New millennium is distinguished by a characteristic struggle between civilizations in the geopolitical domain. Introduced by Samuel Huntington as a new theory of international relations, clash of civilizations driven international relations underlie geopolitical landscape of the modern period. Civilizations that share common religious identity lack harmony in general. Clashes always betide on the boundaries of convergence of the habitat of different religions. Geography of that key border artery endures throughout the history. In times of the Arab Caliphate that line ran along the Middle East on one side and the Pyrenees on the other. During the rule of the Ottomans, key points of convergence of the civilizations were the Balkans and the Caucasus. Locations where clashes had occurred in the 20th century were deemed the Middle East and the India-Pakistan (Kashmir) border.
While the above mentioned destinations continue to be hotbeds, Africa emerges as a continent with most pronounced clash of civilizations. Africa’s incompatibility is evident on a geopolitical (inter-state) level, and both on religious and tribal level. In the meantime, the geopolitical processes are becoming more complex along the lines of contact where civilizations indeed clash. In the meantime, new countries emerge (South Sudan), separatism trends are strengthening and geopolitically sensitive spaces appear.
Africa, known to be a colony continent throughout lengthy historical period has nowadays become a top priority zone on the geopolitical scene. Abundant natural resources, dynamic performance showcasing economy, rapidly growing population are the factors conditioning “Black Continent’s” position in the world. Africa claims 30 % of world’s natural resources. According to projections, Africa’s annual oil production will reach 900 million – 1 billion tons by 2020. Africa’s GDP will catch up with the one of Eastern Europe’s in 2033 and equal the Latin America’s by 2039.
Those projections are based on stability. Nevertheless, today different processes are developing around Africa. The “Black Continent” of today is a space of the most articulate struggle between the civilizations based on religious and cultural diversity. Inherited from the colonial times, Africa continues to cope with unfair border delimitation. This feature is supplemented by the Muslim-Christian standoff, fueled by interventions of foreign powers that make changes in Africa’s geopolitical landscape imminent.
The world’s attention today is riveted more to the processes in the Arab world, including the Arab states of Africa whereas there is a constant struggle between the civilizations able to generate a far-reaching crisis. New trends are emerging on the geopolitical space. China’s has become the biggest investor in most African countries. The Western countries, traditional powers in the region, are now facing the fact that China has slowly but surely penetrated the African market. We believe such geopolitical ambitions underlie struggle of civilizations in Africa. Therefore, we offer series of articles dedicated to the geopolitical struggle along the lines of convergence of civilizations:
I. Geopolitical outlines of contacts between the civilizations in the Africa’s Arab states;
II. Non-Arab or Arab speaking states with the Arab minority along the lines of convergence of civilizations;
III. Transit from Desert Africa to Tropical Africa;
IV. North-South fork – crossroads of civilizations.
Principal trend in Africa today is the conflict between the Muslim and the Christian worlds that is more evident in the points of convergence. Developments are coupled with armed conflict, separatism movement or activity of terrorist organizations. Boundaries of Islam-Christianity standoff are stretching from Sahara, southwards to Tropical Africa. In terms of geographical habitat, borders of Islam in the “Black Continent” are also stretching along the boundaries between the plains and the woods.
According to Britannica encyclopedia, population of Africa that stands at 1 billion people was 48 % Christian and 41 % Muslim (2010). With the exception of Ethiopia and Egypt, spread of Christianity dates back to the colonial times. Christianity has made a leap forward in recent 100 years. If there were only 9 million Christians in 1900, by the year 2000 their number reached 380 million. Today, Christians constitute a majority in 31 African countries. For comparison, number of countries with more than half of Muslim population is 21.
Spread of Islam in Africa can mostly be divided into 2 phases. First – the conversion to Islam by the Arab and nomadic tribes of the Northern Africa in the VII-XI centuries. It was owing to invasion by the Arab Caliphate and under their political-economic-cultural influence that Islam became the dominant religion throughout the desert landscape of Africa. The second phase of the spread of Islam, commenced in the XII century, was characterized by the conversion to Islam of the merchants and the ruling elite, and the emergence of new religious currents, including the Sufism. Interestingly, unlike the Caliphate period distinguished by invasion and use of force, in the second phase Islam’s outreach covered greater territories.
Presently this region is made of 7 countries (Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Sudan) that are predominantly either Arab or Berber, with 90 % of the population being Muslim. Moreover, there are 4 countries – Djibouti, Somalia, Eritrea and Chad that are either non-Arab or contain Arab minority while one of the official languages is nevertheless Arabic. Chad is the only one with relatively large Arab population (12 % of the general population). Arab language in other three serves the unification purpose among the numerous tribes in those countries.
Standoff of civilizations is not so intense in countries with the Arab majority, with the only difference being Egypt and Sudan. Bloody incidents between Christian Copts and Muslim Arabs were registered in Egypt lately. Similar to other countries experiencing the “Arab Awakening”, Christians are fleeing Egypt too. Nonetheless, the standoff is likely to have little or no impact on Egypt’s geopolitical clout as those developments may be classified not as a struggle of civilizations but rather a domestic social process.
The only Arab state on the line of convergence of civilizations
Sudan is the only Arab country situated in the very heart of the civilization clash line. Along with Cameroon, Nigeria and Cote-d’Ivoire Sudan is located on the boundaries of Muslim North and Christian South of the African continent. In Sudan, inter-confessional split has always remained a critical factor in the life of the country.
The struggle between the Muslim population of the North and indigenous black population of the South has continued since Sudan has gained its independence (1956). Ability of the British to disseminate Christianity in the South during the colonial rule had played a key role in the country’s future. In the colonial times, Britain managed to sow seeds of discord between the North and South. On the backdrop of the spread of Arabic in the North, English was taught, exclusive zoned were devised, and migration from the north was restricted. It was after years of struggle and owing to the support of the Western nations that the South Sudan proclaimed its independence in 2011. Now, one comes across the news about the harassment of the 20% of Muslim population of the South, obliteration of Muslim cultural heritage and the destruction of the mosques.
As the South Sudan gained independence, the boundaries between the Muslim North and the Christian South in Africa had moved slightly northwards. The state of the South Sudan that now holds 75 % of the former Sudan’s oil reserves has become an African arena for the struggle of all major powers. Although France, UK, and the U.S. compete for a stake in the country’s economy, Chinese companies are so far the biggest investors. Other than those, India’s “Oil and Natural Gas Corporation” (ONGC) and Malaysia’s “Petronas” are among the stakeholders in oil projects. There is one aspect worth emphasizing. Despite the emergence of a new independent state, it is premature to speak of a stable environment along the traditional North-South line, both in terms of geopolitics and the relations between civilizations.
First, there still are pending problems with disputed areas between the two states. Second, inter-civilization struggle in the region is not limited to religious factors. In Sudan’s Darfur region, with both sides being Muslim, government forces and armed groups made of Arabs are fighting indigenous black tribes. Darfur is rightfully considered a destabilizing location not just for Sudan but also for the central Africa in general.
Darfur also affects Sudan-Chad relations as Chad hosts some 200 thousand refugees from Darfur. Darfur is also used by government supported armed troops of Chad and Sudan. Resolution of the Darfur problem also collides with the interests of big powers. France and China own major stakes in the regional oil projects while Russia is Sudan’s chief arms supplier. Thus, those states are advocating Sudan’s position on Darfur issue on the UN floor.
Third factor has to do with political aspects. South Sudan’s President is known to have visited Israel as his first official visit. Animosity between Israel and Sudan conditioned the importance of that visit. Agreement on management of water resources was signed during the visit. Experts believe that thereby Israel gained influence on the water problem in the Nile basin.[i] Role played by Israel on the geopolitical scene is considered to be a factor capable of violating the stability along the line of the clash of civilizations. We are also observing it with regards to Somalia issue in the context of Israel-Kenya cooperation. We will eventually revisit that topic.
Thus, clash of civilizations in that region of Africa is at its dramatic phase. Geopolitical realm is volatile, and war is threatening to break out any time. Darfur stands as a major source of threat to stability in the region. Big powers and Israel hold significant leverages over the region. In the civilization terms, for now the Muslim North has retreated while future developments will depend on the actions of the big powers but in any event, the region remains one of Africa’s hotbeds.
Dr. Arastü HABİBBEYLİ