Joseph Kenny, O.P.

Written for Consultation of the Christian Councils in West Africa on Christian-Muslim Relations, Monrovia, 25-28 November 1984. Published in Association of Episcopal Conferences of Anglophone West Africa, Christianity and Islam in dialogue (Cape Coast, 1987), pp. 77-83.

This essay is limited by the material available and my lack of familiarity with the political and economic intricacies of this topic. It will nevertheless attempt to point at the highlights of the situation and their implications for the Church.

The state of Arab-African relations

Recent writers emphasize the fragility of Arab-African relations.(1) There is little economic complementarity between the two, since both are dependent on imported food and technology; the main need of most African countries is oil, where Nigeria is in competition with the Arab countries. Elijah Mwangali, Kenya's Foreign Minister, remarked: "I made it abundantly clear that in spite of all this talk of Afro-Arab cooperation, little has in actual fact been achieved. There is little flow of Arab capital to Africa. I also stressed that the Arabs should not seek to introduce religion as part of Afro-Arab cooperation."(2)

Politically, Arab membership in the O.A.U. has worked to Arab advantage in that it gives the Arabs a forum to repeat what they already formulated in the Arab League. African countries have been ready to support Arab causes, particularly that of Palestine, in return for Arab support for African self-determination in southern Africa. The Afro-Arab Summit of 1977 in Cairo was successful, but African countries were disappointed in the loans and aid they expected, since the Arabs prefer the more secure and lucrative investment opportunities of the West. Consequently, several African countries (Malawi, Zaire, Liberia) have followed Egypt and reopened diplomatic relations with Israel and otherwise have disregarded Arab demands. Since 1977 the two camps have continued to drift apart. Recently Arab countries have been concerned about the deteriorating relations and have stepped up their economic input to Africa,(3) but the depression of the oil market permits little giving of aid.

Another factor in Arab-African relations is a historical African distrust of Arabs, and the Arab tendency to view Africans with cultural disdain. This is reinforced by Arab military support of Muslim struggles, such as Somalia and Eritrea against Ethiopia, the rebels in Chad, and part of Amin's genocidal campaign in Uganda. These all point to a pan-Arab, pan-Islamic mentality which does not hesitate to escalate and exploit political tensions in Africa.

How is Arab aid channelled?

Much Arab money comes to Africa in the form of loans or grants directly from individual Arab governments, notably Saudi Arabia, the Unite Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Libya and Morocco. some of this is government to government (bilateral) aid, while a considerable amount goes through the embassies as grants to Muslim organizations or projects in African countries. Because of falling oil prices, "Arab aid to the Third World is now coming almost entirely from Saudi Arabia (which accounts for most of the total), Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar."(4)

There is virtually no investment from private individuals or companies. On the other hand, there are many inter-Arab banks or agencies which are very active in Africa. Among these are the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA), the Dār al-Māl al-Islāmī, the Islamic Development Bank, the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, the Islamic solidarity Fund/Foundation, and the Islamic African Relief Agency. Apart from this there is the activity of the Muslim World League and the Organization of Islamic Conference.

Most Arab aid goes to countries with a predominantly Muslim population, or whose heads of governments are Muslim converts. Thus major beneficiaries have included Guinea (under Sekou-Touré), Senegal, Cameroon (under Adhijo), Mali, Niger and Uganda (under Amin). some banks, as BADEA, give mainly for economic development and downplay religious or political interest, but BADEA excludes countries having diplomatic relations with Israel.

Governmental aid

I do not have an overall picture of Saudi aid, but since 1983 it has lent $20 m. to Cameroon for a railway (of $60 m. in loans to day for various development projects),(5) $10 m. to Guinea fro roads, along with $11 m. for other projects,(6) $11.7 m. to Guinea for vocational training schools,(7) as well as 74% of the cost of a city hall in Banjul.(8) It also gave 300,000 Qur'āns to Muslims in Uganda.(9) Saudi Arabia, moreover, directly finances publications and other projects for the development of Islam in African countries, of which I have heard several instances.

Kuwait has a "fund for Arab Economic Development" which has lent $6 m. to Central African Republic for roads,(10) and $20 m. to Guinea for roads.(11)

The United Arab Emirates, together with the Libyan Commission for establishing Islamic cultural centres in Africa (set up in 1975), have opened cultural centres in Burundi, Rwanda, Togo and Sudan, and plan similar ones in Mali and Gabon.(12)

Libya began building a mosque in Banjul, Gambia, but the project was broken off when Libya was expelled from the country. Morocco finished the project.(13) Morocco also gave money for a mosque in Libreville, Gabon.(14)

Arab banks and agencies

BADEA (Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa) was inaugurated in 1975 and in 1977 absorbed the Special Arab Aid Fund for Africa. With its headquarters in Khartoum, it is supported by Arab League members specifically to "promote Arab-African friendship and solidarity", through developmental aid. According to Dunstan Wai, 45% of its loans have gone for infrastructure projects, while 20% have been for industry, and another 20% for agriculture.(15) While it does not finance religious projects, it does, as we have noted, exclude countries which recognize Israel from receiving loans. From 1975-83 it gave loans or aid at an average of $900 m. a year. In its 1983-89 five year plan it expects to lend $80 m. per year at 6.5%/year interest.(16) (The interest conflicts with Islamic banking, explained below.) Some of the loans it has made are: $1.45 m. to Central African Republic for agriculture, $5 m. to Senegal for rural water supply, $8 m. to Niger for roads, $10 m. to Benin and Togo toward the Nangbeto Dam for electricity supply, $8 m. to Sierra Leone for roads, $9 m. to Guinea for roads, $4.7 m. to Equatorial Guinea for the Bata International Airport, $1 m. to Uganda for a sugar complex, $1.45 m. to Central African Republic for cotton growing, and $14.5 m. to Comoro for fishing and poultry development. Developmental study grants were also given to Benin, Chad, Sćo Tomé & Principe, and the Association of Faculties of Agriculture.(17) For all this help, Dr. Chedly Ayari, President of BADEA, said that he would expect better returns, that there would be more social and cultural cooperation, and political ties would be strengthened.(18)

The DMI (Dār al-Māl al-Islāmī), a bank established in 1982 under the chairmanship of Prince Fayal of Saudi Arabia, derives about 70% of its capital from Saudi Arabia. The main subscribers of the capital are private individuals and companies of the Arab and Muslim world, but over a third of the total is contributed by governments and other public funds.(19) The main characteristic of this bank is its operating according to Sharī`a principles which prohibit interest of "usury" (ribā). The basic principle is that the depositor in this bank does not receive a fixed interest, but a larger or smaller share, depending upon the success of the bank's investments. the depositor is then like a share-holder receiving dividends. The borrower, likewise, does not pay a fixed amount of interest but his acceptance of a loan is a way of involving the bank in his business venture, and the bank will share in the profits, depending upon the success of the venture.(20) The whole concept of Islamic banking has both practical and religious reasons. Because of religious scruples many Arabs avoided depositing in banks altogether. "Some $40 billion is estimated to be stuffed under mattresses or held in cash boxes in the Arab states, leaving a huge sector of the economy that is outside the reach of the Western-style banks."(21)

Islamic banking has much to recommend it from the point of view of natural justice. It can be argued that if such principles were followed in loans to countries of the Third World, these countries would have a much lesser debt burden and be better able to service their debt, because the bankers would have greater interest in the management and success of the projects in question. On the other hand it can be argued that Islamic banking will only go into safe ventures promising good profits and will avoid sharing in risks which borrowers believe are acceptable and worth taking.(22)

"The DMI's first major success in Africa has been in Guinea where it has no difficulty in attracting a $2 million local investment. Among its plans there are to participate as a major partner in financing a $110 million oil refinery."(23) It has also established masrafs, as its banks are called, in Guinea, Senegal and Niger, each with an authorised capital of $20 m. In any of these countries it insists on owning at least 51% of the shares. Along with any masraf, the DMI always sets up a takāful, or insurance company, and a Business Group or investment company.

In Nigeria a pan-Islamic delegation organized and led by Saudi Arabia's Prince Muammad al-Fayal, representing Dār al-Māl al-Islāmī, paid a visit in 1983. He was accompanied by Mr. Muazzam Alik, Pakistan's Presidential Adviser for Overseas Pakistanies and Islamic Affairs and Vice-Chairman of Dār al-Māl al-Islāmī and other Pakistani businessmen from Britain and Ireland. They set up a $650,000 fund that was immediately subscribed by the members of the delegation. This will be used by the 12 year old Islamic Foundation to help build schools and provide teachers and scholarships in religious and Arabic studies.(24)

The IDB (Islamic Development Bank) was founded in 1975, and is based in Jeddah. This year Benin Republic became its 43rd member state. During 1982-3 the bank provided aid and grants to non-member countries totalling $10 m. It also earmarked $50 m. for relief projects in drought-stricken African countries.(25) It also provided loans totalling $6.1 m. to Cameroon for rural water networks and surveys of forest resources,(26) and in the religious sphere provided $2.25 m. to construct schools for Muslim children in Ethiopia.

There is also an "Islamic Development Agency" established by banks and business people from various Muslim countries to promote development projects in Sudan.(27)

There is an "Arab Fund for Economic Development in Africa", which suspended all assistance to Zaire and Liberia when these countries restored diplomatic relations with Israel.(28) I have no more information on this organization.

Many new Islamic banks have been formed in the past few years. The interesting statistic is the breakdown of the outlay of loans, as shown by the following table of percentages:(29)

To: Arab Asia Western USSR & Central & Africa S.

countries Europe E. Europe S. America of Sahara

1983: 51.3 21.3 21.9 1.8 0.9 0.9

1984 (1-6) 37.5 34.2 13.0 7.9 7.4 0.1

One can immediately see why African leaders are disillusioned with the commitment of Arab countries to Africa.

Arab-Islamic religious organizations operating in Africa

The Islamic Da`wa Organization is based in Khartoum, and has a strategy for reaching all of Africa. For planning it divides Africa into six regions, and intends setting up communication and information centres.(30) As a branch of this organization, the Islamic African Relief Agency (IARA) was set up in Khartoum in 1980. It is financed by the Gulf states to aid disaster areas throughout the continent without discrimination. For instance it has helped in the south of Sudan and in Uganda.(31)

The Muslim World League (Rābit al-`ālam al-islāmī) was founded in 1962 to help coordinate and spread Islam throughout the world. In some ways it has acted as the supreme authority in the Islamic world, deciding such matters as that the Ahmadiyya are not Muslims and cannot go to Mecca. It has been active in monitoring Islamic progress and difficulties all over the world, and reports on these in its monthly magazine. Recently it has established centres for the formation of Islamic preachers in Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia, Indonesia, France and U.S.A. More fully developed seminaries have been founded in Mecca and in Brussels. A recent graduation turned out 38 students for service to Muslim minorities in various parts of the world.(32) It has also recently given 2 million copies of the Qur'ān for conversion work in Sudan, and promised to assist with the training of religious teachers, particularly in the "Islam Centre Africa" in Khartoum, which sends preachers to various parts of East and West Africa.(33)


I must again apologize that the material in this paper is very spotty and does not give as full a picture as we might desire. I hope, nevertheless, that it can serve as a starting point for gathering more information. The amount of help that Arab embassies give to various Muslim projects throughout African countries is particularly difficult to document, although we all know many instances of it. I have not included the role of Iran in this paper, since it is not giving much financial aid during this time of war. Nevertheless it provides inspiration to radical movements, particularly within the Muslim Students Society.

We can notice from the information that is available that religion is always present, at least in the background, when Arab funds are made available to Africa. This is not so with aid or investments from the West, although political concerns are never absent when it comes from governments. As for Church policy, there is no reason to protest against the influx of Arab money, because is does do good. Our voices should be raised, however, when strings are attached which promote Muslim interests to the detriment of Christian freedom and equality. It is well known that some Arab or Islamic banks will not lend to Christians. This should be made an issue. Furthermore, it would be wise for Christian fund raising outside Africa to be aware that the Churches in Africa have worthy projects which they cannot finance totally on their own. They should not be left behind on the grounds that Churches must be "self-governing, self-propagating and self-supporting", while Muslim organizations go ahead with heavy foreign financial backing.

One word about Israeli relations. We can sympathize with African resentment at being blackmailed into going along with Arab and Muslim policy, but I do not think the Churches should push for renewal of diplomatic ties with Israel, first of all because of the basic unjust position Israel has taken with regard to Palestinian rights, and secondly because of the strong collusion Israel has with South Africa and its apartheid - even though Israel has demonstrated that Arab countries are also secretly dealing with South Africa on a large scale.(34)



1. See Dunstan M. Wai, "African-Arab relations: interdependence or misplaced optimism?", The Journal of Modern African Studies, 21:2 (1983), pp. 187-213; this article, which outlines the many complex dimensions of the subject, needs to be updated by reference to: 1) the collapse of OPEC, 2) the economic recovery of America and Europe. See also M.I. Sambou-Gassama, "Afro-Arab relations - a question of survival", West Africa, 2 July 1984, pp. 1354-1355, and "Afro-Arab ties in need of anchor", Afkar, 1:2 (July 1984), p. 37. On this subject see also A. Sylvester, Arabs and Africans, cooperation for development (London, 1981).

2. West Africa, 11/3/86, p. 454.

3. See "BADEA, new impetus for Afro-Arab partnership", West Africa, 7 May 1984, p. 988.

4. Cf. K. Lavrencic, "Arab aid", West Africa, 6 June 1983, p. 134.

5. Cf. "Saudi loans for Cameroon", West Africa, 9 April 1984, p. 781.

6. Cf. "Saudi loans for Guinea", West Africa, 2 April 1984, p. 731.

7. Cf. Muslim World, 28 May 1983, p. 7.

8. See West Africa, 7 November 1983, p. 2591.

9. Cf. "Qur'ān donation", Impact International, 8-21 April 1983, p. 4.

10. Cf. "Kuwait fund lends to CAR", West Africa, 30 Jan. 1984, p. 232.

11. Cf. "Guinea road project gets $20 m.", West Africa, 30 January 1984, p. 246.

12. Cf. "Islamic centres in Mali and Gabon", Impact International, 26 August - 8 September 1983, p. 11.

13. Cf. "Banjul mosque", Impact International, 8-21 April 1983.

14. Cf. "Gabon mosque", Impact International, 25 March - 7 April 1983, p. 4.

15. Op. cit., p. 208.

16. Cf. K. Lavrencic, op. cit., and "BADEA, new impetus for Afro-Arab partnership", West Africa, 7 May 1984, p. 988.

17. Ibid. See also "BADEA loans", West Africa, August 1983, p. 1780; "BADEA lends $5 m.", West Africa, 28 November 1983, p. 2769; "BADEA loans", Impact International, 24 August - 13 September 1984, p. 15.

18. See K. Lavrencic, op. cit.

19. See "Islamic Bank in Africa", The Muslim World, 23 July 1983, p. 5.

20. For further details see "Dar al-Maal al-Islami, 'considerable development' in the second year", Impact International, 24 February - 9 March 1984, pp. 13-14.

21. See Pamela Ann Smith, "Arab banks - there's more than oil", Special advertising section in Newsweek, October or November 1984.

22. "A new approach to handling money", West Africa, 5 December 1983, p. 2807. On the functioning of the Faisal Islamic Bank of Sudan, which operates on Sharī`a principles, see B. Mudawi, "How Islamic banks can aid governments", Arabia, January 1984, pp. 58-59, and "Good news for FIBS", Arabia, September 1984, p. 52.

23. See "Islamic Bank in Africa", The Muslim World, 23 July, 1983, p. 5.

24. See "Islamic foundation in Nigeria", The Muslim World, 5 March 1983, p. 4; Abdelwahab el Affendi, "It's a long way from Kano to Makkah", Arabia, May 1983, p. 17; "Nigeria soll Islamische Stiftung erhalten", Deutsche Welle Kirchenfunk, 23 March 1983, p. 4.

25. See "Benin becomes 43rd member", Arabia, April 1984, p. 42.

26. See "Islamic Development Bank Aid", Impact International, 24 August - 13 September 1984, p. 15.

27. See "Privates islamisches Hilfswerk für Islamische Universität Niger", Deutsche Welle-Kirchenfunk, 26 January 1983, pp. 4-5.

28. See "Liberia, a turncoat", The Muslim World, 3 September 1983, p. 2.

29. See Middle East Economic Survey, Nicosia, 23 July 1984, quoted by P.M. Smith, op. cit.

30. See O.H. Kasule, "Islamic Da`wa in Africa: methods and strategy", The Universal Message, May 1984, pp. 6-9, 19-22, 25-28; "Islamic African Centre, Khartoum", Al-Islam, June 1983, p. 11.

31. See "Islamic African relief agency", The Muslim World, 10 September 1983, p. 2.

32. See "Islamische Welt-Liga: Hauptanliegen bleibt die Verkundigung", Deutsche Welle-Kirchenfunk, 29 June 1983, p. 1; "Islamische Liga entsendet Prediger in alle Welt", Deutsche Welle-Kirchenfunk, 30 May 1984, p. 2.

33. See "Saudi-Arabian stiften Koran-Exemplare", Deutsche Welle-Kirchenfunk, 20 April 1983, p. 4.

34. According to a B.B.C. broadcast, 7 October 1986.