publication of a book entitled “African Oil Policy Initiative Group”, which emphasizes the need to replace Gulf oil with African oil, especially after US economic reports confirmed that by 2020 the US will obtain a quarter of its oil from Africa. Furthermore, the African oil has some qualities that make it a better choice than Gulf oil such as:
The low sulfur percentage which reduces the refining process, besides proximity of the African coasts to the US eastern coast, an advantage for African oil over Gulf oil. But the question remains here: will Afro-Gulf relations turn from the present cooperation to competition in the future?
How could Afro-Gulf relations be boosted?
- Constituting an economic bloc comprising the Gulf countries and some rising African powers such as Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa. This bloc will have positive outcomes such as the probable convergence of Moroccan-African views on the Western Sahara issue and the persuasion of some African countries to withdraw recognition from the Sahrawi Arab Republic. On the other hand, Gulf States can curtail the Iranian influence in Africa.
- Supporting the efforts of Abu Dhabi Fund for Development in renewable energy projects in Africa such as those supported in Sierra Leone in 2014.
- Establishing centers and institutes specializing in African studies in Gulf countries for the purpose of converging viewpoints and the future studying of Africa.
- Supporting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the issuance of Islamic instruments in Africa to bolster African economy on the one hand, and maintaining Gulf funds away from any future political or economic extortion on the other.
- Working for the success of the Yemen-Djibouti Bridge Project, which will promote trade exchange between the countries of the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Gulf countries.
* The Sulaimaniyah Race descends from King Solomon, (Prophet of God) and the Queen of Sheba.