Reviving historical and geographical ties between Africa and Arab world

African, Arabian Peninsula, Arab world

The 61st anniversary of the African Union’s founding serves as a poignant reminder of the deep historical and geographical connections between Africa and the Arab world. These ties, enriched by shared civilizational and cultural elements, are continually evolving. Over the centuries, the Arabian Peninsula and the African continent have engaged in extensive cultural and commercial interactions, creating a shared identity evident in many aspects of life today. Tens of Arab states are situated within Africa, housing approximately 283 million people out of the continent’s 1.25 billion inhabitants, further strengthening the bonds between the two sides.

Some intellectuals propose that Arabs and Africans once inhabited a single continent before the geological separation caused by the formation of the Red Sea, a division completed in the 19th century with the construction of the Suez Canal. This theory, while fascinating, is complemented by a host of tangible historical and cultural connections that continue to shape the relationship between Africa and the Arab world.

The concept of “Afrabia” seeks to frame these ongoing historical and geographical connections, emphasizing several key factors. Africa is the first continent where Muslims form the overwhelming majority, underscoring a profound religious and cultural link. The long history of migration and movement between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula has fostered deep-rooted linguistic and cultural ties. Furthermore, the geological formation of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, dating back to about three to five million years B.C., suggests that the Arabian Peninsula and Africa were once a single geographical entity before the geological rift.

Given these themes, some Arab intellectuals conclude that Africa and the Arabian Peninsula may merge under a new world order to form a unified hub of cooperation and integration. This vision is supported by historical, geographical, and cultural commonalities that bind the regions more closely than they are connected to any other bloc in the world. The longstanding and current Arab-African integration and fraternity, or Arab-African cohesion, is underscored by many factors. Thus, it becomes essential to bolster it with economic integration for sustainable development, benefiting the peoples of both the African continent and the Arab world.

Supporting joint economic development between Africa and the Arab world is critical for both sides to prosper and thrive. Several Arab and Islamic financial institutions have played a pivotal role in this area. The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) is one of the leading institutions supporting economic development in Africa. Since its establishment 50 years ago, the IsDB has provided financing and technical cooperation for hundreds of development projects in vital sectors such as infrastructure, agriculture, industry, health, and education. This has significantly stimulated economic growth and improved living standards in many African countries.

Similarly, the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA) focuses on financing economic and social projects in Africa to achieve sustainable development. Over the past five decades, BADEA has substantially contributed to the development of productive sectors and infrastructure in numerous African countries. The recent golden jubilee celebration of BADEA in Riyadh marked five decades of significant contributions to infrastructure and agriculture development across Africa. This event also underscored the active role of the bank in fostering economic, financial, and technical cooperation between the Arab world and Africa, embodying Arab-African solidarity.

The importance of economic and social development is further reflected in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Islamic Development Bank in Riyadh. Under the slogan “Cherishing our Past, Charting our Future: Originality, Solidarity, and Prosperity,” this celebration highlighted the critical role of the IsDB in supporting sustainable development, especially in the Islamic world and Africa.

Arab development funds also play a crucial role in supporting development in Africa. The Saudi Fund for Development, the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, the Qatar Fund for Development, and the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development have provided financing and soft loans for hundreds of development projects. These efforts have effectively contributed to enhancing infrastructure and sectoral development in many African countries. Additionally, humanitarian and relief efforts carried out by KSrelief, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s charitable arm, have made significant impacts in various African nations.

Combined, these Arab institutional efforts underscore the importance of economic and development cooperation between the Arab world and Africa. Such cooperation enhances productive capacities and infrastructure in Africa, aiding in achieving sustainable development and improving living standards on the continent. It also reflects the depth of historical and civilizational ties between the two regions.

Despite these economic collaborations, political communication between the Arab world and Africa has been relatively weak over the past five decades. Evidence of this is seen in the infrequent meetings between leaders from both sides, with only three Arab-African summits held over 47 years—in Cairo in 1977, Sirte, Libya in 2010, and Kuwait in 2013. However, the last Saudi-African summit in Riyadh in November emphasized the development of relations between the two sides in various fields, strengthening joint cooperation, and advancing strategic partnership relations. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced that Saudi Arabia has provided more than $45 billion to support development and humanitarian projects in 54 African countries. Additionally, KSrelief has provided over $450 million in assistance to 46 African countries.

Furthermore, the crown prince unveiled King Salman’s Development Initiative in Africa, which includes launching development projects and programs worth more than $1 billion over the next decade. Saudi Arabia plans to inject over $25 billion in new investments in various sectors across the continent, finance and secure $10 billion in exports, and provide $5 billion in development funding to Africa until 2030. The Kingdom also intends to increase the number of its embassies on the continent to more than 40.

The Republic of Djibouti plays a pivotal role in promoting Arab and African cooperation, serving as a bridge between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula due to its strategic geographical location overlooking the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. Djibouti also hosts the largest free trade zone in Africa, which will contribute significantly to trade and investment exchanges with Africa.

Arab-African integration is an urgent necessity supported by various commonalities between the Arab and African peoples, historical ties, and geographical proximity. Strengthening cooperation between the two sides will have positive repercussions on development, well-being, security, and stability. Achieving this requires strong political will and joint strategic visions from decision-makers in both the Arab world and Africa.

Looking forward, the forthcoming launch of the Council of Arab and African States bordering the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden holds promise. This council aims to be a model of high-level Arab-African cooperation, grounded in common regional interests that align harmoniously with the international community. Such initiatives will undoubtedly strengthen the historical, cultural, and economic ties that bind Africa and the Arab world, paving the way for a prosperous and integrated future for both regions.


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