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Saudi Iranian rivalry polarises Nigerian Muslims

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A recent ban on a militant, Iranian-backed Shiite group raised the spectre of the Saudi Iranian rivalry spilling onto Nigerian streets as security forces launched a manhunt to find the alleged Boko Haram operatives who killed 65 people attending a funeral.

Nigeria, Africa’s foremost oil producer, banned the Iranian-backed Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) this weekend after demonstrations in the capital Abuja to free its leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky turned violent. At least six people were killed.

“The Saudis watching the Iranians trying to break into northern Nigeria is almost like watching someone else try to befriend your best friend,” said Ini Dele-Adedeji, a Nigerian academic at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, referring to the region’s religious elites that have aligned themselves with the kingdom.

Saudi cables released in 2015 by WikiLeaks reveal concern about Iranian-funded Shiite expansion in West African and Sahel nations including Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Nigeria.

Mr. Dele-Adedji said Saudi and Iranian funding was “on the surface…about these countries helping out with ‘charitable work’ activities. But beyond that it’s also a way for those countries to almost create extensions of themselves.”

Mr. El-Zakzaky, a Sunni Muslim student activist inspired by the 1979 Iranian revolution, initially agitated for a repeat in his native Nigeria. When that didn’t work, Mr. El-Zakzaky went to Iran, converted to Shiism, and started wearing the white turban of a Shiite cleric.

Returning home in the 1990s, he became the leader of the Islamic Movement and turned it into a vehicle for proselytizing and gaining followers.

Things got out of hand when Nigerian troops killed hundreds of Shiites in the ancient university town of Zaria in December 2015 and arrested Mr. El-Zakzaky and hundreds of his followers. The army accused the Shiite group of attempting to kill Nigeria’s army chief-of-staff, a charge the movement denies.

Iran has been funding Mr. El-Zakzaky for years and the area of Zaria he worked in became the “mecca for the dispossessed in Nigeria,” according to Matthew Page, a former U.S. State Department specialist on Nigeria. The Islamic Movement has been receiving about $10,000 a month from Iran, he estimated.

Mr. El-Zakzaky used the money to fund soup kitchens and homeless shelters, Mr. Page said. “This was a very inexpensive way for Iran to have a toehold in Nigeria,” he said.

Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of London-based consultants Cornerstone Global Associates estimated that Mr. El-Zakzaky’s organization operates more than 300 schools, Islamic centres, a newspaper, guards and a “martyrs’ foundation.” The network is similar to welfare systems established elsewhere by Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed groups.

The Nigerian government first declared the Islamic Movement a security threat in 2017, comparing it with the Boko Haram insurgency, according to Nigerian diplomats.

Peregrino Brimah, a trained medical doctor who teaches biology, anatomy and physiology at colleges in New York never gave much thought while growing up in Nigeria to the fact that clerics increasingly were developing links to Saudi Arabia.

“You could see the money, the big ones were leading the good life, they ran scholarship programs. In fact, I was offered a scholarship to study at King Fahd University in Riyadh. I never thought about it until December 2015 when up to a 1,000 Shiites were killed by the military in northern Nigeria. Since I started looking at it, I’ve realized how successful, how extraordinarily successful the Wahhabis have been.” Mr. Brimah said.

He decided to stand up for Shiite rights after the incident in which the military arrested Mr. El-Zakzaky.

The Nigerian military said that it had attacked sites in Zaria after hundreds of Shia demonstrators had blocked a convoy of Nigeria’s army chief General Tukur Yusuf Buratai in an effort to kill him.

Military police said Shiites had crawled through tall grass towards General Buratai’s convoy “with the intent to attack the vehicle with [a] petrol bomb” while others “suddenly resorted to firing gunshots from the direction of the mosque.”

A phone call to Nigerian President Mohammed Buhari in which King Salman expressed his support for the government’s fight against terrorist groups was widely seen as Saudi endorsement of the military’s crackdown on the country’s Shiite minority.

The state-owned Saudi Press Agency quoted King Salman as saying that Islam condemned such “criminal acts” and that the kingdom in a reference to Iran opposed foreign interference in Nigeria.

Mr. Brimah’s defense of the Shiites has cost him dearly, illustrating the degree to which Saudi-funded ultra-conservatism and Iranian agitation has altered Nigerian society.

“I lost everything I had built on social media the minute I stood up for the Shiites. I had thousands of fans. Suddenly, I was losing 2-300 followers a day. My brother hasn’t spoken to me since. The last thing he said to me is: ‘how can you adopt Shiite ideology?’ I raised the issue in a Sunni chat forum. It became quickly clear that these attitudes were not accidental. They are the product of Saudi-sponsored teachings of serious hatred. People don’t understand what they are being taught. They rejoice when a thousand Shiites are killed. Even worse is the fact that they hate people like me who stand up for the Shiites even more than they hate the Shiite themselves,” Mr. Brimah said.

In response to Mr. Brimah’s writing about the clash, General Buratai invited him for a chat. Mr. Brimah politely declined. When Mr. Brimah reiterated his accusation, General Buratai’s spokesman, Colonel SK Usman, adopting the Saudi line of Shiites being Iranian stooges, accused the scientist of being on the Islamic republic’s payroll.

“Several of us hold you in high esteem based on perceived honesty, intellectual prowess and ability to speak your mind. That was before, but the recent incident…and subsequent events and actions by some groups and individuals such as you made one to have a rethink. I was quite aware of your concerted effort to smear the good name and reputation of the Chief of Army Staff to the extent of calling for his resignation,” Colonel Usman said in an email to Mr. Brimah that the activist shared with this writer.

General Buratai “went out of his way to write to you and even invited you for constructive engagement. But because you have dubious intents, you cleverly refused…. God indeed is very merciful for exposing you. Let me make it abundantly clear to you that your acts are not directed to the person of the Chief of Army Staff, they have far reaching implication on our national security. Please think about it and mend your ways and refund whatever funds you coveted for the campaign of calumny,” Colonel Usman said.

Mr. Brimah’s inbox has since then been inundated with anti-Shiite, anti-Iranian writings in what he believes is a military-inspired campaign.

Mr. Brimah’s predicament reflects the fallout of the Saudi Iranian rivalry in West Africa as a result of Saudi and Iranian funding that has let the genie of intolerance, discrimination and bigotry out of the bottle.

Issoufou Yahaya, in the Sahel state of Niger, recalls his student days in the 1980s when there wasn’t a single mosque on his campus. “Today, we have more mosques here than we have lecture rooms. So much has changed in such a short time,” he said.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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Africa

Addressing Economic Challenges in Africa Through Deep Investments

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The African continent comprises a diverse collection of countries, each with its own set of challenges. The governance of individual territories, regions, and countries requires tremendous care and attention, particularly where peace and stability are concerned. Leadership is central to the prosperity of the African continent, particularly economic development. If the authorities are perceived as legitimate, peace and prosperity have a better chance of succeeding. The political culture and climate of the African continent is an important barometer of where Africa will be as an emerging force in the global economy.

Currently, Africa’s 54 nations comprise approximately 25% of the countries making up the United Nations. The interaction of regional and national governance is sacrosanct. Over the years, Africa has undergone periods of violent change, from precolonial to postcolonial, and modern-day leadership. Given that European cartographers drew the boundaries of many African nations, the ties between people and their leaders are often fraught with difficulties. Over the years, African governments have redrawn their boundaries to better reflect cultural, political, and social nuances.

Over time, the conflict-ridden areas throughout Africa have eased. Multiple peace initiatives have supplanted growing conflict, and fomented a new cultural consciousness that espouses growth and development over war and conflict. While conflict still exists across many parts of Africa, the overall climate has cooled significantly from the days of rebellion and genocide. War-torn zones still exist, and development in these areas is riddled with challenges, extreme poverty, and hopelessness.

Conflict and governance are interlinked across Africa. Corruption is a widespread problem, particularly in the Central African Republic, Somalia, and South Sudan. Post-Cold War, major changes began to shape the political and social landscape across Africa. The liberalization of the USSR led to the development of civil society across Africa. Consider the Freedom House report from 1988 (17/50 countries were free or partly free) compared to the report from 2015 (31/54 countries were free or partly free).

Massive and Unprecedented Urbanization across Africa

Governance is also impacted by external forces. Global political movements, particularly the rise of India, China, Russia, and Arab states have impacted African society in many ways. These external actors necessitate economic environments which are conducive to peace and stability. The increasing urbanization of African society is yet another driver of success. The shift from rural to urban development is unprecedented. A report titled ‘Urbanization and Migration in Africa’ found a total of 53% of African emigrants living within Africa as a percentage of the total emigrants population

The migration between people is one of the most notable trends taking place across Africa. In 2017, intra-African migration was strongest in countries like South Africa, Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire, Uganda, Nigeria, and Kenya. Factors leading to mass migration include underdevelopment and development. Nigeria currently tops the list of countries in Africa with remittance receipts at approximately $22.3 billion (2018), followed by Egypt at $18.1 billion, Morocco at $7.1 billion, and Senegal at $2.3 billion. The rate of urbanization in sub-Saharan Africa was measured at 37.9% in 2015 and is expected to grow towards 54.8% by 2050. The figure is even greater for the continent as a whole at 40.4% in 2015, and 55.9% by 2050.

Tapping into Africa’s Rich Natural Resources

Africa is a hive of activity with respect to natural resources. South Africa is home to vast supplies of gold and coal, while countries like Angola are rich with diamonds, oil and natural gas. North African countries are the chief suppliers of crude oil, including Algeria, Cameroon, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Tunisia, Sudan and South Sedan. Central African countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Botswana, and Angola lay claim to massive diamond supplies, cobalt, and petroleum resources. The issues of extracting these natural resources and marketing them to the world at large hinge upon the effectiveness of transportation networks, infrastructure development, and telecommunications facilities. Many African leaders are investing heavily in these areas, fast-tracking Africa’s learning curve to meet the requirements of major world players like China, the United States, and the European Union.

Spotlight on Angola: An African Giant in The Wings

Angola has substantial resources of liquefied natural gas and oil. It also boasts tremendous economic potential, given its hydropower facilities, agricultural growth and development, fisheries, gold production, iron production, and diamond production. The country also lays claim to significant international financial support a.k.a. FDI. Of course, its reliance on commodities like crude oil means that the country’s revenues are subject to extreme volatility. Among the many other challenges faced by Angola are its rising unemployment rate and social inequalities. The country, like many other African nations lacks a world-class infrastructure, and it has a fragile banking sector.

Leaders like Isabel Dos Santos, chair of Unitel, and other major companies like ZAP, Candando, Sodiba, and Efacac are convinced that the pathway to success is the result of a multi-faceted approach. Education and skills training, rural development, the provision of basic resources, access to financing, eradication of malaria and waterborne diseases, hospitals and paediatric clinics, and combating gender stereotypes are central to the success of Angola. For her part, Isabel Dos Santos has invested heavily in gender equality initiatives, such as promoting women from within the ranks, empowering local communities of women to take charge of their own economic destiny, and fostering a climate where female academic and economic development is encouraged and supported.

Angola’s GDP rate is expected to turn the corner by the end of 2019 and reach 1% growth, following three years of negative growth rates. The inflation rate has declined from 30.4% on average in 2016 to 15.9% forecast for 2019. Public debt in Angola has also declined from 71.9% in 2016 to a forecast total of 69.9% for 2019. And yet, despite these dramatic strides, Angola still battles the demons of volatile prices for commodities. The country generates approximately 90% of its revenues through crude oil exports, but its strongest resources have yet to be tapped – its people. By investing in the youth, women and men through literacy initiatives, educational development, and vocational training, business leaders like Isabel Dos Santos are confident that the economy will turn the corner for the better.

The World Bank report on Angola states that the new administration in the country is supportive of reforms geared towards macroeconomic stability. This is all conducive to economic growth and prosperity. The IMF has offered additional assistance to the country through its Extended Financial Facility (EFF) valued at $3.8 billion. While oil accounts for 33% of GDP and 90% of Angolan exports, there are factors limiting economic expansion in the current year. These include a production limit set by OPEC, and low oil prices globally. The central bank of Angola has adopted a monetary tightening policy to hedge against inflationary pressures, and this is already starting to pay dividends with reduced year-on-year inflation figures reported in January 2019. The World Bank group has committed $1.05 billion towards 9 investment projects across Angola.

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Africa yet to unleash full potential of its nature-based tourism

MD Staff

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Countries in Africa can do more to develop tourism in protected areas, which would in turn create jobs in rural places, diversify and grow their economies and improve environmental resilience in the face of growing pressures, a report has said.

Africa’s biodiversity could “transform” the continent’s economy, but at present many governments are scaling back on protection because of limited budgets needed for other pressing public needs, a report produced by conservation organization Space for Giants Club and the UN Environment Programme said. To preserve their wildlife and wild places, governments should look at protected areas not only as environmental assets but economic ones as well, with the continent’s 8,400 protected areas producing US$48 billion in revenue.

According to the paper, nature-based tourism could improve the livelihoods of many people as it generates 40 per cent more full-time employment than agriculture and provides greater opportunities for women than other sectors.

Oliver Poole, Executive Director of Space for Giants Club, said the organization “strongly believed” that the right type of nature-based tourism done in a sustainable way is a powerful conservation tool.

“That’s because it creates jobs for the local community, and it brings visitors to the national parks, creating money for wildlife services, that often have limited budgets,” he said. “But it also starts building a nature-based tourism sector that pays taxes and builds economies, making them of national importance and therefore more likely to be protected.”

Wildlife is the single biggest revenue for Africa’s tourism, with the United Nations World Tourism Organization stating 80 per cent of annual trips to Africa were for wildlife watching. And as projections point to a doubling of visitors to the continent by 2030 from the current 62 million, the report argues that additional revenue is attainable.

Ethiopia, which boasts nine UNESCO World Heritage sites, wasn’t able to attract more than 50,0000 visitors to each one in 2016. To improve these numbers, the report says the country would need to invest in better infrastructure for national parks and capitalize on its unique features, like being home to 835 bird species—a potential birdwatcher’s paradise rivalling Costa Rica or South Africa.

As the continent grapples with a growing population, poverty, climate change and a booming illegal wildlife trade, the report says important ecological areas could be lost before their value is utilized. Several places in Africa have already developed parks in ways that could threaten their natural capital, while others are planning to extract oil, minerals and other activities.

Doreen Robinson, wildlife expert at UN Environment said it was important for governments to develop partnerships with private, community and non-profit organizations to realize the full capacity of nature-based tourism in Africa and thus ensure wildlife for future generations.

“Private investment and know-how are needed to develop attractive tourism services and products, while good public management must ensure equitable business practices and reinvestment of profits into conservation of wildlife,” she said. “Ultimately this formula grows the economy, protects nature and supports human development.”

The report states only four African countries—Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa and Zimbabwe—are top nature tourism destinations, each attracting between 2–5 million visitors a year. But there is a lot of room for improvement, particularly in western Africa that has tropical forests and beaches, yet due to poor marketing hasn’t tapped its full tourism potential.

For governments to gain the most of protected areas, they should create national tourism plans for protected areas and integrate them into the economic plans of the country—that way, wild places will finally get the resources they deserve.

UN Environment

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Oil: A blessing or a curse for Somalia?

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Somalia recently reached a landmark agreement with Shell and Exxon Mobil to develop the vast petroleum reserves believed to lie off the troubled country’s coast. The deal rekindles a previous joint venture with the two oil giants that was cut short in 1990 when the ousting of Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre threw the country into a prolonged period of instability—and rekindles debates over whether oil will present greater opportunities or risks to Mogadishu.

Somalia’s new petroleum law, passed by the federal parliament earlier this year, has paved the way for this renewed exploration of the country’s extensive natural resources—estimated at as much as 100 billion barrels. The government hopes that drawing on these riches will help kickstart economic regeneration as the country’s security situation slowly but steadily improves after decades of conflict, terrorism and piracy.

Talks are now being held to enable the agreed concessions to be converted into revenue sharing agreements (RSAs) that will return 55 percent of offshore oil revenues to Somalia’s central government, with the remainder being channelled to member states. A new licensing round, covering another 15 offshore blocks, has begun, with concessions expected to be awarded early next year.

Rebuilding a damaged economy or fuelling rifts?

Concerns are nevertheless rising that the possible influx of petroleum resources may exacerbate existing rifts between Somali states. The adjacent states of Somaliland and Puntland have disputed the ownership of the oil-rich Sool and Sanaag regions for decades; if an exploration licence were granted to a foreign company, the situation could easily descend into war.

Meanwhile, the prospect of oil revenues has also added fuel to the fire of a long-running maritime border row between Somalia and Kenya. In February this year, Nairobi accused Mogadishu of an ‘illegal land grab’ after Somalia attempted to auction off oil and gas blocks from disputed territory on the border between the two countries – a flashpoint which resulted in the recall of the Kenyan ambassador and the tit-for-tat expulsion of the Somali diplomat in Nairobi. The Somali government responded by withdrawing the disputed blocks from sale, pending a judgement by the ICJ.

Learning from experience: Senegal and Equatorial Guinea

As Somalia wrestles with the question of how to benefit from its oil reserves while eschewing further strife, it has examples – both good and bad – among fellow African nations who’ve uncovered fossil fuel deposits.

Senegal, not historically an oil-producing nation, has been the site of a number of promising discoveries recently. Industry analysts have suggested that the Senegal Basin could be the “next offshore boom”—particularly likely following the announcement earlier this month that new, high-quality gas reserves have been discovered at the Greater Tortue Ahmeyim site straddling the Senegalese-Mauritanian border.

Senegal has already faced some of the troubles which inevitably accompany rich petroleum finds. The African Energy Chamber has suggested that recent allegations that the Senegalese president’s brother improperly benefitted from the awarding of oil and gas contracts in fact stemmed from an attempt to taint the reputation of both President Macky Sall and the Senegalese fossil fuel industry in general.

Senegal’s oil hopes have not been derailed, however, and Dakar is making a concerted effort to reap the maximum benefit from its oil reserves. The country’s new petroleum code, voted into law earlier this year, has brought Senegal’s legal framework for natural resources in line with industry norms, increased transparency and upped the state’s share of oil revenues.

If Dakar is so far managing to avoid the notorious “resource curse”, other African countries flush with oil have not found the fuel to be such a boon. Equatorial Guinea is practically a textbook example of a country squandering its oil reserves without returning tangible benefits to its citizens. In fact, while Equatorial Guinea’s per-capita wealth is the highest of any country in sub-Saharan Africa, government spending in areas like health and education are way below average.

That’s not to say some haven’t benefited from the oil millions: President Obiang—who has ruled the country with an iron fist since he had his uncle shot and killed in 1979— has managed to shore up the family coffers nicely, collecting race cars and mansions in Europe and America. Obiang once questioned “what right does the opposition have to criticize the actions of a government?” and spent his early years overseeing Black Beach, the most notorious prison in Africa.

Since Equatorial Guinea discovered oil, however, the despot has been more or less accepted by the international community. The once-shuttered U.S. Embassy in Malabo was reopened and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice referred to Obiang as “an old friend”.

Somalia needs to tread carefully

The cases of Senegal and Equatorial Guinea, among others, offer Somalia guidance as it attempts to use its oil to further its progress towards peace and reconciliation. The involvement of US troops has helped to push back the terrorist group al-Shabab, while the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has indicated that Somalia could qualify for debt relief as early as next spring – which would enable the government to plan public spending programmes and invest in job-creation schemes. However, regulators have cautioned that more needs to be done in the interim to tackle poverty and build a more resilient economy.

Against this backdrop, an oil boom could help Somalia rise to the challenges it faces. But it’s also possible that the influx of wealth could serve to fuel already-serious corruption. In the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), Somalia received the highest score out of all 180 countries ranked, making it the most corrupt in the world. Tapping into oil revenues could help lift Somalis out of endemic poverty—almost three-quarters of its population survive on less than two dollars a day— but the vast cash flow this would release may also cause political corruption to thrive, as Equatorial Guinea has shown. Carefully managing any oil finds, as Senegal is trying to do, will be essential for Somalia to maintain recent progress.

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