Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Arab Aid And Black Africa

Clyde Ahmad Winters

Clyde Ahmad Winters, director of Uthman dan Fodio Institute, Illinois, examines the reasons for the decline in Arab aid to Africa and urges a review of the Arab-African co-operation with a view to improving the assistance to particularly drought-stricken Sahel African states.
After a decade of high expectations that Arab aid would benefit African economic development, hopes for real Arab-African co-operation in African development are waning. This view is supported by the decline in Arab aid to Africa in 1982 and 1983, and their lack of substantial financial support to drought stricken African countries.

After the 1973 Arab-Israeli War most black African nations broke diplo- matic relations with Israel. Although Arab financial assistance has surpassed that of the Israelis twenty times over, Arab aid has not been able to provide a substitute for Israeli technical assistance. As a result, Arab economic aid to African governments has done little to affect sustained development.

The Saudi propaganda mills paint a picture of the Arabian peninsula Arabs as pan-Islamists, who have a deep concern for charity, and distribute large sums of money to help the poor Muslims throughout the world. This view is earned by the Arab promotion of the fact that they give more aid than any other country in the world to the less developed nations. But of their total aid dispersal 96 per cent goes to the Islamic states in north Africa and west Asia.

Yearly the Arabian peninsula oil exporters, led by the Saudis collectively commit some $30 to $35 billion in economic aid. Most of this aid is sent to areas that have close relations to the U.S., such as Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan and Turkey. The surplus foreign exchange assets of these nations was an estimated $265 billion in 1982. Ten to twelve per cent of this surplus is disposed as loans to developing nations.

The thirty-one poorest countries of the world are in black Africa according to the World Bank. The World Bank estimates that black Africa receives $5 billion per year in international aid for development.

According to Shazil al-Ayari, chairman of the BADEA, the Arabs have provided $7.6 billion in direct aid to non-Arab Africa from 1975-82. Arab donors boast about their African aid efforts. But Arab aid to Africa is insignificant when compared to the aid given to Arab countries such as Iraq. ($20 billion since 1980).

Arab aid donors claim that their criteria for accepting a project for support are different from those of the Western donors. Al-Ayari, characterised these differences as 1) aid is mainly directed toward the least developed nations and 2) Arab aid has no economic, social or political strings attached. Is this true? I must answer NO!

Like the Western nations, the Arabs have strings attached to their aid. For example, although the Saudis have lent some money to the former Portuguese colonies, it is no secret that the Saudis would like to see the Marxist regimes of southern Africa replaced by moderate governments.

It is somewhat true that Arab aid and Western aid to Africa have focussed on two different areas of development. Whereas much of the Western aid has been concentrated on projects in the area of basic human needs: food, healthcare, primary education, etc. Arab aid has gone mainly into the improvement or expansion of infrastructure.


Both approaches have failed, not only because of corrupt leaders and officials in many African countries but also because there was very little support given to the development of trained Africans to manage the new development projects or the monies to finance technical improvements for African agriculture.

Ten years of drought in Western Africa has caused and continues to cause numerous loss of lives, and economic decline across the Sahel which is predominantly Muslim.

There has been an unprecedented accumulation of oil money by the Saudis since 1973, but very little aid has been given to the drought victims. Sure, the Saudis pay lip service to the plight of the poor Muslims in Africa, and distribute Arabic prayer books, Korans and spread Wahhabi ideas, but they give very little money to help the poor.

Assistance to the Sahelian nations is now running at a level of nearly $1.7 billion a year. Most of this aid comes from the West and Christian charities. For example, from 1975 to 1982, given the Sahel was provided by France.

Given the substantial contributions made to the drought victims by the West, it would appear that the Special Arab Fund for Africa (SAFA) is doing very little to channel aid to the Muslims suffering in the Sahel.

The victims of drought need help now. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation recently announced a deficit of one million tons of food for the 24 worst drought stricken nations in Africa and the United Nations' Secretary-General, Javier Perez de Cuellar, added the shocking reminder that five million African children face death, while an additional 5 million may suffer permanent damage to their health due to malnutrition.

However there is one fact that must not be forgotten. Arab assistance to Africa has declined since 1982 basically because of the decline in the price of oil which is causing a reduction in the foreign exchange surpluses of the Gulf oil producing countries. Presently, the Arabian peninsula foreign exchange assets are being used to offset deficits, and finance Iraq's war with Iran.

But instead of decreasing aid the oil producing Arabs should be increasing aid because if the Gulf States can spend hundreds of billions of dollars to prop up U.S. companies such as AT&T and IBM, then surely they can provide more aid to Africa.

The U.S., and European donors, are themselves struggling to meet their own major problems such as unemployment and the slow recovery from recession. In addition Washington's $200 billion annual deficit is a cause for concern. Most of the Africans threatened by famine are Muslims. Therefore, it is strange that although many U.S. officials, relief agencies and foreign countries have criticized the U.S. re- sponse to the emergency food needs of famine stricken Africa, no one is criti- cizing the Gulf Arabs, for their lack of investment in Africa, when they have the largest foreign exchange surpluses in the world. This is even more surprising given the fact that the Saudis claim to be the leaders of the Muslim interested in giving help to the Sahelian Muslims.

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