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The Arabs and their Neighbor Africa

The Arabs and their Neighbor Africa

Thursday, 14 March, 2019 - 17:45

A few months ago, I was invited by my MP for a cup of coffee in his office in the House of Commons, in London. Upon my arrival at the security gate, I was met by one of his young assistants, who was of African origins.

On our way to the office, and true to my Arab curious nature, I asked the gentleman about his birthplace, to which he replied “From Sierra Leone, sir”, thinking that was the end of a fleeting question. I went on, however, to ask; “So are you a Temne or a Mende (Sierra Leone’s largest ethnic groups)?”. Surprised, he smiled, and politely replies “Both, sir, my father is a Temne and my mother a Mende… but how come you are so interested in Sierra Leone?”. It was then that I informed him about my political interests, and the fact that I have relatives, friends, and acquaintances who immigrated to Africa, settled happily there for decades, and many of whom made fortunes.

Talking of Africa, the last couple of weeks two Presidential elections were held in Nigeria and Senegal; two historically and currently very important countries in both Africa and the Muslim world. In both countries live large, old and influential Arab immigrant communities; and last but not least, the two countries – or more precisely, some of their peoples – form the demographic western and eastern boundaries of the vast Sahara and Sahel region, which separate north Africa from the rest of the ‘continent’.

Personally, I feel we do not know much about our southern and western neighbor. We have not learnt enough about its history and heritage, neither have we interacted as we must with its present, nor prepared ourselves to handle our interests with in its future.

Here, I recall, as a young boy, some of my inquisitive dialogues with our Africa-based relatives and friends. I remember that many were ambitious and hardworking but with modest education. Most never entered university, and rarely had the luxury of mastering the cultural side of their African adventures, where their top priority was to work, feed their families and make fortunes if possible.

Few among them differentiated between tribes, subtribes and languages in the African entities where they lived. Indeed, few even among the better educated back home were aware of these issues before the 1950s when the African struggle for independence began to bear fruits, and one entity after another achieved its goal. It was then that the names of the ‘champions of independence’ such as Kwame Nkrumah, Ahmed Sekou Toure and Jomo Kenyatta, became famous through radio broadcasts and newspapers.

Also unknown to those uninterested in history, geography and international politics were the names of cultural centers like Timbuktu in Mali (formerly the French Sudan), Islamic renewal movements like Usman dan Fodio in northern Nigeria, and revolutionary organizations like The African National Congress in South Africa… not to mention the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya.

guess, today, the situation seems a bit different, thanks to the media and the communications ‘revolution’, but it is not much different. In reality we – the Arabs – are still unable to realize the importance of what Africa has in store for us, unlike many global powers that are aware that it is worth competing for. The Franco - American competition is not new, while China’s ‘invasion’ to sub-Saharan Africa is definitely established, and Israel’s penetration is getting deeper and wider every day.

All this is happening before us, the people who are supposed to be most involved.

The Arabs are, surely, concerned with the Nile water as a vital source of life for Sudan and Egypt. We are also concerned with the problems of extremism, terrorism, and illegal immigration and human trafficking threatening western Sudan, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania from across the Sahara. Finally, there is the strategic importance of Somalia, Djibouti and Eritrea, in the east, the direct strategic relationship between the Horn of Africa and the security of the Arabian Sea and the strait of Bab Al-Mandeb.

To appreciate the situation, and see the challenges ahead properly, let us go through figures taken from UN reports and studies by highly regarded specialized authorities, beginning with those related to the world population.

At present, the world population is growing by approximately 83 million people each year. Taking in consideration fluctuations here and there, it is expected that by 2070, the bulk of the world's population growth to take place in Africa: of the additional 2.4 billion people projected between 2015 and 2050, 1.3 billion will be added in Africa. Indeed, Africa's share of global population is projected to grow from 16% in 2015 to 25% in 2050 and 39% by 2100.

Moreover, by 2050, three African countries; Nigeria (411 million inhabitants), The Democratic Republic of the Congo (195.3 m) and Ethiopia (188.5 m) are expected to be among the world’s ten most populous countries. The 100 m ‘barrier’ will be crossed by three more African countries.

Now, let us look at how the world’s largest cities will look like. By 2025, three African cities, Kinshasa (D R of the Congo), Lagos (Nigeria) and Cairo (Egypt) will be – respectively – the 11th, 12th & 13th largest cities. Then, in 2050 Kinshasa is expected to rise to 4th, Lagos to 6th and Cairo to 11th. Later, in 2075, Kinshasa (58.42 m) is expected to become the world’s largest city and Lagos (57.2 m) the 3rd, with Dar Es-Salaam (Tanzania) 8th and Cairo 9th; and by 2100, Lagos (with more than 88 m) will take over at the top, followed by Kinshasa (83.53 m) in 2nd place, and Dar Es-Salaam (just short of 73.7 m) 3rd. Two more African cities, the Sudanese capital Khartoum and Niger’s capital Niamey will join the world’s top ten.

Of course, these are projections which may or may not prove right on the long run, despite the application of most advanced scientific techniques; but what I want to say is that we must become aware of Africa’s importance to us. Africa is not only a geographic ‘neighbor’ that affects us and is affected by us, but also a ‘sleeping giant’. Here I recollect what a worried Napoleon Bonaparte once said about China: “Let China sleep; when she wakes she will shake the world.”

Well, Africa too is a sleeping giant. It is a sleeping, demographic, economic, political and security giant … but it is also a very close neighbor.

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