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Economic Circumstances and Radicalisation in Kenya and Nigeria – Dr. Anneli Botha


Economic Circumstances and Radicalisation in Kenya and Nigeria

By Anneli Botha

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 9 (May 2017)

One of the most controversial aspects when discussing the conditions conducive to terrorism is the potential role economic circumstances – especially poverty – plays in radicalisation. It is particularly politicians who tend to be convinced that there is a positive link between poverty, radicalisation and terrorism. On the contrary, a number of academic studies found a negative or limited correlation between economic circumstances and activism and even discovered that some individuals involved in acts of terrorism came from a professional and economically privileged background. For example, in a study conducted on al-Shabaab in Kenya and Somalia and the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) in Kenya, al-Shabaab respondents in Somalia rated the highest with 27% identifying a direct relationship between economic circumstances and their decision to join the organisation. A further 25% of respondents in Somalia combined religion with economic reasons, while a further 1% referred to economic reasons and adventure. In Kenya, 12% of MRC respondent  sand 4% of al-Shabaab respondents specifically referred to economic circumstances as a reason why they joined the respective organisations. These respondents thought by joining these groups, membership would become a career. This places a question mark on the ideological commitment of these individuals. In other words, if respondents had access to other employment opportunities they would not have joined al-Shabaab.

In contrast to Kenya and Somalia another study conducted by Finn Church Aid (FCA) in Nigeria (of which the author was part of), in its sample did not only include interviews with Boko Haram members, but also interviews with individuals representing civil society (referred to as peace builders) and ordinary Nigerian citizens. This project was particularly interesting as it tested perception against reality. One of the perceptions tested was the role economic factors might play in the decision of individuals to join Boko Haram. It was especially peace builders that identified economic circumstances – after religion – in explaining why Boko Haram attracted willing recruits. For example, poverty was identified as the most prominent reason of 26% of peace builders that drove individuals to Boko Haram. This is followed by a lack of education (20%) and employment opportunities Boko Haram offered (16%). This perception is supported by Aghedo and Osumah, who noted in the 2010 census that Yobe State, the headquarters of Boko Haram, has the highest unemployment rate in the country with 33.2%. In contrast to this perception only 15.13% of Boko Haram respondents indicated that they had joined the organization because of poverty and the need to be paid a salary, whereas only 5.88% of former members referred to the employment opportunities the group presented. Only 1.68% of former Boko Haram members considered being frustrated with life as a factor influencing others to join Boko Haram, while 5.88% of Boko Haram respondents were themselves drawn to the organization for this reason. The perception amongst 16% of peace builders and 10,64% of ordinary citizens that individuals join Boko Haram due to the need to be employed was refuted as only 5,88% of Boko Haram respondents joined Boko Haram for the employment opportunities the organization offered. Instead 61 Boko Haram respondents were employed and 58 respondents indicated that they were unemployed at the time of joining Boko Haram.

Despite the fact that economic circumstances, and most notably poverty is not a main contributing factor towards radicalisation, the relation between socioeconomic circumstances and other forms of marginalisation – most notably political, ethnic and religious circumstances and differences – requires closer scrutiny. Instead of the immediate connotation with poverty, the discussion on economic conditions needs to extend well beyond only poverty. It is these other indicators that rather ‘facilitate’ or provide favourable circumstances for recruitment. These for example include, unequal access to resources, the growing divide between rich and poor and limited education and employment opportunities.

Although linking radicalisation and poverty is unfounded, the introduction of the concept ‘relative deprivation’ by Ted Gurr holds more water in explaining why people turn to violence. According to Gurr the relative deprivation theory consists of two key components: Firstly, the perception of inequality, or a perceived discrepancy between one’s own position and that of others; and secondly, the implication related to perceived inequality or, to put it differently, the intensity or degree of inequality. These circumstances contribute to defining in- and out- groups. If what is expected exceeds that which a person has or experiences, the next question in that formula will be: what will the costs be to balance the scales?

Relative deprivation alone is however not sufficient, it requires another element in addition to the difference between the rewards people expect versus which they receive in transferring ‘I’ to ‘us’: This comes in the form of marginalisation based on ethnic, religious or class differences in which the group feels that collective violence is a legitimate and considered the only response available to balance the scales. When economic progress and political representation visibly divide people based on ethnic or tribal and religious differences, the possibility for violence and terrorism increases. Considering that immediate circumstances often serve as the trigger, it is not surprising that based on these differences, self-determination groups are formed. In addition to relative deprivation, the possibility of success further contributes to vulnerability. Thus explaining why it is commonly accepted that weak, failed and collapsed states are particularly more vulnerable to the possibility of political violence and terrorism. The possibility of achieving its objectives increases when the state no longer has a monopoly on the use of force, and that is when the probability of resorting to violence becomes plausible especially under the youth. Uneven development and subsequent relative deprivation, played a prominent role among MRC respondents in joining these organisations, with 14% of MRC respondents  referring to a combination of ethnic and economic reasons. Respondents who mentioned economic circumstances specifically referred to situations where increased economic disparities occur within identifiable ethnic, religious and geographic groups. Education and the type of employment provided additional insights and should be used as valuable indicators, considering that when respondents were also asked to indicate their level of education, 67% of MRC and 47% of al-Shabaab respondents only had a primary school education. It was therefore not surprising that 75% of MRC and 46% of al-Shabaab respondents in Kenya were in low-income careers. These two factors directly impact on upward mobility, especially when the perception exists that these discrepancies are based on a religious, ethnic or geographical divide. The MRC in Kenya most prominently referred to a comparison between the economic circumstances of coastal people versus those in other parts of the country, but more specifically the discrimination they experience in comparison to outsiders living in ‘their’ region. Similarly, the economic divide in Nigeria between north and south on religious, but also ethnic terms had a similar impact on the emergence of Islamist extremism in the north. Consequently, relative deprivation became a political issue and a driving factor behind frustration and radicalisation. Therefore, monitoring socioeconomic trends in preventing radicalisation will be useful where there are economic disparities within identifiable ethnic, religious and geographic groups.

It is also not surprising that extremist movements specifically target the youth and young adults between the ages 15 to 25. Being naturally impatient, their frustration can easily lead to action. Young people are not only more susceptible to indoctrination, they are also more inclined to get physically involved.

Unequal social upward mobility based on religious, ethnical or even political differences therefore requires serious attention in identifying communities at risk. Indicators that will be particularly useful are population growth, access to public service, uneven development, urbanisation and uneven unemployment and education opportunities – especially if these are based on religious, ethnic or any other identifiable categories. These factors will contribute not only to social conflict, but also to that country or community’s vulnerability to radicalisation. In addition to encouraging economic development, government also has to step up to its responsibility to provide basic services for all people, and especially to communities that are regarded as marginalised.

Governments need guidance and assistance in creating an environment that encourages innovation. Much is still needed to equip young people, not only to be better educated, but also to recognise their role in the financial health of their country. Although low-interest loans are often referred to as a solution, the ultimate success of these and other initiatives will depend on the level and the type of education and the prospect of a better future not determined by a person’s religious or ethnic association.

A Collaboration between CEAPS and RIMA



A Collaboration between CEAPS and RIMA

May 2017

On May 1, 2017, the Centre for the Engagement on African Peace and Security (CEAPS) — which is a partnership between the Osaka School of International Public Policy (OSIPP, Osaka University, Japan) and the Faculty of the Humanities at the University of the Free State (South Africa) — and the Think Tank for the Research of Islam and Muslims in Africa (RIMA) agreed to collaborate and strengthen the work of their respective institutes.

The areas of collaboration are focused on the engagement of the Middle Eastern countries, especially the Gulf countries and Egypt, in Africa; the engagement of Turkey and Iran in Africa; the engagement of other international players in Africa (China, India, Russia, the US, the EU, France, Latin America, etc.); radical Islam and terrorism in Africa; environmental security; the nexus between climate change and conflict throughout Africa; environmental refugees; migration. The areas of collaboration include also the advancement of understanding and knowledge concerning Islam in Africa and Muslim countries and communities in Africa and the Diaspora, especially as they relate to peace and security.

The joint activities will include but will not be limited to: research and policy analysis; policy dialogues; knowledge dissemination; academic exchanges and mutual visits; joint research and publication; joint organization of conferences, seminars and workshops; etc.

The link to the CEAPS website is:

The war against Al Shabaab is being lost – Professor Hussein Solomon


The war against Al Shabaab is being lost

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 8 (May 2017)

If one were to take the words of James ole Seriani at face value, one would believe that Al Shabaab’s demise is imminent. Seriani is the director of Operation Linda Boni, an operation aimed to eradicate the threat posed by Al Shabaab militants in the Boni Forest. “For the past seven months, we haven’t experienced any attacks or attempts from Al Shabaab. This proves that the operation is successful,” he proudly declared. In the process Seriani seems to ignore the simple fact that such a counter-insurgency operation cannot be measured in such a short time frame. Moreover, he seems to have forgotten that local herders were removed from Boni Forest thereby turning local public opinion against the security forces.

Indeed if one believed the Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF) one would also believe that Al Shabaab’s days were numbered. On 28th April 2017, the KDF announced that its aircraft bombed an Al Shabaab camp near El Wak in the War-Gaduud area killing several of its fighters including the group’s deputy commander of the Gedo region, Ali Shangalow. This aerial attack followed a KDF ground offensive a week earlier in which another 52 Al Shabaab fighters were killed.

On the other hand Al Shabaab began 2017 with an attack on a Kenyan military base at Kolbiyow in Somalia’s Lower Juba region which killed 57 Kenyan soldiers and where military equipment was also captured by the Islamist militants. Indeed, over the past two years Al Shabaab has attacked several bases of those forming part of the 22,000 strong African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) force waging a tough war against it. Burundian soldiers at its Lego base were attacked as were Ugandan troops in Janale and the KDF once again at El Adde. In each case heavy casualties were inflicted and military equipment was captured by Al Shabaab. It is not only the foreign forces arrayed against it which has been the target of Al Shabaab’s wrath, but also local forces. On 23 April 2017, an improvised explosive device (IED) was detonated as a military truck belonging to security forces of the semi-autonomous region of Puntland passed by. Six soldiers were killed and a further eight were wounded.

Meanwhile, the weakness of the Somali government was aptly demonstrated when a car bomb exploded in a busy market in the capital Mogadishu in February 2017. 39 people were killed and 50 injured in this terrorist atrocity. What is clear is that Mogadishu is heavily reliant on foreign forces to keep itself in power. Far from using the years of external intervention to build up its own security forces to take the fight to Al Shabaab, successive Somali governments did very little to fix their ailing security apparatus. As a result when a foreign force removes itself from the Somali theatre, control is quickly lost. When Ethiopian troops withdrew from the town of Gal’ad in the central region of Galguduud in July 2016, Somalia’s soldiers withdrew shortly thereafter, allowing Al Shabaab to once more take control of the town.

The seriousness of the current situation is perhaps illustrated by the fact that the Trump administration plans to pursue expanded military involvement in the quagmire that is Somalia. The Pentagon is considering more US Special Forces in the Somali theatre as well as greater numbers of pre-emptive airstrikes. Will it work? Given Somalia’s historic antipathy towards a foreign military presence, the answer is perhaps not. Moreover, the increased US involvement may well serve to incense Somali public opinion – and thereby provide more recruits for Al Shabaab.

Whilst the military option can and should be used, it needs to be part of a broader more holistic response to the very real threat posed by Al Shabaab. Consider the following fact: the internal weaknesses within Al Shabaab have not been exploited in any systematic manner. In November 2016, for instance, Al Shabaab attempted to impose taxes on the hapless residents of Harardhere. They rebelled. Villagers ambushed Al Shabaab fighters, including destroying one of their armoured vehicles. There has been no concerted attempt on the part of either the Somali government or AMISOM to capitalize on these tensions.

The lack of a comprehensive response to Al Shabaab is also seen in the current famine crisis engulfing Somalia. Half of the country’s population is facing acute food shortages. In March 2017, it was reported that the United Nations’ US $864 million humanitarian appeal was only 31 percent funded. Al Shabaab, by contrast was distributing food in six central and southern regions of Bay, Bakol, Mudug, Hiraan, Lower Shabelle, and Galgudug – in the process winning hearts and minds. If the international community was serious about the fight against Al Shabaab militants, they would be the ones meeting the nutritional requirements of ordinary Somalis – not allowing Al Shabaab to score brownie points.

Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that the war against Al Shabaab is being lost.






By Arye Oded

RIMA Historical Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 2 (April 2017)

Historical Background

It is worth touching upon several historical events, however briefly, as a background to the Omani Arab involvement in Zanzibar and East Africa:

  1. Arab traders from Arabia reached the East African coast several hundred years before the advent of Islam.  There is an ancient source dealing with Arab trade on the East African coast, written by an anonymous Greek merchant around the first century A.D.  It is a kind of guide for sailors and is called The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (Periplus means “sailing around”;  Erythraean Sea referred, at that time to the sea of the Indian Ocean and the coast of East Africa).  (1)  The author describes the trading stations along the coast of East Africa and how Arab traders from the Arabian peninsula used to arrive with their dhows to trade with the local Africans.  The Arabs learned the local Bantu language and intermarried with the local women.  Thus the Swahili community came into being.  The Arab traders on the coast adopted Islam immediately after its appearance in the 7th century A.D. After the 9th century, there were a few Muslim historians and geographers who reported that several Muslim settlements existed on the coast of East Africa, which  they called Bilad al-Zanj (zanj means “black people”).
  1. From the 13th to 16th centuries, the Muslim trading settlements along the coast (sahil) flourished, reaching the peak of their economic and religious development. They became an integral part of the Islamic world and of Muslim trade in the Middle and Far East.  In 1331 A.D., the Arab historian Ibn Batuta visited the East African coast.  In his account, he praised the Muslims for their devotion to their religion.  He emphasized that their trade in ivory, gold and slaves brought economic prosperity to the coastal towns, at that time numbering about forty. (2)
  2. The Portuguese conquest of the coast of East Africa in the 16th century, which lasted about two hundred years, put an end to the prosperity of the coastal towns and hampered the spread of Islam. (3)

Omani Sultanate Rule on the Coast

In the mid-17th century, the Omanis drove the Portuguese out of the country and its important port of Muscat.  This occurred during the Ya’rubi dynasty which came into power in 1624 and succeeded in uniting the country and turning it into a strong maritime power.  The old, close historical connections between Oman and the East African coastal towns (4) were among the reasons that led the Omanis to fight the Portuguese, in order to drive them from the coast.  The slave trade, in which the Omanis were involved, was another reason.

Omani ships started to sail along the East African coast again and captured important towns, such as Pate, Malindi, Zanzibar and Pemba.  Long and bloody battles were fought against the Portuguese on Mombasa Island, where the Portuguese had built Fort Jesus in 1593. The fort, surrounded by huge walls made of heavy stones and with cannons, was built to defend Portugal’s possessions along the coast.  Only after a three-year siege were the Omanis able to capture the fort and Mombasa.  This was in 1698, the year that symbolizes the end of Portuguese rule on the coast up to the river Rovuma in the south.  (From there is the border with Mozambique, where Portugal continued to rule until 1975.)

At the beginning, Oman ruled the coast indirectly and the old Swahili families, mentioned above, who were Sunni Muslims,  ruled there once again.  Only on the fortified Mombasa Island did the Omani Sultan nominate an Omani governor from the influential Mazrui (plural Mazari’a) family.

In 1744, Ahmad Abu Said overthrew the Ya’rubi dynasty in Oman and the Abusaidi Sultanate began.  The Mazari’a in Mombasa immediately seized the opportunity of the change to renounce the overlordship of the Busaidi Sultan of Oman. For about a century, the Mazari’a were a thorn in the flesh of the Busaidi Sultanate.

Ahmad Abu Said died in 1792 and was succeeded by his son, Sultan ibn Ahmad, who ruled until 1804.  He was succeeded by Sultan ibn Seif, from his family.

In 1806, one of Sultan ibn Ahmad’s sons murdered ibn Seif, who was his cousin, and declared himself Sultan of Oman.  His name was Sayyid Said ibn Sultan.  This was not an unusual way to gain power in Oman, owing to widespread family intrigues.

The Sultanate in the time of Sayyid Said

Right from the beginning of his rule, Sayyid Said understood the importance of obtaining the support and assistance of the British Empire.  Britain was the strongest power in the Indian Ocean and the rulers of Oman needed her help in their struggle against their neighbours, the Wahabis, and also against pirates who were attacking Omani ships.  From the British side, Oman was strategically located on Britain’s route to India and as early as 1798 Britain entered into a cooperation treaty with Oman.  (5)  The British also considered Sayyid Said very able, wise, enterprising and farsighted, a man on whom they could rely.  This mutual appreciation proved very beneficial to both sides later on.

One of the problems that Sayyid Said had to face in his relations with the British was the slave trade, in which his ships were involved. At the beginning of the 19th century, Britain intensified her activities against the rapid expansion of the slave trade along the East African coast.  In 1822, Britain dispatched a naval officer, Captain Moresby, to conclude a treaty with Sayyid Said, in which he agreed to stop the trading of slaves between his subjects and the subjects of Christian countries.  Hence, the slave trade might still be carried on between Muslims.  With this, the treaty took into consideration the fact that abolishing slavery completely would probably cause a conflict between the Sultan and his Omani subjects, for whom the slaves working in their clove plantations and on the trade-caravans were the main source of income.  In return for Sayyid Said agreeing to sign the Moresby Treaty (6), Britain recognized the Sultan’s authority over most of the East African coast, from the Horn of Africa in the north to the Rovuma river in the south.

Backed by the British, Sayyid Said defeated the Mazari’a and conquered its Fort Jesus in 1837, after long wars and a siege.

In 1840, Sayyid said decided to move his capital from the arid soil of Oman and its endless intrigues to Zanzibar, a place with a better climate, fertile soil and a peaceful atmosphere.  Zanzibar also was in a strategic position, lying only a few miles from the East African coast, and could be developed as a main centre of trade.  Said nominated his eldest son, Thuwain, as the governor of Oman.

This transfer issued in a new era in the history of the Sultanate in Zanzibar and East Africa.

Sultan Sayyid’s Activities

  • In the political and commercial spheres. Said encouraged Britain, America, France, Germany, Italy and Austria to open consulates in Zanzibar.  In addition, commercial companies and businessmen from these countries and from India (benyans) received a friendly welcome from the Sultan.  They sold manufactured merchandise such as hardware, soap, beads and cloth.  One of the most popular items was the American white cotton cloth that became a form of currency in trade in the interior and was known as “Marikani.” The western merchants bought mainly ivory, cloves, copal, gum and skins.
  • Caravans and the slave trade. Sayyid Said developed trade with the interior of East Africa by encouraging the organization of large caravans that penetrated the mainland from the coast, paving new routes and building trade centres on the way.  The caravans, hundreds of people, included askaris (soldiers) carrying firearms, slaves to carry the goods and, on return, the heavy ivory as well as the Omani traders.  The traders usually received loans from the Indian businessmen (benyans) to buy the merchandise with which to pay the African tribal chiefs in return for slaves and ivory.  In general, the traders did not raid for slaves themselves and tried to negotiate peacefully with the African chiefs a price both for the slaves and for the hongo (Kiswahili – the transit dues for passing through territory).  The Sultan himself owned some of the caravans. Every year, the traders penetrated ever deeper into the interior in search of slaves and ivory, and eventually they reached Eastern Congo in the west and the kingdom of Buganda in the north. (7)

For hundreds of years Arabs, Swahilis and Portuguese had concentrated on the coast of East Africa.  Now, for the first time, during the reign of Sayyid Said, the hinterland was opened to foreigners. Explorers like John Speke and Henry Stanley and the Christian missionaries could use the same routes that the Omani traders had paved, to reach their destinations on the mainland. (8)

On the other hand, it should not be forgotten that terrible damage, unimaginable suffering and severe depopulation were caused by the slave trade.

  • Development of cloves. In the agricultural field, Sultan Said developed the cultivation of cloves, for which the climate and soil of Zanzibar were suitable and which were in great demand.  This increased the income and wealth of Zanzibar.  For a long time, Zanzibar supplied about 80 percent of the world’s cloves.
  • Religious influence. The vast majority of the Omanis belonged to the Ibadiya (9)  The main interest of the Omani traders in the interior was profit and they did not try to propagate their religion among the Africans.  As long as foreigners on the mainland did not harm their commercial activities, they welcomed and helped them in their mission.  This is how they treated the European explorers and the Christian missionaries.  Sayyid Said and his successors even used to give letters of recommendation to these Europeans, in which they instructed their representatives in the trade centres to be kind to them and give them any help they needed.  Thus the missionaries could buy food and water in the Omani trade centres on their way to their destination and obtain advice on how to get there. In the archives of the London Missionary Society, this author found a manuscript written by an Anglican missionary, W. Hutley.(10) Hutley recounts that in one of the interior trade centres he was pleasantly surprised by the hospitality and willingness of the Omanis to help him.  They even admitted that they considered the Africans as “Gumu” (Kiswahili – “blockheads”) and not suitable for conversion to Islam.  It should be noted here that when, later on, in the wake of the traders, the Sunni-Swahili walimu (teachers) arrived from Comoro or the Hadramaut, the trade centres such as Tabora became the focus of Islamic diffusion.  This is why in Tanzania today, through which most of the trade routes passed, the percentage of Muslims is much higher than in Uganda or Kenya.

The death of Sultan Sayyid Said ibn Sultan in 1856 marked the end of an era.  In his time the influence of the Omani Sultanate reached its peak.  This was reflected in the Arabic proverb of the time: “When in Zanzibar people play the flute, the inhabitants of the Great Lakes dance.”

Before he died, Sayyid Said divided the Sultanate into two.  His son Sayyid Majid ibn Said became the Sultan of Zanzibar and the mainland of East Africa and his eldest son, Sayyid Thuwain ibn Said, was given the Sultanate of Oman.

The Sultanate of Zanzibar after Sayyid Said

After Sayyid’s death, ten more Sultans ruled Zanzibar and its dominions for another 107 years, until the coup of 1964. All of them were from the Busaidi dynasty (see appendix).  The following deals only with the general characteristics of this period:

  • A gradual deterioration of the Sultanate. One of the main reasons for this was the endless struggles and intrigues among the Busaidi family.  Thus, when Sayyid Majid was declared Sultan of Zanzibar, his brother Thuwain ibn Said claimed the rights to succeed his father both in Oman and Zanzibar.  In 1859, he organized a fleet of ships to invade Zanzibar and topple his brother.  It was a British squadron that intercepted and turned Thuwain’s fleet back to Oman.
  • Throughout this period (1856-1964), the British decided who would be the Busaidi successor to the throne and intervened in all the internal and external affairs of Zanzibar. For example, after the death of the fourth Sultan, Khalifa ibn Said, one of the Abusaidi family, Khalid, declared himself Sultan against the wishes of the British Representative.  When Khalid seized the palace, with hundreds of supporters, a British warship bombed the palace and dozens were killed.  Khalid himself escaped and found refuge in German East Africa and the British appointed a new Busaidi successor.  In 1890, Zanzibar and Pemba were declared a British Protectorate.
  • The deterioration of the Sultanate was also reflected in the gradual loss of its dominions. According to the Anglo-German agreement of 1886, the Sultan’s effective authority was limited to the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba and to a coastal strip ten-miles wide from the Horn of Africa in the north to the Rovuma river in the south.  Within this area the Sultan nominated the Liwalis (Governors), Mudirs (district officers) and the Kadhis (religious judges).  Most of them were Omani Arabs.  In 1895, an important treaty was signed between the British and the Sultan dealing with all the Sultanate’s possessions on the mainland and the coastal strip, exclusive of Zanzibar and Pemba.  According to the treaty, the administration of these areas would be entrusted to British officers who would have full powers of executive and judicial administration and control of public lands.  In return, Britain would pay the Sultan’s government an annual sum of money.  Another clause stipulated that the treaty “shall not affect the sovereignty of the Sultan in the above-mentioned territories” (11).

Nonetheless, eventually all the Omani Sultanate’s possessions on the mainland and coastal strip became part of Kenya when it got its independence from Britain on 12 December 1963.  The Sultan had to accept the termination of the 1895 treaty in return for monetary compensation.  Britain also promised that the religion, culture and way of life of the Sultan’s former Muslim subjects would be safeguarded. (12)

  • Another characteristic – the British continued to preserve the Omani Sultanate as a ceremonial institution without any real executive power. This policy persisted until the British left Zanzibar when it got its independence in 1964.
  • The influence of the slave-trade issue on Britain-Sultanate relations. From the beginning of the 19th century, the pressure of British public opinion on the government to abolish slavery in Zanzibar increased.  However, most of the British Representatives in the Omani Sultanate advised their government to adopt a practical rather than an ideological attitude to this issue.  They warned that, to abolish the slave trade at one swoop, might endanger the stability of the Sultanate because it would cause a conflict between the influential Omani owners of the clove plantations and the Sultan, owing to the heavy financial loss to Zanzibar.  This was because the export of slaves was one of the main sources of income for the government of Zanzibar.  Yet steps against slavery were taken gradually and, eventually, in 1897, the formal abolition of the legal status of slavery in Zanzibar and the sultan’s dominions was proclaimed without causing any political upheaval. (13)
  • The Omani Sultanate between the British and the Germans. This article does not deal with German rule in East Africa and the many rebellions against it. (14)  It will only touch upon some characteristic features of German-British relations and their impact on the Omani Sultanate.  In 1844, Carl Peters, chairman of the Society for German Colonization, arrived on the coast of East Africa.  He signed the first treaties with African tribal chiefs living on the coast opposite Zanzibar, without the permission of the Sultan.  According to these treaties, the German Society would administer the chiefs’ territories in return for some material benefits.  The Sultan protested to Germany and also to the British and American governments.  Britain, however, reacted by ordering her representative in Zanzibar to cooperate with the Germans in promoting their ambitions. (15)

It is worth noting here that, until the First World War, although there were some misunderstandings in East Africa between Britain and Germany, they both avoided military confrontation.  Britain had problems with France in connection with safeguarding her route to the Indian Ocean and she was also busy with Egyptian affairs, so she wanted to retain the friendship of Germany.

In the Anglo-German agreement of 1886, the Sultan’s dominions in the hinterland were divided into British and German spheres of influence and the Sultan was limited to a narrow coastal strip, extending ten miles inland.

In 1888, when Chief Bushiri of Pangani headed a rebellion against the Germans, a British warship helped the Germans by blockading the coast to supplies of arms reaching the rebels, until the rebellion was suppressed.  In May 1889, the German government took over from Peters’ Society the responsibility for the administration of German East Africa, that became a German protectorate.

Another important agreement was signed between Britain and Germany, at the expense of the Sultanate, in 1890. Like the 1886 agreement, it was determined by the politics of Europe.  The relations between the two countries became closer because of their mutual fear that France was trying to push them out of some of their colonies.  France was still pressing for the British evacuation of Egypt. Among the articles of the 1890 agreement, Germany recognized the British protectorate over Zanzibar and accepted the extension of the line dividing the two “spheres of influence” westwards across Lake Victoria up to the border of the Congo Free State,  including Uganda within the British possessions.  In return, Britain ceded Heligoland to Germany and used her influence with the Sultan to turn Germany’s “sphere of influence” on the mainland into a German Protectorate.

Thus, yet again the cooperation between Britain and Germany further weakened the Omani Sultanate. Although German rule contributed to economic development, their rigid and sometimes ruthless administrative system alienated the majority of the African population.  This caused many rebellions.  The most devastating and widespread was the Maji Maji rebellion (1905-1907).

German rule in East Africa came to an end after the First World War and the League of Nations gave Britain the mandate over German East Africa, that was named Tanganyika.

  • The end of the Omani Sultanate in Zanzibar. From the 1950s onward, the British accelerated the process of integrating Africans in the administration of Zanzibar.  Their number in the Legislative and Executive Councils was gradually increased.  Two main political parties were formed:  The Zanzibar National Party (ZNP) that was led by the Omani Arabs, and the Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP) led by Africans. (16)  In the general elections of 1963, on the eve of independence, the ZNP won a majority after succeeding in forming a coalition with other smaller parties.  On 10th December 1963, Zanzibar received its independence with the Sultan as Head of State.  But, one month later, in January 1964, after the British had left, the ASP staged a bloody coup with the military assistance of Tanganyika (which had received its independence from Britain on 9th December 1961). (17)  The government was overthrown and hundreds of Omanis were killed.  Many others managed to escape to Oman.  The Sultan himself escaped with the help of some British officials who still remained in Zanzibar, and was taken to England. (17)  Three months’ later, in April 1964, a union was formed between Zanzibar and Tanganyika, which was called Tanzania.

So it was that the Omani Sultanate in Zanzibar, which had lasted 124 years (1840-1964) came to an ignominious end.


The Omani Sultans in Zanzibar

  1. Sayyid Said ibn Sultan: 1840-1856
  2. Sayyid Majid ibn Said ibn Sultan: 1856-1870
  3. Sayyid Barghash ibn Said : 1870-1888
  4. Sayyid Khalifa ibn Said : 1888-1890
  5. Sayyid Ali ibn Said : 1890-1893
  6. Sayyid Hamed ibn Thuwain : 1893-1896
  7. Sayyid Hamoud ibn Mohamed :1896-1902
  8. Sayyid Ali ibn Hamoud : 1902-1911
  9. Sayyid Khalifa ibn Haroub : 1911-1960
  10. Sayyid Abdulla ibn Khalifa : 1960-1963
  11. Sayyid Jamashid ibn Abdulla ibn Khalifa :1963-1964

From Ahmed al-Maamiry’s book, Omani Sultans in Zanzibar 


  1. Zoe Marsh, East Africa Through Contemporary Records, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 1961), pp.3-6
  2. S.P.Freeman-Grenville (ed.), The East African Coast, Rex Collings (London, 1975), pp.27-32
  3. Justus Strandes, The Portuguese Period in East Africa, East African Literature Bureau (Nairobi, 1961)
  4. For Omani rule on Kilwa Island in the 9th century, see J.C.Wilkinson, “Oman and East Africa: New Light on Early Kilwan History from the Omani Sources” in the International Journal of African Historical Studies, 14, no.2 (1981), pp.272-305
  5. On Britain-Oman relations, see Kenneth Ingham, A History of East Africa, Frederick A.Praeger (New York, Washington,1967),pp.22-35
  6. For a detailed description of the Moresby Treaty, see R.Coupland, East Africa and its Invaders, The Clarendon Press (Oxford, 1938), pp.211-216
  7. For the caravan routes and the trade centres, see Arye Oded, Islam in Uganda:Islamization through a Centralized State in Pre-Colonial Africa, John Wiley & Sons (New York, Toronto and Israel Universities Press, Jerusalem, 1974), pp.24-36
  8. , pp.143-151
  9. The Ibadis, named after their founder, ibn Ibad, who lived in the 7th century A.D., are not Sunnis nor Shiites. They observe the Qur’an strictly and object to Sufi principles and customs.
  10. Hutley, Muhommedanism in Central Africa and its Influence. A report written in Urembo in August 1881, London Missionary Society Archives, File D2.4
  11. For the full text of the agreement, see A.I.Salim, Swahili-Speaking Peoples of Kenya’s Coast, East African Publishing House (Nairobi, 1973), p.247
  12. For the conflicts on the Coastal Strip between the Omani Arabs and the Swahilis, and for the groups that demanded the autonomy of the Coast within Kenya (in Swahili, Mwambao, which means the Coastal Strip), see the detailed description of Hyder Kindy, Life and politics in Mombasa, East African Publishing House (Nairobi, 1972). Kindy was a moderate Swahili leader who supported the integration of the Coast with Kenya
  13. Kenneth Ingham, A History of East Africa, Frederick A. Praeger Publishers (New York, Washington, 1967), pp.171-176
  14. Several books have been written about German rule in East Africa, among them: John Iliffe, Tanganyika under German Rule 1905-1912, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 1969)
  15. Ingham, cit.,p.136
  16. For more than half a century, scholars have been discussing the question of “Who are the Shirazis?” Here is not the place to elaborate on this. Suffice to say that an ancient Muslim tradition, put into writing in the 16th century, tells the history of Kilwa, an old city and trading centre on the East African coast.  According to this source, a Shirazi dynasty of Sultans ruled there.  Scholars think that this occurred in the 10th  Their descendants are at present scattered among Zanzibar and the coast of East Africa, and they have mixed with the local African population.  See, for example, G.S.P.Freeman-Grenville, The Medieval History of the Coast of Tanganyika (London, 1962) and H.N.C. Chittic, “The Shirazi Colonization of East Africa,” Journal of African History, VI (1965)
  17. In 1980, the author interviewed A.Finezilber in Dar-es-Salaam about the Zanzibar coup. Finezilber was a businessman who had lived in Tanganyika for a long time and ran a crab-fishing company in Zanzibar, exporting crabs to the U.S.A.  He told me that, on the eve of the coup, Tanganyika President Nyerere, with whom he had friendly relations, borrowed his large fishing boat.  Later on, he came to know that his boat joined a flotilla of vessels that carried Tanganyikan soldiers to join the coup against the Omanis.  The military involvement of Nyerere is scarcely mentioned in the sources.  Even the Omani writer, in his book on Zanzibar’s coup, only just hinted that “the coup was imported into Zanzibar from outside.”  See Ahmad al-Maamiri, Omani Sultans in Zanzibar, Lahia Composing Agency (New Delhi, 1988)















Quo Vadis* Sudan? Between the Horn of Africa and “The Arab Shaking” Fabric – Dr. Haim Koren


Quo Vadis* Sudan? Between the Horn of Africa and “The Arab Shaking” Fabric

By Haim Koren

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 7 (April 2017)

Sudan’s modern political history is characterized by a constant tension between identity seeking and the role of its boundaries – not only with its neighboring countries, at the territorial level. The search for identity has been shaping Sudan’s political history for more than a century – from the Mahdiyya period onwards – and evolved mainly in two periods of Colonialism: the Turco-Egyptian from 1821 and the Anglo-Egyptian, very intensively after the Mahdiyya (1881-1898) until the independence (1956).[1]

Ever since, many changes have been taking place on the Sudanese arena. The tribal structure integrated into a Muslim Sufi Orders system[2] characterized the society on the Northern (Arabs) and the Western (mostly non-Arabs-but rather from African origin) parts[3]. On the Southern side the tribes from African origin were (and still are) linked to Christianity.  This form of social, religious, and political base comprised the basis of Sudan as a Nation-State. In 2011, Sudan had separated and its southern part received its independence on July 9, 2011, thus, becoming the newest nation-state in the world, called South Sudan.[4]

The Mahdi – Muhammad Ahmad – symbolized a very determined Muslim leader who surpassed beyond the Sudanese politics and was perceived as one of the leaders of the Muslim world of his time.[5] From the end of the nineteenth century, the success of the Mahdi had an impact on the Sudanese identity shaping. This impact was channeled into three main slogans: The Unity of the Nile Valley, Sudan to the Sudanese, Pro British, and the constant tension between them.[6]

The socio-political arena yielded political parties which had emerged from the main Sufi Orders (‘Umma party from the Mahdiyya and Ansar party from the Khatmiyya). ‘Chief of Staff Major General Ibrahim Abud’s Coup d’état in 1958 that followed the Independence made Sudan part of the Arab League – adopting a more Pan-Arab, Pro Soviet color until the beginning of the 1970s.[7]

The Sudanese political culture from the 1960s to the 1980s was characterized by a structure which was headed by a military faction (Ibrahim ‘Abud, Ga’far Numayri, and ‘Umar al- Bashir) and which acted in a sort of coalition with “civilian parties” or a weak civilian leadership (such as the ‘Umma party led by Sadeq al-Mahdi). This political culture was based on traditional socio-economic and religious fabric of the Sufi Orders which turned into political parties. That political culture was integrated into an Islamic and Pan Arab atmosphere which strongly inspired the Northern Sudanese political culture.[8]

It is important to note that another factor affecting the Sudanese political culture was the civil war between South and North Sudan which erupted in 1955. It caused a terrible loss of life in the 1960s and 1970s. The North patronized the South and at a certain stage under Numayri wanted to enforce the Sharia’ law on the South. This ongoing domestic conflict pushed neighboring countries (Uganda, Ethiopia, etc.) to mediate between the sides during the years. Egypt, for its part, has always seen the Nile valley as its main interest and therefore Sudan had a special role on its Foreign Policy.

The significant change in the Sudanese politics from the 1970s onwards occurred due to the rise of Hasan al Turabi. His origins in the Sufi tradition didn’t prevent him from becoming one of the leading figures of the “Muslim Brotherhood” in Sudan. At the early 1960s, his main opponent in the student union was the Communist cell.  Ever since Numayri nominated him to be a Minister in his Cabinet, his political influence became crucial.[9] That was also a way to handle the growing Soviet anger against Numayri who was allied until then with the Soviet Union. Turabi’s Islamist theology had grown radical from the 1970s onwards. The Iranian Revolution (1979) and the central role of Turabi on the Sudanese politics (after establishing his own party – the National Islamic Front – NIF, that changed its name to the National Congress at the late 1990s) had a huge domestic and international impact on the Sudanese politics.[10]

The Iranian Revolution, which took place a year after the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel (1978), enabled Turabi to develop an axis with Iran and to go along with other Arab states against the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Turabi had worked behind the scenes in order to enable ‘Umar al Bashir to come to power in the Coup d’etat (1989). Ever since, the policy against the South and later on also against the West (mainly the Darfurians who were not Islamic enough according to Turabi’s viewpoint) was radicalized. At the same time the Iranians regarded Sudan as a gate to Africa in the export of their Shi’ite revolution and, therefore, supported Sudan financially. The radical Ideology brought Turabi closer to Osama bin Laden and to militant groups. Turabi well maneuvered between being supported by Shi’ite Iran on the one hand and having tight connections with Sunni radical groups on the other hand.

The then Al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, moved his base of operations from Saudi Arabia to Sudan around 1991, reportedly at the personal invitation of Al-Turabi. He stayed in Sudan until 1996, when he moved to Afghanistan. Bin Laden moved to Sudan following a conflict which broke out between him and the Saudi government over granting permission to the United States to station troops in Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War against Saddam Hussein. Bin Laden believed that he should lead the fight against Saddam using Afghan Arab forces. Al-Turabi granted bin Laden a safe place from which to conduct jihadist activities; in return, bin Laden agreed to help the Sudanese government in building roads and fighting against the animist and Christian separatists in Southern Sudan. While in Sudan, bin Laden is reported to have married one of Turabi’s nieces.

In spite of the Sunni-Shia’ split, Turabi succeeded to both preserve his relation with Iran and to strengthen his position as an important leader in the Sunni Muslim world. At the dawn of the “New world Order” that was created in the 1990s — following the collapse of the Eastern Block headed by the Soviet Union, the rise of Radical Islam, and Globalization — the Sudanese regime seemed to have found his way to adjust to the new reality. However, its political image was strongly connected to terrorism after Turabi was blamed to be responsible for the assassination attempt against the Egyptian President Mubarak in Addis Ababa in 1995. That image caused Bashir to remove Turabi from power but not to harm him due to his status in the Muslim world.

In 1997, President Bill Clinton imposed a comprehensive trade embargo against Sudan and blocked the assets of the Sudanese government, which was suspected of sponsoring international terrorism. In 1998, Bin Laden’s agents blew up the United States Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing more than 200 people. In retaliation, President Clinton ordered a cruise missile strike against a pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum.

The status of Sudan as a terror-sponsoring state, the unresolved conflict between North and South Sudan and the oilfields which were discovered and the start of the production of oil from them in the 1980s pushed the Sudanese leadership to develop a new thinking towards the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the new Millennium.

For Egypt, a weak united neighboring Sudan served its interest of controlling the Nile. It also served the Libyan interest of having the hegemony over Pan Arabism in Africa. For Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda Sudan was a constant hub of instability. For the Bush administration, the violations of human rights of the Christian-African Southerners by the Government in Khartoum went too far and had to be stopped. After a long process of peace talks between South and North Sudan, which was mediated mainly by the US, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed and realized between the years 2005-2011. At the end of the process, elections (2010) and referendum (2011) were held and brought the independence to South Sudan.

The process of the CPA evoked Dar Fur to demand its regional rights as well.[11] Bashir used his militia (Janjaweed) to attack the Darfurians. In the Genocide that followed (2003-2005), 500,000 people were killed, burned, raped and robbed. Bashir and some of his Ministers were supposed to be brought to justice at the ICC in The Hague[12].

Hence, the “Arab Shaking” could have been signified by Boazizi, who burned himself to death in Tunisia, or by the first division of an Arab nation-state in the Middle East, i.e., South Sudan in 2011. At that time, Sudan had to face the bad socio-economic situation as well as the demonstrations and the effects on the Sudanese population of the “Arab Spring” events happening in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and other Arab countries.

When Sisi was elected as President of Egypt, a new axis started to be formed in the Middle East and beyond. A coalition of Sunni-Arab states who define radical Islamic groups (Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah) as terrorist organizations vis-à-vis countries who support some of these groups, such as Qatar and Turkey. Iran is considered to be a major sponsor of terrorism and as the most dangerous state in the region. Thus, there was no more place for the Iranian-Sudanese alliance. Sudan served as an important transit station for Iranian missiles on their way to the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza and to Hezbollah in Lebanon, from which they fired on Israel.

As of 2011, the Sudanese Foreign Minister publicly declared that Sudan should not rely on Iran and rather align itself with Saudi Arabia. The motives to take this move were the waning support to Sudan and the identification of Sudan with the axis of terror, which might harm its efforts to move towards the west. At the same time, the West started to point out Sudan as an island of stability in the region. In 2016, Saudi Arabia forced some Arab Countries (including Sudan) to cut their relations with Iran -promising a better economic support to Sudan. The situation in Syria in which Iran helps Assad to slaughter his own people (together with Russia and Hezbollah) made the Saudis do what they can to strengthen the Sunni coalition (with Sudan inside). Sudan is also part of the states which fight side by side with the Saudis in Yemen (against the shi’ite Khuthis supported by Iran).

Egypt, which at first supported the removal of Bashar al Assad from power, prefers now to ally itself with Russia in order to try to preserve some stability in Syria rather than chaos (as in Libya). This Egyptian attitude created a crisis with Saudi Arabia and Sudan who supports the Saudi line in Syria. Egypt is also suspicious of Sudan because it is maneuvering with terrorist groups (Boko Haram, ISIS), who’s fighters move through Sudan to Libya while the Sudanese authorities ignore them. This suspicion grows even more since Sudan has gained a supportive attitude from West European countries as well as from the US.

Sudan is one of the poorest, most isolated and most violent countries in Africa, and for years the United States has imposed punitive measures against it in a largely unsuccessful attempt to get the Sudanese government to stop killing its own people. Yet, after nearly twenty years of hostile relations, Obama administration officials said on January 12, 2017, that the American government plans to reverse its position on Sudan and lift trade sanctions and to announce on January 13, 2017, a new Sudan strategy. For the first time since the 1990s, Sudan will be able to trade extensively with the United States, allowing it to buy goods like tractors and spare parts and attract much-needed investment to its collapsing economy.[13] US analysts said that good relations with Sudan could strengthen moderate voices within the country and give the Sudanese government incentives to refrain from the brutal tactics that have defined it for decades.

From now onwards, the politics of Sudan will be probably derived from two main components:

  1. The domestic situation which has been characterized by a lot of strikes and unrest. For example, towards the end of 2016, the doctors went on a strike and hundreds of thousands of Sudanese were striking and boycotting governmental offices. Moreover, Sudan has been suffering from economic problems and from unrest which forced President Bashir to lower the subsidy on fuel.
  2. The future developments in the middle east and beyond which will have a direct impact on alliances, global involvement on the region and a possible change of axis in the region. Sudan will be trying to build relationship with the Trump administration, preserve the relationship with European countries and be part of the Arab Sunni coalition. That policy will entail an attempt to show interest in establishing diplomatic relations with Israel and join the Arab effort in the war in Yemen. By integrating Janjaweed militia into the Rapid Support Force as part of the Sudanese Army Bashir can “legitimize” them after their role in the genocide in Dar Fur. He also incorporates them into “the Border Guards” to placate the EU.

Thus, after distancing himself from Iran and allying with the Sunni coalition in an attempt to draw closer to the West, President Umar al-Bashir is trying to prepare the ground to the idea of normalizing ties with Israel.

The discourse concerning normalizing ties with Israel made again headlines in Sudan in February 2017 after Yousif Al-Kuda, leader of the Islamic opposition party Al-Wasat, spoke about the losses Sudan has suffered over the years because of its traditional anti-Israel stance. Al-Kuda, a controversial cleric, said that “there is no religious law prohibiting us from changing our anti-Israeli stance and examining our ties with Israel.” He further said that “now, countries that maintain contact with Israel have a stronger position to demand Palestinian rights.” Al-Kuda drew a connection between the establishment of economic, commercial and diplomatic ties with Israel and stability and peace in Sudan. In an interview to the Qatari Al Jazeera, he refused to retract his words. He dubbed the critics’ reaction as “emotional” and expressed hope that his words will become an initiative that would win the hearts of all streams which are currently opposing normalization with Israel.

This is the second public statement on the subject within a year. In January 2017, the issue was raised in Sudan’s dialogue conference, which included an allusion to the Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandor, who said: “The issue of normalizing the relations with Israel is a matter that can be examined.”

By joining the coalition of Sunni Arab countries headed by Saudi Arabia, Sudan hinted at the possibility of establishing diplomatic relations with Israel. The leaks about the possibility of establishing relations with Israel may have been designed to demonstrate to the West that Sudan is serious about moving closer to the positive axis—on the other side of the ‘axis of evil”.[14]

In the meantime, after being drafted to stamp out migration from Sudan to the European Union, 6000 Janjaweed fighters have been sent to Aden to back up Emirati troops following an urgent call from the UAE crown prince, Mohamed bin Zayed al Nayan to Sudanese leader ‘Umar el Bashir.[15] This means that Sudan’s Bashir has won on two levels: the national and now the regional. The Janjaweed militia, which spread mayhem among the civilian population during the Darfur conflict between 2003 and 2013, has been entered into the regular army’s fold, the Sudan Defense Force.[16]

Alongside his extreme ideological line, Bashir is a pragmatic politician. He succeeds in preserving his rule longer than any Arab leader in the region. In spite of all his domestic and international difficulties, Bashir does not consider his opposition as a threat and he faces the challenges as they appear.

*The name of the book Quo Vadis (Henryk Sienkiewicz, 1897) is derived from classical Latin “where are you going to?”

[1]  R. O. Collins, History of Modern Sudan, Cambridge, 2008, pp. 21-32.

[2] Ali S. Karrar, The Sufi brotherhoods in the Sudan. London, 1992.

[3] R.S. O’Fahey, “Islam and Ethnicity in the Sudan”, journal of Religion in Africa, Vol. 26, No. 3 (1996), p. 259.

[4] Haim Koren, “South Sudan in the ‘Identity Thicket’ – Challenges to building a nation state”, Ifriqiya Dayan Center, Tel Aviv University (in Hebrew) March 22, 2015.

[5] Reuven  Paz, “The Ideological Development from the Mahdiyya to the Ansar” University of   Haifa  (in Hebrew) 1976. pp. 25-30.

6 G.,Warburg, Historical Discord in the Nile Valley. London  and Evanston. Northwestern  University   Press. 1992. pp.52-66.

[7] Yehudit, Ronen,  “Between the Mahdiyya and the Muslim Brotherhood: Continuity and Change in Islamic Radicalism in Sudan”, Journal of north African Studies, 2007. 12/1/pp. 1-18.

8 Haim  Koren, “the Historiography of the Sudanese society: Identity formation, Orientalism and Oral Traditions” in; Hamizrah Hehadash (The New East) The Hebrew University Magnes Press, Jerusalem. 2005.  pp. 89-98.

[9] Abdelwahab, El-Affendi, Turabi’s Revolution: Islam and Power in Sudan, London. 1991. pp. 43-56

[10]  H. Glickman and E. Rodman,. Islamism in Sudan,  MERIA, (Herzliya) 2008, pp.5-

[11]Khalid Mustafa Medani, “Strife and Secession in Sudan”, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 22, No. 3, July 2011, pp. 135-149

[12] V. Tanner& J. Tubiana, Divided they fall: The fragmentation of Darfur’s rebel groups, Small Arms Survey. Geneva, 2007

[13] (The New York Times, 13/1/17).

[14] Roi Kais, “Sudan discusses normalization with Israel” Published: Ynetnews, 02.03.17 , 18:48

[15]–power/2017/02/24/euro-mps-criticise-use-of-janjaweed-to-block-migrants,108213479-ART>), <>,





Another Take on Muslim-Christian Violence in Africa – Professor Hussein Solomon


Another Take on Muslim-Christian Violence in Africa

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 6 (April 2017)

Despite lecturing political science at the University of the Free State, I do occasionally give lectures on Islam to students in our Faculty of Theology. This prompted an earnest theology student who aims to become a priest to seek me out. The young man came to my office and apologized but he explained that I was the only Muslim he knew and he wanted to know why Muslims hated Christians so much. He referred to the horrific twin bombings of Coptic Christian Churches in Tanta and Alexandria in Egypt on Palm Sunday which left scores dead and many more seriously injured. These bombings were claimed by Islamic State and of course their brutal attempt to annihilate the proverbial other also extends to their targeting of Shia Muslims and Yazidis.

The earnest theology student wanted to know if we were witnessing the realization of Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations. If such a clash, I responded, is supposed to occur between Muslims and non-Muslims then the fact that more Muslims are being killed by Islamist terrorists undermines such a thesis. Consider, for instance, the large number of Sufi shrines desecrated by the likes of Boko Haram and Al Shabaab and the fact that their adherents have been declared as apostates and therefore worthy to be killed.

Moreover, it is northern Nigeria, not Egypt, which scored the highest in the world for the most number of Christians killed. In 2015 more than half of the 7,000 Christians killed globally were killed in northern Nigeria. In 2016, the number of Christians killed in northern Nigeria jumped by a further 62%. Do these figures constitute evidence for a clash of these two Abrahamic faiths? I do not believe so. Human Rights Watch, for instance, conducted an exhaustive survey on the victims of Boko Haram violence and Corinne Dufka, a senior researcher for the organization is of the opinion that Boko Haram is targeting and killing people in northern Nigerian based on their religion and ethnicity. Nigeria, unfortunately, has numerous mutually reinforcing identity markers: regional, linguistic, ethnic, and religious. These differences are exacerbated by local and state governments which differentially confer rights on people in a given area based on these identity markers.

Reality is infinitely more complicated than newspaper reports would suggest. The city of Jos in Plateau State in Nigeria has experienced repeated violence between Muslims and Christians. Dig beneath the surface and there is a far more complex reality. It is fundamentally a land dispute between ethnic groups who also happen to belong to different faiths. Interestingly, residents of Jos are more aware of this complexity of the conflict than many analysts. Commenting on the origins of the conflict, Mohamed Yakuba stated, “It is the Berom who cause the problem, trying to get their land back”. Another Jos resident from the opposite side, TomaDavou, also speaking on the origins of the conflict argued, “The Hausas want to push us out, and although it is about land occupation, they say it is religious so that they can get the sympathy of Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda”.

The issue of land is indeed central given creeping desertification and growing food insecurity across most of West Africa and the Sahel. Consider the following statistic in northern Nigeria: more than 1500 farmers were attacked by Hausa-Fulani herdsmen. The fact that the former were Christian and the latter Muslim is of secondary importance to the quest for land and food security.

This is why repeated initiatives at interfaith dialogue have failed across Africa. We keep misdiagnosing the problem. Peace initiatives, attempts at mediation and interfaith dialogue without also examining the context in which such religious polarization exists will not mitigate the problem. Policy makers need to embrace holistic longer-term solutions if they are to promote religious tolerance and respect for pluralism.

Dr. Sheldon Gellar


Sheldon Gellar is a political scientist and Africanist scholar who has worked in a dozen African countries as an international development consultant with USAID, the UNDP, Club du Sahel and other donors over the past forty years. He has applied his skills as political scientist, institutional analyst, and development specialist to conduct assessments in a wide range of areas, — democratic governance, corruption, civil society, decentralization, natural resource management, agricultural policy implementation and participatory development strategies.

After completing a B.A. in literature at Rutgers University, he studied two years in France where he received  the Diplome (M.A) of the Institutd’Etudes Politiques(Paris) and a Certificatd’AptitudeenDéveloppement at the Institut de Rechcrche et de FormationenVue du DéveloppementHarmonisé run by Father Louis Lebret, founder of the Economics and Humanism movement and advisor to Pope John XXIII and Paul VI on development issues . He also has a Ph. D. in Comparative Government from Columbia University.

He is the author of  Senegal: An African Nation between Islam and the West and  Democracy in Senegal: Tocquevillian Analytics in Africa and  co-editor with Aurelian Craiutu of Conversations with Tocwquerville: The Global Democratic Revolution in the Twenty-First Century and written extensively on religion, politics, development, and natural resource management and Environmental issues..

He has taught at Indiana University, Michigan State University, Hebrew  University of Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv University and has been a research  associate at  Indiana University’s Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Princeton University, and the Truman Institute in Jerusalem.

As an international consultant, he has worked primarily in predominantly Muslim Sahelian countries—e.g. Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Chad, and Guinea and served as Democracy advisor to the USAID/Senegal mission (1998-1999).

Over the past decade, he has been focusing on relations between religion, politics and violent extremism/terrorism in Sahelian African countries and refugee issues.  Since 2013, he has participated in evaluations of USAID Peace through development programs designed to counter violent extremism, analyses of drivers of violence and the risk of violent extremism in Niger and other Sahelian countries, mentoring African researchers working on these issues, and recommending a more holistic and transnational approach to dealing with these issues than currently practiced by USAID and other international aid organizations.