Towards a Global Congress of World Religions 1979 - Edited by Warren Lewis

Towards A New International Religious Order an African Perspective -- Dr. Ali Mazrui

Kwame Nkrumah once described the African conscience in terms of three strands of moral thought. There was first the traditional heritage of Africa indigenously drawn: there was secondly the impact of Islam: there was thirdly what Nkrumah called 'EuTo-Christian influences.' Faced with these three strands of moral thought, contemporary Africa had to find not only a compromise among them, but a synthesis of all three. In the words of Nkrumah:

"Our society is not the old society but a new society enlarged by Islamic and Euro-Christian influences. A new ideology is therefore required, an ideology which can solidify in a philosophical statement, but at the same time an ideology which will not abandon the original human principles of Africa. Such a philosophical statement will be born out of the crisis of the African conscience confronted with the three strands of present African society. Such a philosophical statement I propose to name philosophical consciencism, for it will give the theoretical basis for an ideology whose aims shall be to contain the African experience of Islamic and Euro-Christian presence as well as the experience of traditional African society, and, by gestation, employ them for the harmonious growth and development of that society1."

But until one day when such a cultural synthesis takes place, the relations between Islam and Christianity are likely to remain basically competitive. The rivalry is partly a continuation of their past history, and partly a logical consequence of the fact that both religions are ambitious enough to want to convert the whole world to their own view of ultimate reality.

Let us first look at the historical background of this interaction between Islam and Christianity before we examine the implications of that interaction for Africa's relations with the Arab world in the present age.

For much of Africa, Christianity is a relatively recent phenomenon. Black Americans, for example, have been Christians for much longer than have the bulk of the African peoples. But there is one major African exception. That is Ethiopia. Ethiopia has been Christian since approximately the fourth century A.D.

Islam came to North Africa in the seventh century, in the first wave of Arab expansion. Egypt at that time was Christian, and was part of the empire of Byzantium. The Arabs captured Egypt and, after many centuries, passed on not only their religion to the Egyptians, but also their language and even the sense of being Arab. The Egyptians began to feel themselves and to see themselves as Arabs. Today there are many more Arabs in Africa than outside Africa. The bulk of the Arab world is now within the African continent.

North Africa on the whole became substantially Islamized and Arabized from the seventh century onward. A substantial part of West Africa also became Islamized but not Arabized. Islam in East Africa spread more slowly.

The Muslim world as a whole passed through a period of glorious eclecticism, receiving from different sources a variety of different stimuli. The Arabs translated from the Greeks important areas of the scholarship of the period. The Arabs assimilated from the Persians their arts and architecture. They borrowed from the Indians in mathematics and were also influenced by them linguistically. They absorbed from the ancient Egyptians astronomy. And they combined them all to innovate in important areas of scholarship and science. Astronomy, mathematics, the nautical sciences reached new levels under the Islamic impact. The invention of the zero and the beginnings of the metric system were witnessed in this period. The words that are borrowed from Arabic today in the English language include algebra, average, amalgam, atlas, cipher, chemistry, zenith, tariff, and a variety of other words signifying an earlier Islamic impact on the history of science.

West Africa experienced quite early some penetration from North Africa and from the Iberian Peninsula. The University of Timbuktu in West Africa became well known in the rest of the Muslim world as a serious center of scientific study and a place where different branches of scholarship were discussed and analyzed. In the words of one Senegalese historian Cheik Anta Diop:

"Aristotle was commented upon regularly in Timbuktu and the trivium and quadrivium were known, as one does not go without the other. Almost all scholars were experienced in Aristotelian dialectics and the commentaries of former logic2."

The West Africans built hostels of their own in other Islamic centers of learning and sent people there. In return they also received students from those areas. In East Africa there was the growth of Swahili civilization which again constituted a meeting point between Islam and African culture.

Later on, science in Islam began to decline. There were a variety of reasons for that. Among them was political factionalism in the Islamic world and the destruction of the kind of motivation which had led to the initial thrust towards experimentation and scholarship.

Then there was the growth of greater orthodoxy and conservatism. As an aspect of this orthodoxy there was the tendency to argue from authority to cite one's authority and quote from major scholars of the past as if they were undisputed sources of knowledge. This trend discouraged innovation, reduced dissent, and sanctified what had been arrived at previously as the last word on a given subject. This was fatal for science since it reduced the impetus for new research and numbed the imperative of verification.

The triumph of the Ottoman Empire and the decline of the Arabs led to a partial specialization in the arts of war and of military endeavor. This also discouraged the wider areas of science. By concentrating on military science the Ottomans stagnated in that science as well. With Islam it was science rather than technology that accompanied its moment of glory.

In the case of Christianity, on the other hand, it was applied science, technology, that became a major factor behind the expansion of Christian civilization.

Christianity did not rise with pure science. On the contrary, the rise of science led to the decline of Christianity in Europe. But the rise of European technology led to the expansion of Christianity abroad. Why did the rise of science lead to the decline of Christianity at home? The Renaissance and the Enlightenment in Europe led (0 new forms of skepticism, certain areas of secularism. The hold of the churches on opinions within Western Europe began to loosen. On the other hand, the rise of European technology of applied science strengthened Europe's own capability and its capacity to conquer others. Europe's industrial revolution resulted in the partial Europeanization of the rest of the world.

The technology of Europe led to the colonization of Africa, and of parts of Asia. With the colonization of Africa came the partial Christianization of the Black races. In fact, today Christianity is an Afro-Western religion in a very fundamental sense. Almost all Christian nations are either Western nations or African nations. Asia is full of millions of Christian individuals, but it does not have Christian nations except perhaps in the Philippines. Most Asian countries have Christians as minorities. But within Africa there are countries with Christians in effective control or on their way towards becoming the majority of the population. In that sense you might describe Christianity as an Afro-Western religion.

Islam is an Afro-Asian religion. Almost all Islamic nations are either African or Asian. There are some Muslims in Europe, especially Eastern Europe, including places like Yugoslavia and parts of the Soviet Union. But on balance, Islamic nations are nations of either the African continent or the Asian continent, whereas Christian nations are nations of either the Western world or the African continent.

What the two religions have in common geographically is perhaps the African continent itself, where Muslim nations and Christian nations operate in joint institutions of collaboration and where considerable missionary work and proselytization continues to be undertaken on a scale greater than almost anywhere else in the world.

European technology had other consequences, too, including its effect on the slave trade. European technology, when it was more modest, encouraged the slave trade. Europeans raided Africa for human beings and exported them by the millions. But when European technology became more sophisticated, that technology itself was in opposition to slavery. By the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, European capitalist technology was becoming hostile to slavery as a mode of production. The major nations in favor of abolition were precisely the most industrially developed and most capitalistic. Britain's leadership in the abolition first of the slave trade and later of slavery itself was undertaken at a time when British technology was the most sophisticated of its kind. British capitalism had attained new levels of sophistication. Capitalist production had first started as hospitable and congenial to slavery. It later became hostile to slavery.

Similarly in the United States it was the northern states of greater industrialism and more sophisticated capitalism which developed abolitionist tendencies in their ideologies while the south, which in some ways was almost pre-capitalist, continued to be attached to the notion of slave labor.

In the case of the Arabs in Eastern Africa, they engaged in slave trade on a smaller scale partly because they did not have huge fertile areas in the Arabian Peninsula for plantation. Arab technology was for a while backward enough to be still congenial to slavery. It was thus possible for the European imperial powers to move towards suppressing the Arab slave trade in Eastern Africa, and then use that as the moral legitimization for their own colonization of East Africa.

Islam, meanwhile, was declining. The prestige of Christianity rose higher because of the triumphs of Europe. The missionaries came to the Afro-Asian world and certainly to Africa. They established new arenas of conversion, consolidated new centers of the Christian faith and started major extension of the concept of Christendom itself. Islam under the Ottoman Empire continued to go further and further down in prestige and influence. The Ottoman Empire as the sick man of Europe stumbled into the twentieth century. The Ottomans were finally defeated after World War I, and Islam went into even further decline.

For a while after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire the leadership of the Muslim world was uncertain. There did not seem to be any caliph or any globally recognized imam. Was Muslim leadership going to return to the Arabs after centuries of Turkish initiative?

Some of the Arab royal houses-especially the Hashemites -- made a strong bid for a re-Arabization of Islamic leadership. But they themselves were still strongly under Western influence. Islam seemed to have become a creed of dependency, a community still under the shadow of Christian power.

The Rise of Oil Power

But a new question has now arisen. To be leader of the Muslim world is one issue; to be leader of the whole of the Third World is quite another. Would oil power not only re-Arabize Islam but give the Arabs leadership in the Third World as a whole? There was a time when leadership of the Third World was in fact held by India. India under Jawaharlal Nehru virtually invented the concept of non-alignment. Nehru managed to arouse enthusiasm for the concept among some of the other Asian countries, among the Arabs and then among the newly liberated African states. For a while the Third World as a whole was under the active intellectual leadership of Pandit Nehru.

Nehru died in 1964. India by that time was already in diplomatic decline. One big question which arose was who was going to lead the Third World next.

The People's Republic of China-though on its way towards becoming a super-power-is still widely accepted as a partner in Third World struggles. Was China going to capture the leadership of the developing world as a whole? Her credentials were strong. She was still excluded from the United Nations, but she was already active in global politics.

For a while it seemed almost logical that the mantle of Third World leadership should pass from India to China. After all, these two were the largest countries on earth-and they were both committed to the anti-imperialist struggle.

Until 1970 the Arabs did have Nasser-but he had been defeated even more decisively by Israel in 1967 than India had been defeated by China in 1962. The credentials of the Arabs for Third World leadership seemed rather modest by comparison with China's credentials.

Suddenly things began to change from 1973 onwards. If China thought that power resided in the barrel of a gun, the Arabs discovered that power could also reside in a barrel of oil. The application of the Arab oil boycott against the United States in the course of the Middle East October War revealed new potentialities of political leverage.

Since 1973 there has been emerging an Arab leadership within the Third World. Major diplomatic initiatives since that year on a wide range of issues relevant to the Third World have in fact originated from the Arabs. Countries of the Third World are producers of raw materials and other primary commodities. The whole struggle for a new international economic order has to some extent been led by the Arabs. Third World causes are being championed by some Arab countries and are being pushed by them into main arenas of international discourse. Algeria virtually initiated the raw materials debate at the United Nations in 1974. This was followed by the Special Session of the General Assembly in 1975. We are witnessing the beginning of serious consideration of the issue of restructuring the world economy. The diplomatic triumph of the Palestinian cause, as symbolized by the arrival of Yasser Arafat (leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization) in the U.N. General Assembly in 1974, was again the result of substantial effort by the Arab world to give this particular movement the kind of global legitimacy which had eluded it since the 1940s. The chairmanship of Algeria in the General Assembly in 1974 was a factor behind that particular triumph of the Palestinian cause.

As a quid pro quo within the same session of the General Assembly there was, to the fury of much of the Western world, the suspension of South Africa from that particular session of the U.N. General Assembly. With the United States reacting with cries of the "tyranny of the majority" in the General Assembly, there was, in the very complaint the beginning of the genuine independence of the United Nations. For much of its life the world body had been substantially under the United States and was often an extension of the United States' diplomatic leverage.

After 1973, evidence of increasing autonomy of the General Assembly under Afro-Asian initiative, instigated usually by Arab states created a picture of genuine independence for the world body. Then there was a debate in December 1973 about a Charter of Economic Rights and Obligations. The Charter was discussed in the General Assembly in December 1974 and adopted. Certain aspects of the Charter virtually asserted that nationalization without compensation was legitimate in certain circumstances. Again the Western world was horrified by this assertion and by this whole militant trend within the United Nations.

Then there has been the controversy about linking energy to raw materials in a conference on the world economy. The United States wanted the conference to be purely between the oil producers and oil consumers. It was substantially an Arab initiative that the idea of linking energy to other products of the Third World became a major stumbling block at the first preparatory meeting early in 1975 in Paris. At that time it was impossible to arrive at an acceptable agenda for the international meeting because the Western powers remained adamant in wanting international discussion to take into account other Third World needs. What we have been witnessing is a relatively radicalized and sensitized Arab world on major issues of relevance to the Third World as a whole. For the time being, leadership is still exercised by the Arab world for the Third World as a whole.

It is unlikely that Arab leadership of the Third World will be permanent, but for the time being it is there and that might itself be one of the most significant events of the century.

The Palestine question has had a lot to do with the Arab desire to identify with the rest of the Third World. It is possible that this Arab concern for political allies on the specific dispute over Israel had the effect of substantially broadening the political horizons of the Arab world. Once a people need political allies they gradually begin to identify with areas that might otherwise have been regarded as irrelevant to them. So in fact the Palestine question, as a background factor in the history of the Middle East, has been:

(a) part of the process of radicalizing even the conservative regimes in the Arab world;

(b) part of the process of internationalizing the horizons of Arab leaders as they have sought to mobilize international and global support on the Middle Eastern issue.

OPEC as A Muslim Organization

Linked to all these developments is the link between the political resurrection of Islam and the rise of the Arab world. Underlying the rise of the Arab world is the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its entry into the mainstream of economic diplomacy.

OPEC in composition is an overwhelmingly Muslim institution. The largest oil exporting country, as we know, is Saudi Arabia, the custodian of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, and one of the most fundamentalist of the Muslim countries on the world scene today. The second largest oil exporting country is Iran, another major Muslim country, perhaps with potentialities for considerable expansion as an influential power in world politics. If you regard Indonesia as the most populous Muslim country after the collapse of old Pakistan, then Indonesia as a member of OPEC is also part of the Islamic composition of OPEC.

Fourthly, there are the Gulf States. Most of them are very small, but precisely because they are small and have enormous financial resources, they have surpluses capable of being mobilized for political and economic projects in different parts of the world.

The Black African members of OPEC at the moment are Nigeria and Gabon. In the case of Gabon we have as leader a convert to Islam (President Omar Bongo). In the case of Nigeria we have an African country which best encompasses within itself the three parts of the soul of Africa-the indigenous the Euro-Christian and the Islamic. All three forces are strong in Nigeria. What is more, the Islamic factor has been growing in national influence since independence.

If you look at OPEC as a whole you can say that it is at least two-thirds ··Islamic." Thus the emergence of OPEC and petroleum on the world scene signify the beginning of the political resurrection of Islam.

A related issue is the nature of the regimes that are in power in those resource-rich Muslim countries. It just so happens that the country with the largest known reserves, Saudi Arabia, is also the most Islamic in tradition. And it also so happens that Iran has a post-monarchical system in a conservative Irani-Islamic context. On the Arabian (Persian) Gulf there are also traditionalist rulers. There is a tendency to regard this as a cost in the equation. But it is possible to examine it as a benefit in global terms. The influence within OPEC does not lie merely in westernized or relatively secular Muslim countries like Algeria. It lies even more among countries whose Islam has been less diluted by westernism.

From the point of view of the Muslim world as a whole there is now a dialectic between the under populated but very rich and Islamically traditionalist countries on one side and more populous, more secular and less endowed Muslim countries on the other. A dialectic between resource-poor populations on one side and resource-rich traditionalists on the other could change the balance between the forces of secularism and the forces of traditionalism in the years ahead.

The Palestinian question in this domain again has been a catalyst of radicalization. The idea of Saudi Arabia applying the oil weapon against the United States would have been inconceivable without an issue like Palestine and Jerusalem. So again a traditionalist country, very highly pro-western, could, under the stress of war and of anxiety over the future of the Palestinian question, be prepared to invoke a political weapon which would not have been readily invoked by such a regime in other circumstances. Palestine is part of the petro-jihad.

In looking at the political resurrection of Islam one must therefore once again add the Palestinian factor as part of the totality of the picture.

It happens that Israel was created in the nick of time. After another ten years, it would have been virtually impossible to create such a state. At the time Israel was created. where was the Third World on the world scene? Mainly under colonialism, Pakistan, India and Burma were just emerging into formal independence: China was just about to experience a communist revolution; Africa, except for one or two countries, was still under colonial rule, and most of the Arab world was under regimes which were still neo-colonialist in orientation. Decisions were being taken in a world body in New York which was far less representative than it became in the 1960s.

Now imagine a vote to create Israel taken in 1957, the year of Ghana's independence or in 1960 when seventeen new African states became members of the United Nations. Clearly the pattern of voting by 1960 would have been drastically different than it was in 1947.

Secondly, by 1960 the Soviet Union's original inclination to vote for the creation of Israel would have been changed by the entry of the new participants drawn from the Third World in world politics. By the sixties it would have been impossible for the Soviet Union to support the creation of Israel at the expense of Palestinians. By the 1970s it would have been impossible even for the United States to support the creation of Israel, as distinct from its protection, at the expense of the Arabs.

Israel managed to be created just in time-in the 1940s soon after the war, with all the atmosphere of that war still lingering, with all the memories of Hitler and the martyrdom of the Jews under him, and in a situation where the Third World was not a factor in the grand design of global policy making.

Now that Israel exists we have to calculate what that means for the world in the remaining quarter of this century.

It seems to me that there are positive elements in the problem of Palestine from a Third World perspective. The problem has indeed helped to create greater internationalism among the Arabs. One question which now arises is whether. if the Palestine problem were solved tomorrow, the Arabs would become more isolationist. Would there be an Arab retreat, a lack of interest in what happens in Africa or what happens in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Latin America? One scenario before us is therefore, the self-isolation of the Arab world if the Palestine question is solved and peace is restored in the Middle East.

Another scenario is "northernization" of the Arab world: that is to say the Arab world increasingly regarding itself as part of the southern under-developed hemisphere of the world. Again the question before us is whether the solution of the Middle East problem would lead in one of these two directions. Would the Arab world become more isolationist or more northern-oriented in its preoccupations?

Well, we do not know. We do know that for the time being the fate of Palestine is a factor behind Arab interest in, say, Africa. It is conceivable that without the Middle Eastern crises many Arab countries, not all of them by any means, would have no interest at all in Africa south of the Sahara. Once again the issue of needing allies on major issues of this type leads to Third World solidarity.

As for the future of the Muslim world, there is the apparent Arab rapprochement with Iran which may or may not be significant. It depends upon whether it is lasting or temporary. The solution of the Kurdish question is only one factor. But if it is a lasting one, then the reconciliation between the Arabs and Iran could be one of the most significant developments for the future of Islam in the remaining quarter of this century. The post-Shah regime could strengthen the petro-jihad.

The reconciliation between Bangladesh and Pakistan could also be very significant for the entire Indian sub-continent and therefore for the future of the Third World as a whole.

Thirdly, are we witnessing the reassertion of Turkey after a period of almost total absorption in the Western world? Is there a new form of Ottoman resurgence that might take place? Will the Turks go non-aligned? Is the partial retreat from NATO just tactical or are we witnessing a more fundamental process? If we are witnessing the resurgence of Turkey in the direction of non-alignment, then we are witnessing the reintegration of Turkey into the Third World and its revival as a significant factor in the Muslim World as a whole.

As for Africa's own resurrection, new possibilities arise. Africa's most natural allies consist of the Black Diaspora and the Arab world. Some Arabs are within Africa. So is the bulk of Arab land. Black and Arab states share the Organization of African Unity. This organization and the Arab League have overlapping membership. There are possibilities of exploiting this relationship to the mutual advantage of both peoples.

The Arab oil-producers have already started the strategy of economic counter-penetration into the West. It ranges from buying real estate in England to controlling a bank in the United States from acquiring a considerable share in the Benz complex in West Germany to the possibility of extending a loan to Italy. The whole strategy of recycling petrodollars is pregnant with the possibilities of economic counter-penetration into the West.

As a result the West is at once eager for the petrodollars and anxious about their long-term consequences for Western economic independence.

The Arab oil-producers are already entering the business of commercial multinationals. One important multinational in Africa is Lomho. Kuwait has entered it vigorously. There is indeed a risk that the oil-producers might start playing a sub-imperial role in Africa.

But alongside that risk is an opportunity for a new Third World alliance to counter-penetrate the West. Once again economic power and cultural influence might be linked. As we indicated, the Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries is heavily Muslim in composition. It includes the largest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia. The largest oil-exporting country is Saudi Arabia, which also happens to be the custodian of the spiritual capital of Islam, Mecca. The second largest oil-exporter is Iran, an increasingly influential Muslim country in world affairs. Two thirds of the membership of OPEC is Muslim-and that portion constitutes also more than two thirds of OPEC's oil reserves.

We have also pointed out that Nigeria, another member of OPEC, symbolizes the three parts of the soul of modern Africa -- the Euro-Christian, the Islamic and the indigenous religious traditions. All three are vigorous and strong in Nigeria-and Islam is already the strongest single rival to westernism there.

The rise of OPEC in world affairs-however transient -may herald the political resurrection of Islam. Before the end of this century, African Muslims will probably outnumber the Arabs and will be making a strong bid for a shared leadership of Islam. It would not be surprising if, within the next decade. black Muslims direct from Africa are seen establishing schools and hospitals in Harlem and preaching Islam to black Americans. The funding for this Islamic counter-penetration will probably come from the oil producers of the Arab world. But since African Islam is distinctive from Arab Islam, and carries considerable indigenous culture within it, Islamic counter-penetration into the United States would also be, in part, a process of transmitting African indigenous perspectives as well. Islam, Africanity and Western civilization may thus find new areas of interaction.

But at least as important as Arab money for African cultural entry into the West is the sheer potential of the black American population. It is the second largest black nation in the world (second only to Nigeria) and it is situated in the middle of the richest and mightiest country in the twentieth century. At the moment black American influence on America's cultural and intellectual life is much more modest than. Say, the influence of Jewish America. But as the poverty of black Americans lessens, its social and political horizons widen and its intellectual and creative core expands black American influence on American culture is bound to rise again. And the links between Africa, the Arab world and the Black Diaspora may in turn find new areas of creative convergence.

Is Euro-Christianity Under Siege?

But meanwhile Christianity, especially in Africa, has been facing new trials, new tests.

In recent years a number of Christian church leaders and missionaries have been killed in Africa in rather violent circumstances. For example, the month of February 1977 witnessed two highly publicized acts of brutality reportedly committed by Africans against churchpersons. First came the news that seven white Roman Catholic missionaries, including four nuns, had been gunned down in Zimbabwe/Rhodesia. The sole survivor, Father Dunston Myerscough (65 years old) was convinced that the murderers were nationalist guerrillas.

The second event less than two weeks later was the apparent murder of the Most Rev. Janani Luwum. Anglican Archbishop of Uganda while in custody under the charge of plotting to overthrow the government of President Idi Amin Dada. Amin's government claimed that the Archbishop and two of Amin's own Cabinet Ministers under a similar charge were killed in a car crash. but most of the world was understandably skeptical.

In the case of the murder of the seven missionaries in Zimbabwe, it was assumed that they died as casualties of a racial war rather than as martyrs in a religious crusade. But in the case of the Ugandan Archbishop, the world jumped to the conclusion that he was a martyr to his faith as a Christian. Was the world justified in assuming that Archbishop Luwum died for religious reasons?

In contemporary Africa, tensions between religious groups are never purely religious. Religious tensions are usually an aspect of either ideological conflict between militants and moderates (as in parts of Ethiopia) racial conflict between white and black (as in Southern Africa), ethno-cultural conflict between different African "tribes" and communities (as in Uganda). or class conflict between the haves and have-nots (as illustrated in virtually all cases).

Three major civil wars in Africa within the last decade have had a religious dimension. For seventeen years (1955 to 1972) Southern Sudan waged war against the government in Khartoum for reasons which included religious differences between the Muslim North and the Christian-led South. (The Southern leaders were indeed mainly Christian, but the majority of their followers were neither Christian nor Muslim. They were still adherents of local ancestral religions of their own communities.)

In the case of the Nigerian civil war (1967-70) the North was identified with Islam while "Biafra" (or the East) was identified with Christianity. In reality the Nigerian civil war was mainly ethnic-but Biafra's public relations machinery successfully created the impression among many Westerners that Ibo Christians were fighting a war in defense of Christianity. In spite of the fact that General Yakubu Gowon, the head of the Federal Government of Nigeria, was a Christian, and much of his support came from other non-Muslims, Biafra brilliantly managed to suggest that a Jihad was being waged against the Ibo. Even the Vatican seemed for a while to have bought that version.

The third major civil war with a religious dimension is still under way. This is the struggle by Eritrea to break away from Ethiopia. The majority of Eritreans are Muslim. There are large numbers of Muslims in the rest of Ethiopia as well, but the country has many centuries of Christian theocracy.

The military rulers of Ethiopia since the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie have gone further than their predecessors to concede that Ethiopia is not a purely Christian country. My last visit to Addis Ababa (December 1976) coincided with the Muslim Festival of Idd el Haj. It was being celebrated as a national holiday in the whole of Ethiopia. That would have been inconceivable under the late Emperor.

But while the new military rulers have made concessions to Islam, they have simultaneously cut the Coptic Christian Church in Ethiopia down to size. Indeed. the Marxist-Leninist orientation of the rulers has paradoxically been at once more tolerant of Muslims (outside Eritrea) and more suspicious of Christian church leaders as potential sources of ··ideological reaction." Ethiopia is certainly one case where religious tensions are interwoven with the tensions of secular ideology-as well as with the tensions of ethnic separatism in Eritrea.

The class dimension is also persistent all over Africa. Sometimes new military rulers are opposed to older church leaders partly because the religious leaders once belonged to the political establishment-whereas the soldiers were recruited from some of the poorest strata of the old society. This is certainly true of both Ethiopia and Uganda under Amin. The soldiers in power in both countries are essentially: lumpenmilitariat" -- disorganized recruits from sectors of society which were once disadvantaged and often uneducated. and have since become callous and insensitive.

The class dimension has also been relevant in race relations. In southern Africa it has certainly not been easy to determine where race differences end and class distinctions begin. In the words of the late radical black thinker, Frantz Fanon, who is popular among many liberation fighters in southern Africa: "You are rich because you are white-but you are also white because you are rich." The Japanese, after all, are honorary whites in the Republic of South Africa-they are "white because they are rich'"

But the most perennial problems in Africa may well turn out to be ethnic ones involving Blacks against Blacks. When we therefore hear of a black Archbishop killed. it would be important to investigate not only issues of religion, class and ideology-but also issues of ethnic affiliation and "tribal" origins. Certainly all four factors seemed to be present behind the death of the Archbishop of the Congo (Brazzaville) in March 1976.

As for the Ugandan situation, certainly ethnic factors continue to be very strong. When the news of the Ugandan Archbishop's death broke, it reminded me of a night in Kampala six years earlier when my wife and I gave refuge to girls who were running away from potential rape by Amin's soldiers. The girls were either Langi or Acholi. The previous night some soldiers had broken into Mary Stuart Hall at Makerere University, and demanded to be taken to Langi and Acholi girls. On that occasion they did take away two girls, one of whom was saved from a serious fate by the fact that she had her monthly period. The next night Acholi and Langi girls were, of course, terrified and some of them came to our house for refuge. Vice-Chancellor Kalimuzo and I had urgent consultations about the other girls left in Mary Stuart Hall. President Amin agreed to send us his more reliable soldiers to patrol the campus. and keep the military rapists at bay. The situation was indeed eased -but periodic terror continued to be an aspect of the life of every Acholi and every Langi from then on.

When, six years after that night of "rape terror," Archbishop Luwum was killed, the question sprang to my mind: "Did Luwum die because he was Acholi or because he was Anglican?" If those Roman Catholic missionaries were casualties of an unfolding racial war in southern Africa, why could not Janani Luwum have been a casualty of continuing ethnic strife in Uganda? After all, Cabinet Minister Oryema who was killed with the Archbishop was also an Acholi. Further news seemed to validate ethnic factors rather than religious ones as dominant behind the new atrocities in Uganda. Leading Langi and Achoii, including some at Makerere University, were either rounded up, brutalized, or briefly harassed. Hundreds of refugees from Langi and Acholi were soon reported to be pouring into Tanzania and Kenya. As for Amin's own statements, they seemed to echo some of the accusations he leveled against the Acholi and the Langi way back in the first week of his assumption of power in Uganda in January 1971.

Yet the All-Africa Conference of Churches and the World Council of Churches preferred to turn the latest Ugandan calamity into a religious crusade. The same church organizations had been "discreetly silent" for six years while Amin tortured and butchered other Langi, other Acholi and indeed other Ugandans, both Christian and Muslim. Yet it took the murder of a fellow churchman to arouse the conscience of organized Christianity. With all other professional groups, it might be understandable to sit back until a fellow-professional was killed before being aroused, but with churches such a record was just not good enough. Canon Burgess Carr should have taken a stand against Idi Amin years before Archbishop Luwum met his fate.

But after the churches had been aroused and had been busy "converting" ethnic strife into a religious crusade, there was a danger of their "prophecy" becoming self-fulfilling. Indeed. more people died after the Archbishop. The strife in Uganda could indeed become increasingly religious as well as ethnic. Christian might turn against Muslim. Catholic against Protestant -as well as Kakwa against Acholi, Bantu against Nilote. The ominous clock of convulsion starts ticking-as the pendulum of sectarian and tribal revenge is set in motion. The history of Uganda both before and since Amin has enough religious as well as ethnic tension to provide a basis for further convulsion. It may be too late to stop the deepening linkages between "tribalism" and sectarianism in Uganda.

But why did Amin turn against the Langi and the Acholi in the first place? Dr. Milton Obote, the man Amin overthrew on January 25. 1971, was from Langi. The largest single group of soldiers in Obote's army was from Acholi. These two northern communities were indeed related linguistically and culturally-and under Obote's regime, they were relatively united. But there were also jealousies and rivalries between them which could have been exploited by Amin at the beginning had he been astute enough. Indeed, one of my first public criticisms of Amin after his takeover concerned his mishandling of the Acholi. I argued that, with a little astuteness, Amin could have rallied the Acholi behind him and against Milton Obote. I still believe that Amin would have been less afraid of the Langi on their own than he was of an alliance between the Langi and the Acholi. Although the Langi were Obote's own people, they were not as numerous in Obote's army as the Acholi had been. Nor had the Langi enjoyed the same reputation as the Acholi in terms of "warrior skills and military valor." In reality, the Langi were at least as valiant and skillful as anybody else. but the Acholi had more of a "martial reputation" according to precisely the popular mythology which Idi Amin was likely to share. If I and other unofficial advisers had succeeded in time in persuading Amin to rally the Acholi behind him and against Obote, Amin would have felt less insecure about the Langi as well. Both groups might have suffered less precisely by being separated within Amin's fearful imagination. Amin had a phobia about the Acholi. Exactly one year to the day before Amin took power. he had apparently engineered the murder of his own second-in-command within the army, Brigadier Ocoya. On January 25, 1970, Ocoya was murdered with his wife in Gulu, Acholiland, seemingly because he had aroused the ire and suspicion of his superior officer. Idi Amin. Ocoya's murder had disturbed both Langi and Acholi within Obote's army: and Obote was soon to suspect Amin of being implicated in the crime. Obote began to reduce some of Amin's responsibilities~ and Amin interpreted this as a prelude either to his own death or at the very least to losing his command and spending years in prison. Amin's homicidal suspicion of Ocoya, and the preponderance of the Acholi in Obote's army, combined with Obole's moves against Amin, all contributed to Amin's persecution complex in fear of a Langi-Acholi alliance. By being scared of their presumed alliance, he brutalized both communities. I still wish we had succeeded in breaking the obstinate linkage between the two groups in Amin's mind. The Most Rev. Janani Luwum might be still alive today. Who knows? However, fearing the Langi-Acholi alliance with such desperation, Amin may well have brought it into being.

But the problems of Uganda are not only a mixture of ethnic and religious factors. They are also a mixture of domestic and external factors, of national and regional variables. This is where the analogy between Uganda and Lebanon becomes striking. For both countries, part of the problem concerns the issue of where the imperial powers that ruled them decided to draw the boundaries. Lebanon was carved out of Greater Syria partly because the French wanted to create a separate Christian enclave-a kind of "Christian Israel" even before the Jewish Israel came into being. But the carving out of a Christian enclave was somewhat messy-there were still far too many Muslims around in Lebanon. And although the Muslims were at the time a minority, their birthrate was higher than that of the Christians. Since then, the Muslims of Lebanon have caught up with the Christians-and have begun to outnumber them. The boundaries which the French had so carefully drawn for their Christian enclave had provided a setting for sectarian confrontation.

The boundaries which the British drew up in East Africa were similarly messy. The British split up Amin's tribe, the Kakwa. between Uganda and the Sudan, and helped the Belgians to annex a third portion of Kakwaland. The Ugandan army under Amin reflected the messiness of the colonial boundaries. Amin recruited into his army ethnic compatriots (fellow tribesmen) even if they were not national compatriots and were Sudanese or Zaireans instead.

Similarly, while the Lebanese crisis was deepened by the presence of Palestinians in Lebanon, so was the Ugandan crisis deepened by the Nubi presence in Uganda. Lebanon has suffered because of two partitions-the partition of Greater Syria in order to create a Christian enclave and the partition of Palestine in order to create a Jewish state. Uganda has suffered because of ethnic partitions rather than denominational fragmentations. But both countries are now landed with a legacy of hate and recrimination which imperialism and militarism together have bequeathed to their unhappy people. When hate is militarized, and sectarianism is armed partly as a result of cynical imperial frontiers, at least one entity is allowed to extend its ominous boundaries-the graveyard.


In November 1975 I gave a lecture at the University of Baghdad. In my speech I argued against distributing Arab aid to Third World countries on the basis of either ideological empathy or religious affinity. I argued that the Third World as a whole required considerable solidarity in facing up to the legacy of injustice in the world as a whole. I certainly disagreed with the notion that Arab aid should be given first to fellow Arabs, secondly to fellow Muslims, and only thirdly to other Third World countries. I argued that this would split up the Third World into ethnic and religious camps instead of presenting a united front against the industrialized powers. I discovered in Baghdad that my critics from the left disagreed with my assertion that ideology should not play a part. But the most hostile were my critics from the Islamic right who regarded the proposition that they should not give priority to Muslims in the distribution of aid, not only as totally unacceptable but almost as a declaration of holy war. I remember a young man who felt particularly angry about it. He was arguing with the Dean who had introduced me to the meeting. My knowledge of Iraqi-Arabic was, to say the least, rudimentary. The Dean very politely, explained that the student was saying how much they had enjoyed my lecture. I knew very well that the young man was not saying that. He was about to storm out. I called him back and was offering him a paper I had written. At first he would not even accept the paper, he was so incensed. His professors were begging him to accept it. In the end the young man accepted it. But what was dramatized to me by the incident was the depth of feeling displayed by that young Muslim fundamentalist. His position was not symptomatic of the views of the Iraqi government, which was secular and far more likely to agree with me in that particular debate. On the religious angle, that young man represented a deep conviction that distribution of the new Arab wealth should, to some extent. be influenced by the solidarity of religion. It was one level of petro-jihad.

The Summit Conference of Muslim States in Lahore in 1974 the first conference of its kind-prepared the ground on a modest basis for Pan-Islamic cooperation. On balance the richer Muslim countries represented at the Lahore Conference preferred bilateral aid between Muslim countries rather than the establishment and operation of an Islamic Fund. There was also a meeting of the foreign ministers of Muslim countries in Jeddah in 1975, and further consultations took place both along corridors and in the formal proceedings. An Islamic Fund has come into being, but the strong preference of countries like Saudi Arabia for bilateral cooperation has continued to circumscribe the movement towards a collective Islamic Fund. What is clear is that substantial amounts of aid flows are already evident. By April 1975 western aid officials who had been skeptical about OPEC efforts in aid-were revising their estimates. In the words of Maurice J. Williams, Chairman of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD): "In speed and effectiveness the aid record [of OPEC countries] has been impressive." By early 1975 that aid already accounted for a sixth of official development aid from rich to poor countries. According to these figures of the OECD Committee, the oil states gave 1.8 percent of their Gross National Product in 1974, compared with 0.33 percent in the western industrial states, and 0.21 percent on the part of the United States.

The main aid donors among the OPEC group were Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela. Partly because OPEC is largely Islamic in composition, and partly because the "Fourth World" of poorest countries is disproportionately Muslim, about eighty percent of aid from oil-exporting countries has gone to Muslim countries and over half of this to Arab nations. Clearly, there is here distinct evidence of the impact of Pan-Islamism on aid behavior. If that influence continues and if the volume of aid rises significantly, Islamic communities scattered in different parts of the world are bound to acquire additional political and economic leverage.

One of the consequences might be to deepen Muslim disaffection in those countries where Muslims are underprivileged minorities. There is already evidence of increasing Muslim militancy in some countries in Asia and Africa where Muslims until recently accepted their lot as an indigent, or neglected, or outright oppressed minority. Muslims in the Philippines have been in rebellion, and have recently been able to rely on substantial moral and financial support from Arab states. Muslims in Thailand are getting increasingly restive and are again looking to co-religionists in the Middle East for support and sympathy. In Chad, a civil war has been raging, involving Muslims in rebellion against long years of neglect and discrimination. Their difficult situation, which goes back to the days of French rule, to some extent worsened after independence. Eritreans have found a new will to continue the struggle for separate national identity after years of relative victimization under an Ethiopian Christian theocracy. Disaffected Muslim minorities in other countries in Asia and Africa might attempt soon to modify their status and mitigate their sense of grievance. One possible alternative is an actual rebellion, which before long is bound to attract the attention of fellow Muslims elsewhere, and which could result in considerable military capability against the government that is in power.

Clearly, some of these Pan-Islamic trends are potentially creative and innovative: other aspects of those trends are potentially disruptive and divisive. New power carries both the promise of increased fulfillment and the risk of political and moral excesses. The resurrection of Islam does indeed carry the seeds of both possibilities: but at the very minimum it once again enriches the human cultural heritage by starting the processes of challenging the domination of Western civilization and culture over the human race. The petro-jihad is thus secularized.

But what does it all mean in terms of the future of the world? And how does it help to create a new international religious order? The greatest exporters of oil at the moment are Muslims, as I indicated: but the greatest consumers of oil are Christians. Should the history of Islam's interaction with Christianity be newly entitled "From the Crusades to the Crude?" In other words, should this type of structural balance in which the greatest exporters of oil are Muslims and the greatest consumers of oil are Christians be forged into a link between ecumenicalism, as a movement of different religions, on one side, and petroleum and technology as a basis of interlocking economies, on the other? If history is now traced from Saladin to Shell, and we start from a confrontation between Muslims and Christians over the holy lands in the Middle Ages to a dialectic in which the technology of Christendom needs the oil of Islam. what we have are possible new areas of structural interdependence. The link between petroleum and ecumenical ism for the last quarter of the twentieth century could be the basis of increasing collaboration between countries whose main religious experience is Islamic. and countries whose main religious experience is Christian. Included on both sides of the divide are African countries-heirs of that tripartite legacy of Islam. Christianity and the indigenous heritage of which Kwame Nkrumah so eloquently reminded us way back before OPEC was born. (Applause)

Warren Lewis: Professor Mazrui, I am particularly taken by what you said about the two hemispheres having Africa in common. That model works in terms of primal religion, too. In Asia one has primal religion-shamanism and so forth: in North and South America one has native American religions, and in Africa one has autochthonous Black religions. Once again, what do East and West have in common religiously and geographically? They have Africa to mediate, and it is precisely the elevation of the autochthonous traditions, the primal religious tradition in Africa, which we seek in our Conference of Africa.

The next person whom I want to introduce is another amazing man. This one is from Ghana and Cincinnati-Franciscus Africanus, alias Francis Botchway. If you don't already know him, what he has to say will be a better introduction than anything I might tell you.


1 Kwame Nkrumah, Consciencism: Philosophy and Ideology for Decolonization and Development with Particular Reference to the African Revolution, London, Heinemann, 1964, pp. 68-70.

2 See also Mazrui. Ancient Greece in African Political Thought, Nairobi, East African Publishing, 1967. 

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