"...there is the problem of African leaders not being able to confront their Arab counterparts and clearly state what is wrong in the relationship. Clearly, there was the in your face adverse action by the Saudi government in deporting thousands of African migrants, while the Summit was about to take place. You felt sick to your stomach as the African leaders, bar none, indulged in praise-singing about the African-Arab relationship, including the 5-year soft loan from the Amir of Kuwait, rather than questioning why the Saudi government should be deporting thousands of African migrants. It was totally an act of cowardice."
Kuwait City, Kuwait: The official opening of the Africa-Arab Summit began on November 19 and ended the next day, November 20, 2013 in Kuwait City. But other events had taken place before its official opening ceremony, for example, the ministerial meeting of foreign ministers who were presented with and studied the joint report of the Arab League Secretary General and the head of the African Union Commission. That report examined the strategies that had been adopted in the 2nd Africa-Arab summit, and what had been its outcome.
The theme of this year’s summit was “Partners in Development and Investment,” focusing on food security, trade and investment, promotion of cooperation between the private sector of the two regions, development of infrastructure, and enhancing the role of women in development.
The first Africa-Arab summit was held in March,1977 in Egypt under the chairmanship of former President Hosni Mubarak. Four declarations were adopted at the Cairo summit, including: 1) a political declaration that detailed a cooperation based on the charters of both the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the Arab League (AL), and that specified the reciprocal support for the liberation of Palestine and the abolition of apartheid in Africa;
2) a program of action for Arab-African cooperation that established sectoral cooperation;
3) a resolution entitled “Organization and Method for the Realization of Afro-Arab Cooperation”: this important document stipulated that the foreign ministers hold a summit every 18 months and that the heads of state do so every three years; furthermore, the document outlined the framework for the “Permanent Commission for Arab-Africa Cooperation (PCAAC), a committee made up of 24 members (12 Arab and 12 African), which was also supposed to convene every six months to supervise the implementation of the agreed upon resolutions; and
4) a resolution on economic and financial cooperation that de facto constituted a declaration of intent on the part of the Arabs to provide financial aid to the African states.
Obviously none of these resolutions came to fruition, and the fact that it took another 33 years for the second summit to evolve was a realization 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 the 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.
According to Hanspeter Mattes, “The cooperation failure of the 1970s can be ascribed to many different political and economic factos relating to both regional organizations. The most significant of those, however, was Egypt’s initiation of the peace process with Israel, which brought about the Camp David Accords and the War, the needs of sub-Saharan African states had been left unattended to.
After the appeals by the African heads of state at the OAU summit conference in June 1981 in Nairobi for an “urgent intensification of Arab-African cooperation” fell mostly on deaf ears, the enthusiasm for cooperation was markedly subdued and the intervals between PCAAC congresses became increasingly longer.”
The second Arab-Africa summit, presided by Leader Moammar Gaddafi, was held in the coastal city of Sirte, Libya in October 10, 2010. Gaddafi used the occasion of the second summit to emphasize that two-thirds of all Arabs are African and “they have racial, linguistic and geographic ties to the other third living outside Africa.”
The theme of the 2nd Africa-Arab Summit was “Afro-Arab Cooperation: Towards a Strategic Partnership”. and both the African and Arab leaders welcomed the revitalization of of the partnership in the form of new long-term strategies, including a plan of action from 2011 to 2016. Jean Ping, then Chairperson of the African Union Commission, put the spolight on economic collaboration and announced that the AU/AL Secretariat had decided to found an African-Arab Chamber of Commerce as well as the African-Arab Development Forum. It is yet to be verified whether these two proposed organizations exist, and if they did, whether they are functional.
The question is given the above problems of the past 36 years, will the current 3rd Africa-Arab Summit achieve better results in the years to come than the previous two summits?
The answer would appear to be positive, given the concerted effort that the Kuwaitis made in making all the delegates comfortable. Also there is the fact that His Royal Highness Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah pledged $1 billion in low-interest loans to Africa in the next five years and the same amount through the World Bank. He also created an annual prize worth $1 million in the name of the late philanthropist Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Sumait, focusing on development and scientific research in Africa.
Regarding the $1 billion of soft loans to Africa, Amir Sheikh Saban Al-Ahmad Al-Jabaer Al-Sabah said, “I directed officials of the Fund to extend USD 1 billion soft loans to African countries over the next five years, not to mention investments by a number of Kuwaiti corporations in various sectors.”
It is the last part of the Amir’s that has created some doubts as to how successful the coming years would be for Africa-Arab economic cooperation. This doubt is informed by what happened at the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce conference on “Invest in Africa,” on the 17th of November at their headquarters building. The conference was well attended by Africans, who made great presentations of their respective products, in the expectations that there would be Kuwaiti businessmen there who could be interested in investing. African Union Commission’s Chief of Staff, Ambassador Jean-Baptiste Natama had emphatically reminded the audience that Africa was not looking for hand-out/aids but was looking to partner with Kuwaiti businesspeople.
However, there were hardly any Kuwaiti businessmen/women in the hall. It was so disappointing that I was forced to confront the Chairman of the Organizing Committee for the “Invest in Africa” forum, Mr. Faisal Al-Zamel, about the bare attendance of Kuwaiti businessman; that it looked like Africans were only talking to themselves. Mr. Al-Zamel agreed and that he was quite baffled about the lack of attendance of Kuwaiti businesspeople. He said they had advertised the event in the newspaper, although only two days before the event. which I thought was not long enough to reach enough people in such a short notice. But he asked for understanding: the Kuwaiti businesspeople were yet to be convinced about the potential for investing in Africa and believed that an forum such as the one they just concluded could open the doors for a different look at Africa by Kuwaitis. Were the forum to have been held in a different Arab country, would we have seen a different outcome, I doubt it.
Secondly, there is the problem of African leaders not being able to confront their Arab counterparts and clearly state what is wrong in the relationship. Clearly, there was the in your face adverse action by the Saudi government in deporting thousands of African migrants, while the Summit was about to take place. You felt sick to your stomach as the African leaders, bar none, indulged in praise-singing about the African-Arab relationship, including the 5-year soft loan from the Amir of Kuwait, rather than questioning why the Saudi government should be deporting thousands of African migrants. It was totally an act of cowardice. Third, the leaders of both regional groups could continue to proclaim cooperation, but so far as the average Arab man in the street, especially the 75% in Africa doesn’t feel any affinity to his black African counterparts, no amount of Summits would solve the problem. There has to be a new paradigm change, where the onus should on our Arab brothers and sisters to seek affinity with their black African counterparts, rather than always the other way around. They have to show interest in their so-called ‘Africanness.’ In terms of the summit organizing, you have to give the Kuwaitis very high marks for how they treated the delegates and the media, and especially the media in providing comfortable accommodation and access to the internet. Otherwise, it could just have been called the 3rd Africa-Arab Opening and Closing Ceremony Summit.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Chika Onyeani
Dr. Chika Onyeani is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of the African Sun Times, author of the internationally and critically-acclaimed No.1 bestselling book, “Capitalist Nigger: The Road to Success,” as well as the blockbuster novel, “The Broederbond Conspiracy,” adapted by the San Francisco State University to teach students “how to write a spy novel.” He is the chair of the Celebrate Africa Foundation.