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Can the African Union tackle religion? – Dr. Glen Segell

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Can the African Union tackle religion?

By Glen Segell

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

The exercise and limitation of religious freedom in the African context is a problematic and controversial issue as it is in other regions worldwide. However in the African context with its tough colonial past, it can be argued that imperial religions have violated the individual conscience and the communal expressions of Africans and their communities. God, Glory and Gold were the 3 G’s of the colonial period now added by the 4th G, Globalisation.[1] Through subversion of African religions mainly by Christianity and Islam by these G’s, Africans have been robbed of essential elements of their humanity.

The African Union (AU) and its predecessors are regimes in their own right that have made attempts to tackle religion on a supra-national basis for many reasons to reinstate the humanity. On paper, at least the key normative document for the continent continues to be the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.[2] In the Charter, Article 2 has a non-discrimination clause vis-à-vis Charter rights where religion is one of a number of protected grounds. Not every state on the continent has accepted or implemented this.

Given the lack of implementation of many agreements and due to numerous desires in many areas the African Union (AU) has set out seven aspirations for the year 2063 set out in Agenda 2063 also known as “The Africa we want by 2063”. [3] It is not surprising that religion features in two of these given the above statement about the 4 G’s, imperial religions and the diversity of religions on the continent. These are Aspiration 5 and Aspiration 6.

Aspiration 5 of Agenda 2063 calls for an Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics. This is elaborated as “Pan-Africanism and the common history, destiny, identity, heritage, respect for religious diversity and consciousness of African people’s and her diaspora’s will be entrenched.”

Aspiration 6 of Agenda 2063 calls for an Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children. This is elaborated as “All the citizens of Africa will be actively involved in decision making in all aspects. Africa shall be an inclusive continent where no child, woman or man will be left behind or excluded, on the basis of gender, political affiliation, religion, ethnic affiliation, locality, age or other factors.”

To meet these goals the headings of issues that have to be addressed are endless. Many of the issues that have been identified are not unique to Africa. To be sure it could be said that Africa is a case of human nature when reading them. Nevertheless, they have been identified by the AU and therefore they are on the agenda.[4] These include:

  • The links between conflict with religion in Africa where religion is abused to justify oppression, violence and conflict
  • The role of religious and traditional practices in child marriage
  • The need to avoid stigmatizing any particular religion
  • Prejudice, intolerance and stereotyping on the basis of religion and culture
  • The prevention of genocides
  • Disadvantage based upon factors that include poverty, gender, ethnicity, culture, and religion
  • Human rights violations because of place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status
  • The need to ensure that all African citizens, irrespective of their religion, language, gender can participate in the economic, social, political development of the continent
  • Educate leaders to be responsible and not to hate noting past tragedies such as the Rwandan Genocide and in doing so to promote equality without regard to the colour of skin, background, or religion and not to exclude, on the basis of gender, political affiliation, religion, ethnic affiliation, locality, age or other factors
  • To manage diversity by respecting every race, gender, culture, religion and language, and build tolerance
  • Resolve conflicts, personal or community identity claims, that might be based upon or include religion, history, marginalization, exclusion and a host of other factors.

In addition to states who are members of the AU and their leaders – who will be their partners to implement “The Africa we want by 2063” and to address the above issues?

One answer is the African Union Interfaith Dialogue Forum, a permanent steering committee consisting of senior religious leaders and policymakers, tasked with advancing cooperation between the AU and Africa’s religious communities to reduce conflict and coordinate peace and development efforts.[5]

Another answer is leaders of religious faiths at the local level. Although neither Christianity nor Islam could be considered indigenous to Africa; there is no doubt that the African continent and its peoples, for centuries, have been home to the diversity of its indigenous religions, as well as to Christianity and Islam. The facts and figures are not precise though it could be said that 80% of all those living in Africa are either Christian or Muslim. [6]

One challenge to successful implementation of the AU intentions is the diversity of leadership that appear to lack tolerance of each other striving to be the sole faith and the singular leadership. That leaves the rhetorical question – Can the African Union tackle religion?  – or in other words – will Africa really get the “The Africa we want by 2063”!

 

Notes:

[1] Giouroukakis, V. and Connolly, M.  (ed) Getting to the Core of Literacy for History, Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects,  (Sage 2013)

[2] Evans, M. and Murray, R. (ed) African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, (Cambridge University Press 2002)

[3] Baber, G. Essays on International Law, (Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2017)

[4] To be found in reading many reports on the Africa Union website http://www.au.int

[5] Pioin, J. (ed) Africa futures: towards a sustainable emergence? (UNESCO 2015)

[6] The Encyclopaedia Britannica to be found https://www.britannica.com/ debates the various sources each of which has a preference.

An Islamic Caliphate in the Africa context – Dr. Glen Segell

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An Islamic Caliphate in the Africa context 

By Glen Segell

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 4 (March 2017)

A thesis is that regime types and leadership are important in defining an Islamic Caliphate in the Africa context in addition to the beliefs and practices of the population. Extrapolating this thesis means that Islam in Africa can be viewed in a number of ways, when considering the notion of an Islamic Caliphate. In all of these there is consensus that the definition of an Islamic Caliphate would negate the existence of the Western notion of a sovereign nation state with defined geographic borders. But what are the interim stages and definitions? One way is to start with the current situation of 54 sovereign nation states on the African continent. Each of these needs to be viewed based on certain criteria. For example the number of people who identify themselves as Muslims in any sovereign state. If there is a majority then the state can be considered a state of Muslims. If the majority of the residents are observant Muslims then it could be said that the state may exhibit Islamism. If the regime has Islamic law and practices then it could be said that it is an Islamic state. All of these could be said to be applicable ways to evaluate whether or not Islam is increasing in Africa towards the emergence of a

One way is to start with the current situation of 54 sovereign nation states on the African continent. Each of these needs to be viewed based on certain criteria. For example the number of people who identify themselves as Muslims in any sovereign state. If there is a majority then the state can be considered a state of Muslims. If the majority of the residents are observant Muslims then it could be said that the state may exhibit Islamism. If the regime has Islamic law and practices then it could be said that it is an Islamic state. All of these could be said to be applicable ways to evaluate whether or not Islam is increasing in Africa towards the emergence of a continent wide Caliphate. But this is not the only way. Also and in the manner of 20

But this is not the only way. Also and in the manner of 20th Century political science research it is possible to evaluate regime types and leadership. That is to say then in the Cold War the question was asked if the states’ leader or the states’ regime was Communist. If the answer was YES then the state was considered to be in the Eastern Soviet bloc. Little or no attempt was made to evaluate the beliefs of the mass population. Then in the Cold War it could be said that of the 50 states in Africa there were no true democracies. The vast majority of post-colonial regimes espoused authoritarian regimes. Communism and relations with the Soviet Union was popular amongst the leaders mainly because the former colonial master states were within the Western Bloc. Similarly today then the alternative approach to considering Islam in Africa is not to ask the beliefs of the citizens. Rather it is to ask how many leaders or cabinet ministers are Muslims in Africa’s 54 states.  If the answer is the majority then in political science terminology Africa is an Islamic continent and hence an Islamic Caliphate. In line with all these types of

In line with all these types of evaluations there is no doubt that Islam is gaining ground over Christianity or is being preferred to paganism as a popular belief or as a way of life. Africa in March 2017 is not an Islamic Caliphate but is not far from being one under such definitions. For example a quick straw poll shows that of Africa’s 54 sovereign states there is no doubt that 14 states north of the Sahara have a majority of Muslim residents, while south of the Sahara there are a further 8 states that have a majority of citizens who practice Islam; and in addition another 11 states in Africa have a substantial number of cabinet ministers or leaders that are Muslims.  Those that are not following the path towards Islam are few, for example South Sudan. Hence one thing is for certain, in the Africa context, and that is that Islam is increasing and that there is no apparent alternative. So an African Islamic Caliphate is an almost certainty.

However as history has shown the existence of an Islamic Caliphate doesn’t mean that it will be a vibrant and religious Islamic Caliphate. Nor does it mean that disputes will not arise as to who is the Caliph of the Caliphate. More certain is that the history of Africa shows that an Islamic Caliphate will probably not last any longer than the authoritarian or Communist regimes of the 20th Century and for the same reasons.

Dr. Glen Segell

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Dr. Glen Segell specializes in civil-military relations and strategic communications. His research interest in Islam and Muslims in Africa stems from these relating to regime types and leadership.

Dr. Glen Segell was made a Fellow Member of the Atlantic Council United Kingdom (2002), elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (2003) and Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society (2005). He was educated at King’s College, Hebrew University, and University of Witwatersrand. His PhD dissertation is on European defense industries. After undertaking anti-terrorist training he served in Sudan and Libya, also holding positions as Director of Research (IOTF) Iraq and Academic Coordinator of the Kuwait Ministry of Defence School of Languages. He has experience in the commercial sector, journalism, and the publishing sector in South Africa, Ireland, Israel, and Britain. He has worked in secondary and tertiary education, holding positions at the University of Reading (UK), The Institute for Historical Research (London), EF (Cambridge), STS (Oxford) and the Hebrew University and Bar-Ilan University in Israel. He is a former Fellow at the Institute of National Security Studies Tel Aviv and currently a Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies University of Haifa. He has been an external examiner for the University of the Orange Free State (South Africa) and Reviewer for Scientia Militaria at the South African Military Academy. He is an Executive Board Member of the Research Committee on Armed Forces and Society (IPSA) and has held elected executive positions at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the International Studies Association, the Political Studies Association (UK), and the British International Studies Association. He is the Editor of the London Security Policy Study Series, Discussion Group Moderator of JISCMAIL Military History and serves as a Member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Mediterranean and Balkan Intelligence (RIEAS – Greece) and the Editorial Advisory Board of Military and Strategic Affairs and the Journal of Cyber, Intelligence and Security (INSS). He has been an Associate Editor of the International Encyclopaedia of Public Policy (Australia) and Guest Editor of the European Legacy (Israel). He is Senior Researcher for the Ariel Research Center for Defence and Communication, Ariel University Israel, and Senior Research Associate of the Global Political Economy Research Unit Curtin University of Technology, Perth Australia. He is a member of the Author’s Licensing and Collecting Society, the International Political Studies Association, the Royal Society of Literature, the Literati Club, the London Press Club and the European-Atlantic Group. He has been a guest lecturer; gave presentations in 43 countries and organizes workshops, seminars, and conferences. He appears on TV regularly having written over 200 academic works while also writing a blog for The Times of Israel. A list of Publications and Proceedings can be found at http://www.segell.com/Publications.pdf

Hope Quickly Gives Way to Despair in Africa – Professor Hussein Solomon

 

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Hope Quickly Gives Way to Despair in Africa

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 3 (March 2017)

With the rise of Muslim-Christian conflicts on the African continent, I felt hope and optimism when I noted the “Freedom and Citizenship” conference hosted by Cairo’s Al Azhar – a venerable Sunni institution in the Islamic world. The aim of the conference was to promote peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Christians. Given the escalating tensions between Muslims and Coptic Christians in this troubled country, I could not think of a better place for such a conference. Who could forget the December 2016 bombing of a church in Egypt in which 29 innocent congregants were brutally killed?

At the conference the Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II called on all to combat “extremist thought with enlightened thought”. The head of Al Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Tayeb called for an ending of the mistrust and tensions between religious leaders. The hope I felt was quickly dissipated the very next day however when Sheikh Tayeb attacked those who advocated human rights and global peace and went on to condemn globalization as posing a threat to the “unique [read Muslim] character of different nations”. Sheikh Tayeb went on to declare that the West condones other religions’ terrorism whilst only highlighting acts of violence undertaken in the name of Islam. How, I asked myself, could a rapprochement occur between Muslim and other faith leaders when one of the bastions of Sunni Islam holds these views?

The sheikh’s statements made a mockery of Islam’s own history which contributed much to processes of globalization. As for leaders of the West condoning acts of violence committed by non-Muslims, is he unaware of the Canadian Prime Minister’s speech declaring that an attack on a mosque in Quebec was a terrorist act?

There are three other problems with Sheikh Tayeb’s statements. First, he ignores that Muslims remain the overwhelming victims of Islamist violence. This was borne out in Burkina Faso. At the very time that the sheikh made these statements, jihadists of Ansaru Islam attacked several official buildings in Baraboule and Tongomayel, killing the innocent in the process. The victims of Ansaru Islam’s violence are overwhelmingly fellow Muslims.

Second, the statement undermines the work of those Muslims seeking to promote a more peaceful Islam. In Niger, for instance, a local NGO – Action for the Renovation of Non-Formal Education (AREF) – seeks to assist Koranic schools with the development of a curricula stressing tolerance as well as incorporating vocational education. The message from one of Sunni Islam’s leading sheikhs is that tolerance is not a problem in Islam. The problem is with the West for portraying a violent Islam.

Third, the sheikh’s statement provides succour to the most conservative elements of the faith and frustrates efforts at reform.  In Sudan, for instance, a courageous female journalist, Shamael al-Nur, wrote in her column published by Al-Taryar newspaper that Sudan’s Islamic regime seems to be more focused on how Islamically women are dressed as opposed to a failing health and education sector.  She went on to note that only three percent of Sudan’s budget is allocated to health with the result that ordinary Sudanese are paying a horrible price. For her concern, Sudanese Islamists like Mohamed Ali al-Ghazouli has condemned her article as anti-Islamic and has called on the authorities in Khartoum to determine if it is a case of apostasy. Apostasy carries the death penalty in Sudan. Shamael al-Nur’s concerns regarding access to quality health care for her fellow citizens, a human rights consideration, has resulted in her being labelled as an enemy of Islam.

With leaders of the ummah like that of Tayeb and al-Ghazouli, an overwhelming despair and dread overcomes me as I contemplate the future of Islam.

Marco Arnaboldi

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Marco Arnaboldi was born in Italy in 1992. He received his BA in Arabic Language and his MA in International Relations from Milan’s Catholic University of the Sacred Heart. Throughout his learning, Marco has also been a visiting student at Universidad Pablo de Olavide, in Seville, Spain and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His academic and professional experience focuses primarily on political Islam and the contemporary history of the Middle East and North Africa.

 

Marco is currently an Affiliated Researcher at the Department of Political Studies and Governance at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa, where he studies militant salafism in the Maghreb and the Sahel, with special attention devoted to political stability in the region.

 

During the past two years Marco gained analytical and research experience writing and working for a number of think tanks, geopolitics journals and security consultancies in Italy and abroad. His work has been published or quoted by, among others, the Atlantic Council, the Italian Institute for International Political Studies, Oasis International Foundation, Reuters, Il Corriere della Sera, and Treccani.

 

Within the framework of RIMA, Marco is a Research Fellow dealing with insurgencies and political violence in North Africa.

Morocco Rejoins the African Union (AU) – Professor Hussein Solomon

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Morocco Rejoins the African Union (AU) 

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 2 (February 2017)

It was in 1984 when Morocco chose to turn its back on the Organization of African Unity, the AU’s predecessor, when it chose to recognize the independence of the Sawhrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) – or what Morocco refers to its `southern provinces’. This conflict has its roots in 1975-1976 when Morocco annexed two-thirds of the Western Sahara following Spain’s withdrawal from the territory.

It is fair to say that the Western Sahara question has long remained as a festering sore within the OAU/ AU – with Algeria and the Southern African bloc strongly supporting its independence under the Polisario Front whilst other African countries were in favour of accepting the de facto status quo – seeing the territory as part of Morocco. Still others like Egypt opted to be neutral – seeking to offend neither Algeria nor Morocco. This was reflected in last month’s vote within the AU following Morocco’s request to rejoin the AU. 39 states voted for Morocco’s re-admission whilst 9 opposed it. Morocco’s return to the AU was nothing less than momentous after a 33-year absence and holds great benefit to the continent as a whole if managed correctly.

So how did Rabat’s return to the fold come about? Having left the continental body in 1984, Morocco believed it could offset its loss by strengthening ties with the West, the Arab world and the countries in the Mediterranean Basin. However, in a globalizing world where insecurity anywhere threats security everywhere, the Kingdom soon found that problems like terrorism in North-West Africa needed regional responses. This was not possible where Rabat was the only state on the continent outside the AU. The same could be said about economic cooperation. With the rise of the African middle class and consequent rise in purchasing power, it was foolhardy for Morocco to shut itself off from lucrative markets. On the issue of the Western Sahara, it made no sense to be outside the AU, thereby preventing Rabat’s voice to be heard on an issue of such strategic importance to itself.

Morocco’s re-admission into the AU however also reflects a realization on the part of the continental body that its approach was fundamentally unworkable, and hurt the people of the Western Sahara the most – many of whom live as refugees in deplorable conditions. Nor does diplomatic recognition of the SADR translate into an alternative reality – one where Morocco does not control large swathes of the Western Sahara. To put if differently, a permanent solution to the Western Sahara needs dialogue withRabat.

Interestingly this fact is something which is recognized by Minister Mohamed Beiset, a Polario leader and member of the Sahrawi delegation to the AU who declared that, “… it was better to have Morocco inside the house, inside the family, and to try to reach African solutions to African problems”. Minister Beiset went on to congratulate Rabat for joining the AU and expressed the hope for genuine dialogue and a peaceful solution to the Western Sahara question. Other African leaders should adopt the pragmatism exhibited by the Sahrawis. One possible middle solution could well be genuine autonomy being offered to the Sahrawis as opposed to the autonomy option of previous years which was an exercise to co-opt political elites by Rabat. How this dialogue and peace process is managed by the AU is therefore crucial. The fact that the AU has a new Commission Chairman, Chad’s Foreign Minister – Moussa FakiMahamat – bodes well since he enters the post without the baggage of his predecessor.

It is clear that the AU stands to benefit from Morocco’s return to the fold. Its north African sub-regional economic and security structure was dysfunctional from birth with the absence of Morocco. The addition of Rabat may lend it a new lease of life. More broadly, Morocco’s relative wealth and it integration into European economies may also serve as a catalyst for economic growth in its region. Politically, too Morocco can play a pivotal leadership role in the North African region given the instability besetting so many of its neighbours. From a security perspective, and given the rise of radical Islam on the continent, it is important to recognize that in some West African countries, Moroccan King Mohammed VI, is viewed as a caliph. The fact that he has been promoting a moderate Islam provides a counter narrative to that of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb as well as Islamic State and its regional offshoots.

Implications of the Muslim-Christian Education Gap in Africa – Professor Hussein Solomon

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Implications of the Muslim-Christian Education Gap in Africa

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 1 (January 2017)

A recent study by the Pew Research Centre has revealed that there exists a considerable Muslim-Christian education gap in sub-Saharan Africa. Whilst Christians average six years of formal schooling, for Muslims the figure is fewer than three years[i]. Much of the reason for this gap lay in the colonial past on the part of the both the colonial authorities and Muslim communities. Western-style educational schooling in Africa was introduced by Christian missionaries. Colonial authorities were loath to allow these missionary schools to operate in Muslim-dominated areas in an effort to avoid religious conflict[ii]. In other cases Muslim parents fearing discrimination of and conversion to Christianity of their children prevented them from attending such schools. As David Bone[iii] writes, “It was the practice of some mission schools to educate only pupils of their own denomination, thus excluding professing Muslims. Even where Muslims were admitted, parents feared, with some justification, they would lose their children to Christianity and discouraged them from attending”.

Following independence, this education gap between Muslims and Christians has widened in various countries as the Pew Research Centre has underlined. A significant reason for this is the establishment of Muslim schools with Gulf funding where the Islamist message is propagated. Typically in such schools, the emphasis is on religious education and the Arabic language as opposed to secular subjects like mathematics and science[iv]. In the process, students from these religious schools were destined to fare badly in the world of employment opportunities. This, in turn, negatively impacted on their socio-economic status. Consider the following: Whilst 27 percent of the population in Nigeria’s Christian south live in poverty, the figure for the Muslim north is a staggering 72 percent[v]. In similar vein, whilst the poverty rate in Mali is 64 percent, the figure for the Muslim north is much higher than the largely Christian south. Timbuktu has a poverty rate of 77 percent. For Gao the figure is 78.7 percent and for Kidal is it a staggering 92 percent[vi]. Whilst the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita is US $10,000, the figure for Muslim Somalia is a pitiful US $100[vii].

Should we then be surprised that all these countries are experiencing terrorism as frustrated unemployed young people join radical organizations? It is not a co-incidence that the poorest regions on the continent are most afflicted by terrorism.

Whilst the international community is assisting Africa in its fight against domestic and international terrorism, the reality is that much of this assistance is taking a military form. Whilst African states do need this assistance, the reality is that much more resources needs to be placed in providing good education to arm the next generation with the necessary skills where they can find good jobs in the future knowledge economy. This is all the more pressing given the youthful demographic bulge that Africa experiences.

On the more positive side, a recent study demonstrated that the choice of school is increasingly determined by distance from home and cost as opposed to religion. In Nigeria, for instance, only 4.2 percent of Nigerians listed religion as one of the considerations in school choice[viii]. The international community’s concern about radicalization and recruitment into terrorist groups is legitimate. However, the terrorist threat posed will not be defeated by military might alone. International actors must take heed of this education gap and start investing in quality, affordable secular education in Africa.

[i]The Muslims-Christian Education Gap, Nigeria Today. 16 January 2017. Internet: http://www/nigeriatoday.ng/2017/01/the-muslim-christian-education-gap. Date accessed: 26 January 2017.

[ii]Ibid.

[iii]David Bone, Islam in Malawi, Journal of Religion in Africa. 1982. Vol 12(2), p. 136.

[iv]Hussein Solomon, Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism: Fighting Insurgency from Al Shabaab, Ansar Dine and Boko Haram. 2015.London: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 31.

[v]Ibid., p. 99.

[vi]Ibid., p. 68.

[vii]Hussein Solomon, Critical Terrorism Studies and Its Implications for Africa, Politikon. 2015. Vol. 42(2), p. 225.

[viii]Melina PlatasIzama,Muslim Education in Africa: Trends and Attitudes Toward Faith-Based Schools, The Review of Faith and International Affairs. 2014. Vol. 12(2), p. 46.