Black Africa and the Arab world have been linked by a fluctuating pattern of economic and cultural connections for at least 12 centuries. In the secular field the Arabs have up to this time played two major roles in black Africa: first as accomplices in African enslavement, and then in the twentieth century as allies in African liberation. In the past several years they have built this alliance into a comprehensive political partnership, aimed at maintaining a solid front, particularly with regard to the Middle East and Southern Africa. The critical question for the future is whether the Arabs will also become partners in African development.

The relationship between Arabs and black Africans has always been largely asymmetrical-with the Middle East usually the giver, and black Africa usually the receiver. Throughout the history of their involvement in black Africa the Arabs have been both conquerors and liberators, both traders in slaves and purveyors of new ideas. Trade and Islam have been companions throughout, with the crescent following the commercial caravan, the muezzin calling believers to prayer from the marketplace.

The Arab slave trade was a significant part of this commerce from the ninth through the nineteenth centuries. While the transatlantic slave trade on the West coast of Africa was certainly larger and more important, the activities of Arab slavers on the Eastern seaboard lasted a few decades longer-until they were officially outlawed in the late 1800s. Thus Islam may have been somewhat compromised in East Africa by the nature of its purveyors (who, in addition to slaving, also created Arab city-states along the East coast). European colonization did, at any rate, arrest the spread of the religion in East Africa more effectively than in the West. In the East African countries of Kenya, Uganda and Malawi, Islamization came to an almost abrupt halt in the face of the Euro-Christian challenge.1 In West Africa, on the other hand, Islam has continued to expand in spite of the impressive countervailing efforts of Christian missionaries and of the technological prestige of European civilization. A number of West African countries, including Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Mali, and Niger are now predominantly Muslim, as is the northern part of Nigeria.

In both West and East Africa the Arabs also made an enduring linguistic contribution. The most widely spoken non-European languages in sub-Saharan Africa are the Arab-influenced Swahili (in East Africa) and Hausa (in West Africa). Swahili, now adopted as a national language by Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda (and spoken as well in Zaire, Rwanda and Burundi), has come to pose the most serious indigenous challenge to the role of English as a lingua franca in Africa; the first experiment by black Africans in creating an African language capable of serving modern political, philosophical and scientific needs will probably be based on its use. Perhaps over 20 percent of the basic vocabulary of the language comes from Arabic-including the name of the language itself and much of its political vocabulary (like words for "president" [raisi], "minister" [waziri], "law" [sharia], "department" [idara], and "politics" [siasa]). The growth of both Swahili and Hausa may provide a good model for future relations between the Arabs and black Africa, for they have been enriched by Arab culture without becoming enslaved by it.

The cultural and economic penetration of the Arabs in black Africa was partially curtailed by the presence of the Europeans there from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries. These Christian traders and colonizers were, however, themselves very much aware of the interconnection between the Middle East and Africa. As the British historians Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher remind us, "the idea that the security of Egypt depended upon the defence of the Upper Nile was as old as the Pyramids," and the British Foreign and Colonial offices attached great importance to the unity of the Nile Valley from the mid-1880s onwards. Robinson and Gallagher point out the effect of this doctrine on Lord Salisbury, who in 1889-90 decided that if Britain was to hold on to Egypt it could not afford to let any other European power gain access to any part of the Nile Valley. They go on to assert that in so doing Salisbury took what was perhaps the critical decision for the British in Africa-solidifying their involvement in both Egypt and East Africa simultaneously.2

In some form or another the doctrine of the unity of the Nile Valley persisted in the British official mind until well after the Second World War. Indeed, when the Egyptian revolution took place in 1952, the British colonial government in the Sudan, ostensibly sharing power with Egypt in a condominium, felt the shock waves. The British governor in Uganda stayed in close touch with British authorities in the Sudan during the time of crisis, as well as with fellow governors in Kenya and Tanganyika, and the British resident in Zanzibar. Concern about the consequences of the revolution was felt by white settlers and governments in black Africa well beyond the Nile Valley.

The radicalization of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian leader, increased apprehension among white settlers in Kenya, the Rhodesias, South Africa, and the Portuguese colonies. Nasser's support for African nationalists south of the Sahara, as well as his increasing flirtation with the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and other communist countries, deepened the anxieties of the white settlers south of the Sahara and the colonial governments there.

Although the white settlers in Eastern and Southern Africa then began to sense a potential radical alliance between Arab and African nationalism, the attitudes of most black Africans toward the Middle East at that time were either indifferent or hostile. The Arab slave trade featured prominently in the version of African history taught by English schoolmasters in East Africa, for the British liked to justify their colonial presence in East and Central Africa by arguing that the original motivation was to suppress the Arab slave trade. With one stroke colonial policymakers could discredit both the Arabs and Islam, while at the same time giving their own imperial presence a high moral justification.

The Arabs, however, under Nasser's leadership, did perceive the interrelationship between the Middle East and Africa and began to play a role as allies in Africa's liberation. It has been pointed out often enough that Nasser, in his Philosophy of the Revolution, envisioned Egypt as the center of three concentric circles-that of the Arab world, that of the Muslim world, and that of Africa. Nasser committed himself and Egypt to the task of participation in matters connected with all three circles. As he put it:

. . . we cannot, in any way, stand aside, even if we wish to, from the sanguinary and dreadful struggle now raging in the heart of the continent between five million whites and two hundred million Africans. We cannot do so for one principal and clear reason-we ourselves are in Africa.3

Nasser proceeded to give material and propaganda support to a variety of nationalistic and dissident groups from African colonies south of the Sahara. Egypt opened its doors to African students, providing scholarships in subjects ranging from engineering to theology. Some scholarships were for militant insurrectionists from places like Cameroon, Kenya, and South Africa.

In the early 1960s, as most sub-Saharan African nations gained their independence, black Africans began to respond to Arab overtures, moving increasingly in the direction of partial solidarity with the Arabs. But responses varied according to positions on the ideological spectrum. In general, black radicals from quite early on had recognized the Arabs as Third World compatriots and identified with them. One of black Africa's foremost ideologists, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, showed some awareness of these bonds even in his more conservative days during the first two years of Ghanaian independence. As Nkrumah became more radical he was less inclined to recognize the Sahara as a legitimate political divide. Symbolically, Nkrumah even married an Egyptian woman to emphasize the solidarity of the African continent.

Yet for a while Nkrumah's support for the Arabs was circumscribed, particularly as a result of Israeli economic aid. As late as 1960, Nkrumah, in a speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations, called upon the Arabs to recognize realities-implying that since Israel was a reality, the Arabs might as well recognize its existence in spite of any presumed injustice committed at the time it was created. But shortly afterward Nkrumah's foreign policy moved further to the left, into closer accord with radical African leaders Sékou Touré of Guinea and Modibo Kéita of Mali.

In 1961 Nkrumah participated with Guinea, Mali, Morocco and Egypt in a conference at Casablanca, whose final communiqué described Israel as a "tool of neo-colonialism." Although Nkrumah denied that he had been pressured to sign this communiqué, Ghana's economic relations with Israel remained unchanged for a short while, but the relationship got progressively less warm thereafter.

Arab spokesmen, in their enthusiasm, prematurely asserted that after the Casablanca conference Israel had become an African problem as well as an Arab one. Such an assertion would have made better sense ten years later in 1972 and more especially in 1973. Nevertheless, Nkrumah's participation in this denunciation of Israel was an important milestone on a journey across the Sahara. The desert was shrinking politically: in addition to Nkrumah, Touré and Kéita, by the mid-sixties Julius Nyerere of Tanzania was also showing a responsiveness to the Arab cause, though still with some ambivalence.


Why were radical Africans already moving toward greater sympathy for the Arabs? A number of factors are relevant here. In the first place, Israel was considered too much a part of the Western world. On the one hand, it appeared to be virtually the fifty-first state of the United States, with a massive American commitment to its preservation, and massive American contributions to its maintenance and upkeep. In that respect Israel seemed a piece of the West deposited deep in the heart of the Third World.

Another factor was the Israeli connection with white-dominated Southern Africa. In the early sixties, this had not seemed particularly apparent, or important, to most black Africans. At that time, as the Arabs were beginning to rediscover their ties south of the Sahara, the Israelis were making a comparable bid for black African support. The Israelis used their financial and skilled manpower resources with some brilliance. Even before Ghana attained independence, Israel was providing technical assistance and training to the Ghanaians. Subsequently, Israel entered into special agreements of cooperation with a number of African states: in 1960 with Mali, Upper Volta, and Madagascar (now the Malagasy Republic); in 1961 with Dahomey; in 1962 with the Ivory Coast, Uganda, Gabon, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Cameroon, Gambia, and Burundi; in 1963 with Nigeria and Tanzania; in 1964 with Togo and Chad; and in 1965 with Kenya.

But then the Israelis began to be hampered by their bedfellows. South African contributions constituted the second largest nongovernmental external financial increment to Israel's funds. The money from South Africa came from the white Jewish community in that country, which was itself one of the richest sectors of South Africa's society. Israel, while sometimes genuinely interested in identifying with the liberation forces in Africa, nevertheless found itself aligned instead with the opponents of the African freedom fighters. The voting pattern of Israel in the United Nations has demonstrated how much a part of the Western world that nation is, and how influenced by its connections with Southern Africa its policies have been. When nationalist opinion in much of Africa was aroused against Moise Tshombe's bid to pull Katanga out of the Congo (and protect Western mineral interests in that province), Israel sided with Tshombe in many U.N. votes on the issue. The Arabs were not slow in pouncing on this Israeli ambivalence. In the words of one Arab publication at the time:

If the Israeli Chiefs really supported the Africans, why did they not announce their support for the legal power in the Congo [Lumumba's government then], the body on whom depends the victory of the Congo over her imperialist enemies? Instead, the Israeli Chiefs supported Moise Tshombe, Prime Minister of Katanga.4

As the first decade of African independence was coming to an end, there must have been some serious rethinking within Israel about its African policies. Things were not moving as smoothly as the Israelis would have preferred, African votes in the United Nations were often hostile to the Israelis, and, as we have noted, the record of Israel's own voting on issues of white supremacy in Southern Africa could have been much more liberal. A decision was made in Israel to offer financial support to African liberation movements, similar to the decision by the World Council of Churches to aid liberation movements with resources for education and medical facilities.

But as soon as Israel made that offer, its vulnerability to pressures from South Africa was revealed. The South African government intimated in no uncertain terms that if Israel provided financial support to African liberation movements, the money which Israel annually received from South African Jews would no longer be permitted to leave South Africa. The financial cost seemed heavy from Israel's point of view. Although the Israelis had not hesitated to aid Africans struggling against their own governments in places like Biafra and Southern Sudan, it now became extremely difficult for the country to give assistance to Africans fighting against the white regimes of South Africa, Rhodesia, and the Portuguese colonies. As the Israelis hovered on the horns of the dilemma, however, to their apparent relief it was resolved by a firm rejection of the offer by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the African liberation movements.

After the October War, Israel strengthened its ties with South Africa, upgrading its mission in Pretoria to full ambassadorial status. The Israeli government stated in regard to this action: "Our rejection of apartheid is unchanged, but we feel that Israel should have normal diplomatic relations with all countries, including South Africa." Then, while black African states were protesting the tour of a British rugby team in South Africa in 1974, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra accepted an invitation to tour there.

The South African government sees its relationship with Israel as both a modest political alliance and a modest economic partnership. The South African Consul-General in Tel Aviv, Charles Fincham, asserted in 1974 that "the Soviet push into this part of the world, which also affects South Africa," was one of the reasons for improved relations between South Africa and Israel. In the economic field, the South African Iron and Steel Corporation signed an agreement in 1973 with Israel's Koor enterprise "for the construction of joint steel works in Israel." Trade between Israel and South Africa expanded further in 1973. During that year, South Africa's exports to Israel actually tripled (from $11.6 million in 1972 to $32.4 million), while Israel's sales to South Africa went up from $8 million to $11.8 million in the same period.

Until the coup in Lisbon, Israeli links with Portugal also continued to be disturbing from an African point of view. Israel's dependence upon Portugal was revealed in 1973 during the October War, when West European countries would not permit the United States to use their bases and the Portuguese allowed the use of the Azores for the American military airlift. Thus, the Israelis were not in a position to vote in favor of a November 1973 U.N. resolution favoring the insurgents in Guinea-Bissau, although they had voted for an analogous measure the previous year.

In addition to Israel's material links to South Africa and Portugal, the existence of the country was capable of being interpreted as a form of colonization not fundamentally different from the settling of white people in Southern Africa. Paradoxically, the internal political system of Israel has been one of the most genuinely socialistic in both the Middle East and Africa. A high degree of compassion and egalitarianism has characterized the Israeli polity. Welfare socialism has interacted with welfare liberalism (with, of course, a deep attachment to Jewish nationalism). It is true that many Oriental Jews have suffered handicaps socially and economically compared with the European Jews in Israel, and recent movements like the Black Panthers of Israel are the manifestation of a nation deeply disturbed and losing some of the high moral fervor which had characterized Zionism in the earlier years; but even after we have taken account of these internal cleavages, the record of domestic rule within the country compares very well with what has been achieved anywhere else in Africa and the Middle East.

Despite this, however, the old commitment to create a Jewish state has produced unintended similarities with certain aspects of the official ideology of white-dominated South Africa. Israelis by the early 1970s had become terrified of the prospect of ever becoming a "bi-national state." The population of the country was already ten percent Arab, and territories acquired in the 1967 war had brought under Israeli control additional Arab populace (though not necessarily additional Arab citizens). In South Africa the ideology of apartheid is also based on a profound distrust of a bi-national state, and the policy of Bantu homelands is rooted in a form of ethnic or racial exclusivity similar to that which caused Israel to fear the mixing of Jews and Arabs into one country.

Indeed, after the creation of Israel in 1948 many white settlers in Southern Africa began to identify with the Israeli predicament.5 Israel emerges in their imagery as a courageous and industrious immigrant community which has managed to defy a hostile environment and survive with honor. This hero-image of Israel has been important both for white South Africans and more recently for white Rhodesians. A Minister for Defense in South Africa once extolled Israel in the following terms: "They stand alone in the world, but they are full of courage." Die Burger draws similar inspiration from Israel's example of victorious loneliness: "We in South Africa would be foolish if we did not at least take account of the possibility that we are destined to become a sort of Israel in a preponderantly hostile Africa, and that fact might become part of our national way of life."6

In June 1967 the response of white Rhodesians to Israeli successes was also enthusiastic and empathetic. Israel was small, the Arab countries and their populations were large; and yet the Arabs had proved to be militarily impotent in the face of Israel. By the same token, Rhodesia was small, the African continent was large and its population impressive; and yet Africans were militarily impotent in the face of Ian Smith's government. The white Rhodesians also explicitly identified themselves as "the Israelis of Africa," surrounded by hostile and less distinguished neighbors.

Israel's immigration policies are, in fact, much more like those of South Africa and Rhodesia than they are like the democratic policies of the United States. South Africa and Rhodesia try hard to attract as many whites as possible to go and settle in their countries; Israel tries hard to encourage Jews to immigrate into Israel. (However, it is worthy of note in this context that Israel has rejected black American Jews when they applied for entry there. Israel also excluded the Falasha Jews of Ethiopia until the eve of the October War. The racial elements implicit in such immigration policies could not escape the notice of the more radical of the black nationalists both in Africa and the United States.)

Israel's ethnic exclusivity, tied directly to the political logic of establishing a Jewish state, is the moral problem which many Western intellectuals have been psychologically unable to acknowledge. The bulk of the Palestinian refugees should be morally eligible to benefit by Israel's "law of return." The Arab Palestinians belong to Palestine at least as fundamentally as millions of American and Russian Jews are supposed to do.

In addition, Israel's policy has given rise to forms of repression against Palestinians living outside Israel which sometimes do bear comparison in their immorality with what has happened in South Africa. Between 1967 and 1973 the government of Israel gave orders for or approval of the killing of hundreds of Palestinians, the majority of whom were civilians, in the refugee camps. Following the killing of the Israeli athletes at the Olympic games, Israeli planes killed more than 300 Palestinians living in Lebanon. The bulk of the world was more shocked by the death of the 11 people in Munich than by the scale of revenge which the Israeli government itself ordered in the air-raid bombing of Syria and Lebanon after the Munich tragedy. Of course, the Israelis saw themselves as being in a state of war and therefore considered it fair game to bomb tents of refugees if Palestinian fighters were recruited from those tents. What must be recognized, however, was that the Israelis were in a state of war partly because of Zionism's logic of ethno-cultural exclusivity.

But there were two additional factors behind black radical identification with the Arabs. One was the mystique of Pan-Africanism, according to which the African continent was viewed as a whole. People like Nkrumah and Nyerere genuinely regarded Algerians, for example, as fellow Africans. The other stimulus to black radical identification with the Arabs was the place of the Arabs in the vanguard of anti-imperialism in the Third World. Countries like Egypt, Syria, and Algeria have been major participants in movements for Third World liberation. Even Libya-although animated more by Islamic fundamentalism than by modern revolutionary ideology-pursues the cause of greater autonomy for Third World peoples with an impatience that places it in the mainstream of Third World militancy. Similarly, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are far from radical either in terms of nationalism or socialism; yet their concern for the Arab cause and for the welfare of Palestinian revolutionaries has made even these countries at least potential militants vis-à-vis the West.

The Arab nations are placed advantageously to rebel against the global stratification system because most of them severed links with their former European rulers more completely than did other Africans and Asians. Most other Third World nationalists, ranging from Nkrumah to Nehru of India, succumbed to the temptation of maintaining formal links with the former metropolitan power, but the Arabs maintained only informal connections-they were too self-consciously Arab to apply for admission either to the British Commonwealth or to the French Community. All these factors are relevant in explaining why many black African radicals, who themselves would have severed the links of their own countries with Britain or France had there not been certain difficult historical constraints, were drawn sympathetically toward the Arab cause.


But from 1972 onward the picture began to change more fundamentally. By a curious destiny black Africans were identifying more fully with North Africa at the time precisely of some of the worst droughts in history in countries bordering the Sahara: the desert's physical growth accompanied its political shrinking. Never in modern history had there seemed to be as much solidarity between Arab Africans and black Africans as emerged, however inconclusively, in the course of 1972 and 1973.

Although he could not then be considered radical in his orientation, General Idi Amin started the new trend when he broke off Uganda's relations with Israel on March 30, 1972. The case of Uganda introduces a distinct issue-the political hazards which Israel incurred by its involvement in military training programs in Africa. At the invitation of Idi Amin's predecessor, Milton Obote, the Israelis established themselves in Uganda as consultants and advisers on military affairs. Inevitably they cultivated friendships among both the politicians and the soldiers. Preeminent among the friends Israel made in Uganda was Idi Amin, who was second in command in the armed forces when the Israelis first came in 1964, and who later took full military command in 1966. In January 1971 Idi Amin captured supreme authority in the country itself when he overthrew Milton Obote in a military coup.

Circumstantial evidence does support Obote's claim that Amin's success in the coup, in spite of his having only a minority of Ugandan soldiers on his side, was partly attributable to brilliant advice from some of his Israeli friends. The tactics which enabled him to control the mechanized battalion in Uganda, and tilted the balance of effectiveness toward his minority of supporters and away from the majority of pro-Obote soldiers, probably owed a good deal to the advice of sophisticated Israeli tacticians.

Later Amin developed a fear of the Israelis-"Those who helped to make me can help to break me." And yet he could not get rid of them as long as the Sudanese Civil War was still being fought, for he had relatives and allies among the Southern Sudanese Anyanya whom the Israelis were aiding in their fight against the government in Khartoum. In February 1972 a peace settlement for the Sudan was at last reached between contending Sudanese parties at a meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Reports from Southern Sudanese sources at that time indicated that the Israelis were almost the only ones of their major advisers who were opposed to the peace settlement.)

It has been suggested by Israeli officials in Tel Aviv and by observers elsewhere that Amin became anti-Israel as a result of visiting Libya. The sequence of the causality should probably be reversed. Amin visited Libya because he was already calculating the expulsion of the Israelis and therefore it made good economic and diplomatic sense to extract advantages from Israel's enemies. Amin did owe the Israelis considerable amounts of money, but this would seem a subsidiary factor which the Israelis later decided to exploit in their own face-saving operation after their expulsion from Uganda. By the end of April 1972 there was not a single Israeli left in the country-even those civilians who had been doing superb developmental work in rural areas and overcrowded schools.

On November 28, 1972, Chad also broke off diplomatic relations with Israel, partly to reduce Arab involvement in Chad's own civil war, which pitted a Christian government (then under President Tombalbaye, who has since been assassinated in a military coup) against a Muslim separatist movement. Then on December 31, 1972, the People's Republic of the Congo followed suit, adding a new radical African state to those which had opted to sever relations.

By 1973, even before the October War, other African countries had become disenchanted with Israel for various reasons, ranging from a growing belief that Israel had indeed become a mini-bully in the Middle East to actually strained relations between Israeli technical assistance personnel in individual countries and the people or authorities of those countries. Niger broke off relations in January 1973, followed closely by Mali. In May, Burundi joined their ranks and then Togo in September. And then in a speech to the United Nations just prior to the October War, President Mobutu Sese Seko surprised the world by doing likewise. He explained that he had been forced to choose between a friend, Israel, and a brother, Egypt, and also criticized Israeli territorial expansionism. The President explained his country's feelings about the break thus:

We have taken this decision at a great risk, because many of our officers-and I myself-have received military training at the hands of Israeli officers who came to our country at our expense. By declaring this decision to the world from the largest Jewish city in the world [New York City], I mean to stress the fact that Zaïre will never back down and will carry out the duties of African cooperation.

Some commentators who should know better (including African journalists) have suggested that Africa broke off relations with Israel for the sake of cheaper oil from the Arabs. Such an analysis distorts the sequence of events. By the time the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) dramatically raised the price of oil, much of Africa had already sided with the Arabs on the Palestine question. As we have seen, the trend against Israel in black Africa started in 1972, and had converted even Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire to its side before the outbreak of the October War, while the energy crisis did not hit the world until about the last ten weeks of 1973.

Countries like Guinea and the Congo broke off relations essentially for reasons of ideological radicalism; Niger did it partly because of religious identification with the Arabs; Tanzania believed in the Arab cause on its own merits. And "moderate" states like Kenya, the Ivory Coast, and Ethiopia (under Haile Selassie), which broke with Israel toward the end (soon after the war), did so partly because they did not want to be isolated from continental African diplomatic trends or break ranks with other members of the OAU.

At this time new forms of alignment between African and Arab states were emerging within the United Nations itself. The Afro-Arab political alliance was dramatized in two highly controversial decisions of the General Assembly in 1974: the decision to invite Yasir Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to the Assembly and the vote to suspend South Africa from the General Assembly for the rest of that session. In the context of this quid pro quo arrangement, acclaim for Arafat was deemed acclaim for "liberation movements everywhere." Into the Assembly came the PLO; out went South Africa. In the chair of that session, significantly, was Algeria, a strong activist in both pan-African and pan-Arab politics.


In assessing the future prospects of the Afro-Arab alliance, it would be surprising if a few black African states did not resume diplomatic relations with Israel before long, with those which broke off relations last resuming them first. Many others, however, will not. Beyond the question of Israel, both centrifugal and centripetal tendencies in the alliance are apparent. A central problem in the Afro-Arab relationship, as we have seen, is the lack of symmetry in the interpenetration between the Middle East and black Africa. Black Africa has been penetrated culturally as well as economically-but has not managed to accomplish adequate counter-penetration. Black dependency might well result in black frustration.

Whereas the spread of Islam through East and West Africa provides a cultural bond, it also, in some cases, serves to reinforce separatist tendencies. In Nigeria in the last decade before independence, Muslim Northerners-fearful of the political militancy of Christian Southerners-talked seriously of secession. The word "Pakistanism" entered the vocabulary of West African politics. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who later became Nigeria's first President, formulated the fear of balkanization expressed by this term:

It is essential that ill-will be not created in order to encourage a Pakistan in this country. The North and the South are one, whether we wish it or not. The forces of history have made it so.7

Ironically, separatism moved southward after independence, into Azikiwe's community, for it was Ibo Christians rather than Hausa Muslims who eventually sought to break up Nigeria. And many Christian missionary organizations moved to the support of Biafra, almost seeming to regard the Nigerian Civil War as a re-enactment of the crusades-a religious war rather than an ethnic confrontation. In reality the religious factor in the Nigerian Civil War was at most subsidiary, and certainly not fundamental.

Southern Sudan and Eritrea provide two contrasting models of separatist movements. The Southern Sudanese secessionists, who fought for 17 years, were primarily non-Muslims, often led by Christian compatriots, and strongly supported morally and materially by Christian organizations all over the world. The Eritreans, on the other hand, are primarily Muslim, and have been in rebellion against a long-standing Christian theocracy which has only just been superseded by a military government.

The non-Muslim bid to secede from the Sudan has failed, but autonomy has been obtained for the South. While the Muslim bid to pull Eritrea out of Ethiopia still rages, it is unclear whether a "Sudanese solution" may be found for Eritrea or whether the province will gain full independence. In any case, however, a protracted war could result in tensions between blacks and Arabs, Muslims and non-Muslims, all over Africa. While it seems likely that the religious factor will be played down by the propaganda machines of both sides, the danger of large-scale continental cleavages is certainly there.

The secessionist movement in Chad is, like that in Eritrea, a rebellion by defensive Muslims against a perceived "Christian threat" or hegemony. The death of President Tombalbaye and the military takeover of April 1975 have left the basic issues still unresolved.

In Africa as a whole, however, it would be misleading to emphasize only those cases where Muslims and Christians have made uncomfortable bedfellows. We should not forget that while the United States was trying to make up its mind in 1960 about whether to elect its first Catholic president, the Muslim voters of Senegal had already affirmed their support for their Catholic leader, Leopold Senghor. Islam in Africa has sometimes shown levels of magnanimity higher than those it has attained in its ancestral home in the Middle East.

The prestige of a religion is often positively correlated with the political or economic power of those who profess it, and with the rising power of the Arab world in international diplomacy the prestige of Islam in Africa seems to be on the way up. OPEC is about two-thirds Muslim in composition. Its two most influential members-Saudi Arabia and Iran-are, respectively, the heartland of Sunni Islam and of Shi'a Islam. The revived influence of the Muslim world in international politics will have consequences for Africa.

But for the time being it remains to be seen what use the oil-rich Arab countries will make of their opportunities. Some black Africans expected special rewards from the Arabs following their break with Israel. The rise in oil prices of course placed African economies under severe strain, and when OPEC refused to consider a two-tier price system for Africa, frustrations ensued. In Nairobi in June 1974 it was even suggested in the East African Legislative Assembly that the Nile River be diverted by the East African states so that they could then sell its water to the Arabs, in exchange for barrels of oil. Not every speaker in the Assembly seemed to realize that any attempt to divert the Nile would be a declaration of war on the Sudan and Egypt. (There would of course have been little rationality in East Africa's entering into military hostilities against the countries that are on the Nile Valley, for they are not the countries which have oil to sell.)

Fortunately, all this frustration in East Africa went no further than talk. While unofficial political commentators argued with passion, East African governments remained cool, collected and reasonable. The argument was made that the Arabs had already paid back this particular political debt well in advance. Just as most black African states have no diplomatic relations with Israel, most of the Arab world has no diplomatic relations with South Africa and Rhodesia. Black Africa has decided to treat Israel as a common enemy only recently, however, while most of the Arab world has treated South Africa as a common enemy for many years. Arab countries like Algeria, Egypt and Libya were supporting black liberation movements in Southern Africa years before black Africa recognized the Palestinians as a people with a grievance.

Like Henry Kissinger, however, the black Africans advocate consolidating their political alliance with an underlying economic partnership. Just as Kissinger has urged Europe to bear in mind the health of the American economy when the European Community formulates trade and fiscal policies, Africans are asking the Arabs to strengthen the Afro-Arab political alliance by exploring the possibilities of an interregional economic entente. At present this is still in a rather rudimentary stage, and black Africans must adopt a wait-and-see attitude for the time being.


These potential frictions in the Afro-Arab relationship are both expressed and dealt with in the Organization of African Unity (OAU), to which nearly half the members of the Arab League also belong. In 1974 two major potential functions of the OAU in Afro-Arab relations were revealed. The organization is, on the one hand, becoming a mechanism by which the Arabs can politically influence black Africans. On the other hand, it is also evolving into a mechanism through which black Africans might seek economic concessions from the Arabs.

There is little doubt that the Arabs have attempted to create conditions under which they can exercise greater political influence in the organization. This was dramatized at the Mogadishu summit conference of the OAU in June 1974, in the election of a new Secretary-General. The newly elected president of the organization was the President of Somalia, a largely Muslim country. But in addition the Foreign Minister of Somalia also was encouraged by the Arabs and other friends to stand for election as the next Secretary-General; if he had been successful, it would have been the first time that both offices were held by citizens of the same country. The Foreign Minister of Zambia stood as a rival candidate for the Secretary-Generalship. One ballot after another was taken, but each ended in stalemate-with all the Arab states voting for the Somali candidate, and virtually all the English-speaking black states voting for the Zambian candidate. Had it not been that the French-speaking black states were themselves divided between the Somali (Muslim) and the Zambian (Christian) candidates-with some positive correlation between voting behavior and religious affiliation even here-this issue could have split the African continent neatly between black and Arab. In the end, a third candidate was chosen to break the deadlock. At least among the English-speaking black states there was some bitterness. The behavior of the Arab states in their lobbying for the Somali was interpreted as an attempt to put the OAU under either Arab or Muslim control.

This conflict was again played out at the eleventh annual meeting of the African Development Bank in Dakar in May of this year. At that session the delegates were unable to elect a new president of the Bank because they were bitterly-and almost equally-divided between a Ghanaian and a Libyan candidate.

Where they fear coercion the black Africans are resisting Arab pressures; but at the same time they are applying some of their own, as they attempt to use the OAU and its various organs to lay claim to Arab largesse. The bulk of Arab oil comes from outside Africa-from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. The bulk of Arab surplus petrodollars are also in the hands of these non-African states. But it is hoped that the OAU might become a mechanism for pressuring Africa's own Arabs to act as a lobby for black African interests in the Arab world as a whole.

Algeria among the Arab oil producers seems most genuinely pan-African rather than merely pan-Islamic. Its relatively radical orientation has made it more responsive than the other oil-producing Arab states toward Third World solidarity regardless of religion. In terms of material support for Southern African liberation movements, Algeria is more forthcoming than the great majority of African states, both black and Arab. Algeria, and of course Nigeria, are the strongest voices for African interests within OPEC.

Elsewhere on the organizational front, it has been proposed to establish special links between the Arab League and the OAU. Within the Arab League the strongest voices for black African interests are Algeria, Somalia and the Sudan-Somalia being the first non-Arab country to become a member of the Arab League. It is also conceivable that before long there will be a black African sitting at sessions of the Arab League as a representative of the OAU. What are developing are the beginnings of institutions for diplomatic interaction between the Arab world and independent Africa. The politics of the Arab League are interacting with the economics of the OAU.

The Arabs as a group have attempted to respond to African pressures through various gestures. After the October War an oil embargo was imposed by Arab oil-producers on all exports of oil to South Africa, Rhodesia, and Portugal. A committee of the OAU was set up to assess the unintended consequences of the Arab oil boycott and the new oil prices on the fragile economies of African states. Meeting with representatives of Arab oil-producers in 1974, members of this committee were assured of unlimited supplies of oil, but they did not, regrettably, obtain special concessions on prices.8 Instead, the Arabs planned to open a special Arab Bank for African Development, initially with $200 million in capital, to be used for types of development which could partially offset some of the consequences of the high Arab oil prices. Further meetings between Arabs and Africans on issues of oil production and oil prices were to be held periodically.

Much of the inter-bloc discussion in 1974 was about multilateral aid-money from Arab sources, channeled through special banking institutions, for development projects in Africa. Performance at this level has been slow and haphazard. So far the OPEC countries are estimated to have disbursed about $37 million to the new Arab Bank for African Development, and about $150 million to the Special Fund for Africa, which is administered through the Arab League.

But while the debates about multilateral aid and two-tier oil pricing have continued, general performance in the field of bilateral aid from OPEC members to Third World countries has been improving. By April 1975 Western aid officials-who had been skeptical about OPEC efforts in aid-were revising their estimates. In the words of Maurice J. Williams, chairman of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), "in speed and effectiveness the aid record [of OPEC countries] has been impressive." By early 1975 that aid already accounted for a sixth of official development aid from rich to poor countries. According to these figures of the OECD Committee, the oil states gave 1.8 percent of their gross national product in 1974, compared with 0.33 percent in the Western industrial states, and 0.21 percent on the part of the United States.

The main aid donors among the OPEC group were Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela. Partly because OPEC is largely Islamic in composition, and partly because the "Fourth World" of poorest countries is disproportionately Muslim, about 80 percent of aid from oil-exporting countries has gone to Muslim countries and over half of this to Arab nations. Within Africa, the principal Muslim recipients of bilateral Arab aid have been the Sudan and Somalia, with small amounts to Mali, Mauritania, Senegal and Guinea. Uganda (which is not a Muslim country although its head of state is Muslim) had received approximately $20 million in official aid from OPEC sources by the end of 1974.

In addition there is a significant area of unofficial aid. This includes aid to Muslim minorities in otherwise non-Muslim countries. The range of such minorities includes the Muslims of Sierra Leone, Kenya and Ghana (mainly aid for education), the Muslims of Chad and Ethiopia (partly military and partly welfare purposes) and the Muslims of Dahomey and Upper Volta (mainly educational and for missionary work). By its very nature, unofficial aid is difficult to compute. But many delegations from Muslim Africa go fund-raising to the Arab world every year, and few come back completely empty-handed. And many African Muslims go to schools and colleges in the Arab world-from Cairo to Kuwait, from Baghdad to Algiers, from Riyadh to Tripoli.

It must be acknowledged, however, that black Africa's share of OPEC assistance funds has been modest.9 If the aspirations of much of black Africa are not to be frustrated, Afro-Arab relations clearly cannot reduce themselves to inter-Muslim relations, nor can economic interaction between Africa and the Middle East be limited to small and sporadic aid flows. Multilateral aid and bargaining as well as interregional trade need to be institutionalized in the years ahead.

Like the issue of slavery-another form of black energy-the present importance of oil is posing new questions about the future relations among the Arabs, the Africans and the Western world. At least since the Middle East war of 1973, the Middle East and Africa have edged a little closer toward becoming a single international subsystem. There are, as we have seen, hazards in the relations between Africa and the Middle East, as well as unfulfilled promises. A good deal will depend upon the Arab world's capacity to transcend the temptations of power and influence and to maintain a broad solidarity with Africa as a sound foundation for an Afro-Arab diplomatic and economic front.


1 Somalia, to be sure, remains a major Muslim enclave in Eastern Africa, and Northern Sudan is both Arab and Islamic.

2 Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher with Alice Denny, Africa and the Victorians, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1961, p. 283.

3 Gamal Abdel Nasser, The Philosophy of the Revolution, Economica English Edition, Buffalo: Smith, Keynes and Marshall Publications, 1959, p. 74.

4 The Arab Observer, Vol. 1, No. 21, November 13, 1961, p. 18.

5 Many white gentiles in Southern Africa are paradoxically both anti-Semitic and pro-Israel. Afrikaaner nationalism does share characteristics with Hitler's National Socialism, including some distrust of the Jews. This distrust of local Jews among white South African gentiles has been aggravated by Jewish liberalism. The Jews in South Africa are among the least racist and the most liberal of the whites of that part of the world. Both because of their liberalism and because of their relative economic success even by the standards of white people in South Africa, the domestic Jews have sometimes had to confront strong social prejudice among fellow white people in the region. Yet those same anti-Semitic whites were capable of strong sympathetic identification with Israel.

7 Nnamdi Azikiwe, A Selection from the Speeches of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961, p. 102.

8 While it would be eminently justified, a two-tier pricing system should, in any case, include the entire developing world. It is not often remembered that India supported the Arabs in the Middle East for 20 years before the majority of black African states were converted to the Arab side.

9 According to World Bank estimates, OPEC bilateral aid disbursements to black Africa in 1974 amounted to only about six percent of total OPEC bilateral aid disbursements.

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