I was questioned by curious international media: Why would Saudi Arabia care so much about Africa to sponsor the peace agreement signed in Jeddah on Sunday, between the Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, under the patronage of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and in the presence of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman?
What are the benefits, if any, for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to engage in conflict resolution that should have been taken up by African nations, African Union or the UN? Are there hidden agendas, political gains or economic interests newly found in the Horn of Africa? Does the matter relate to the Yemeni conflict? Or is it a new political and economic strategy to compete with China and the West in the long-neglected, Black Africa?
Those are valid questions, if somewhat, sometimes, a bit cynical! The relations between the Arabs and Africans have been strong and vibrant for thousand of years. Islam has made them stronger and deeper. Arabs and Muslims cannot afford to lose Africa. It is part of our world — geographically, historically, socially and culturally. Realizing the importance, King Faisal Bin Abdulaziz toured Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. His visits to the likes of Mali and Uganda, turned these countries away from Israel, to join the Islamic organizations.
Saudi Arabia has hosted numerous African leaders since then, and our bilateral relations have become stronger. Recently, our Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir has visited a number of sub-Saharan African nations, such as Guinea, Benin, Tanzania, Kenya, Mauritania, South Africa, the Comoros, and Burkina Faso, Eritrea and Ethiopia. Not to mention the Northern African countries, from Egypt and Sudan to Maghreb nations — Tunisia, Algiers and Morocco. He also joined The African Union Peace and Security Council Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last year, as Saudi Arabia became an observer member.
King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman have received a record number of African leaders in recent years. More are expected to visit soon, including leaders of countries, such as Somalia and Djibouti, looking for ways to amend their internal and external relations, and to stabilize their political and economic environment.
During past visits, many cooperative agreements were signed that would enhance economic, political, environmental and military cooperation. Many African nations are now part of the Islamic Coalition against Terrorism.
The Horn of Africa, today, is solidly standing with the Arab Coalition against terrorism and Iranian intervention. Djibouti is hosting a Saudi military base. Sudan has realized the evil Iranian schemes to destabilize it, closed the so-called Imam Khomeini Cultural Centers, denounced Iranian intervention in Arab affairs, and joined the Arab Coalition and Islamic Alliance. Eritrea withdrew access privileges to Iranian warships. Ethiopia welcomed billions of dollars worth of Saudi and Emirati investments. Somalia cut diplomatic ties with Iran and eliminated Iranian presence and influence.
As a result of Saudi diplomatic efforts, the Red-Sea and Horn of Africa, today, are largely cleansed of Iranian influence and presence. The peace agreement between the largest countries in that area, Ethiopia and Eritrea, would certainly help fill the security vacuum that allowed the likes of Al-Qaeda, Daesh (so-called IS) and Hezbollah, to infiltrate, expand and operate. These terrorist organizations had managed in recent years to bridge the Red Sea to Yemen for terrorist, arms and human trafficking. They used our southern neighbors as a launching pad to attack and infiltrate Gulf States (except terrorist sponsors, Iran and Qatar)!
This, in part, explains the significance of the Saudi and Emirati achievement. Their active diplomacy, in cooperation with the United Nations and the African Union, has achieved a lasting peace agreement that eluded the world for two decades — ever since the Eritrean independence war of 1991-1912. A war that was renewed in 2000-2002, killed 80.000 people, injured and displaced hundreds of thousands, and cost the impoverished nations $6 billion, not to mention the lost economic and development opportunities to 110 million inhabitants.
The signed agreement will open doors wide for cooperation between the two countries and with neighbors and Gulf States to fight terrorism, secure the Red Sea and its international waterways, and encourage badly-needed investments from the Gulf and internationally. Such a consensus would inspire neighbors like Somalia and Djibouti to resolve their internal and external issues too.
I believe it is high time to institutionalize our Arab and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) relationships with Africa. We need cooperative bodies, similar to the Summit of South American-Arab Countries, and the GCC-EU Joint Council. We could also establish Saudi-African Council to regulate bilateral relations, on group and/or single basis.
Hopefully, the anticipated Arab-African summit to be held in Saudi Arabia soon will realize these aspirations and establish a brighter future for us all.