Arab-African cooperation is based not only on the geographic neighborhood, but also on cultural and human ties that have been woven by centuries of social activity and cultural interaction. This has contributed to the intertwining of interests in all political, economic, commercial, cultural and security fields, making cooperation between the two sides the protective fence for Arab and African security.
The call for the fifth Arab-African Summit in Saudi Arabia in 2019 came to intensify coordination, enhance cooperation and give a new impetus to Arab-African relations.
The previous four summits
Four Arab-African Summit meetings were held since 1977, addressing various issues of cooperation and joint action. They also indicated the swift response to international and regional developments on the political, economic and social levels. The first Arab-African Summit was held in the Egyptian capital in 1977, and its most important outcome was the 13-article Cairo Declaration, reflecting Arab and African priorities of supporting nations’ struggles against colonialism and national liberation movements.
The Cairo Declaration supported the struggle of the peoples of Palestine, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Somalia and the Comoros for freedom and independence. The summit also witnessed the commitment of Arab and African countries to develop bilateral and multilateral relations.
The second Arab-African Summit was held in October 2010 in the Libyan city of Sirte with the participation of 66 Arab and African countries (members of the Arab League and the African Union). It was held three decades after the first summit. The world, including the Arab and African regions, had undergone major changes in that period, posing various challenges that required the reconvention of the Arab-African Summit.
In Sirte, Arab-African partnership strategy was discussed along with other political, economic, developmental and cultural topics. The summit also focused on the Arab-African Joint Plan of Action 2011-2016, and issued the Sirte Declaration which dealt with a number of key issues of mutual concern, such as developments in the Palestinian cause, and the situation in Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, the UAE and occupied Golan. On the summit’s agenda were means of developing Arab-African coordination through international organizations and the development and reform of the United Nations and its entities.
On 19 November 2013, the third Arab-African Summit was held in Kuwait, just as many Arab countries were undergoing unusual political and security issues. The summit was preceded by preparatory meetings with the participation of senior Arab and African officials, as well as the Arab-African Economic Forum, in which most Arab and African organizations concerned with development and investment took part to promote Arab-African economic cooperation through the formulation of a working plan of action.
Recognizing the significance of development, the Kuwait Summit adopted the title “Partners in Development and Investment”. The summit was attended by 34 heads of state and delegations from 71 Arab and African countries, as well as a number of regional and international organizations.
The summit discussed the possibility of establishing a joint Arab-African market by linking the integration programs and projects taking place at the Arab and African levels separately, in addition to means of enhancing trade, investment and food security, as well as a number of persistent political issues. The outcomes of the summit were drafted in the “Kuwait Declaration”.
The fourth Arab-African Summit was held on 23 November 2016 in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, being hosted for the first time by a non-Arab African country. The third summit to be held within seven years, the event was an important indicator of its regular occurrence – considering the fact that the first and second were held 30 years apart.
The Malabo Summit witnessed the participation of 17 heads of state of Arab and African countries under the title “Together for Sustainable Development and Economic Cooperation”.
In addition to economic and development issues, the summit discussed ways to combat terrorism and guarantee food security. It adopted a decision to establish a disaster fund and to unify efforts to reduce youth migration across the Arab and African regions.
Opportunities and challenges of the fifth summit
On the 10 December 2017, Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Abul-Gheit received the Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Fakki to discuss means of cooperation between the Arab League and the African Union and preparations for the fifth Arab-African Summit.
On the positive side, a number of factors are seen as a catalyst for the success of the Arab-African Summit and development of Arab-African cooperation, such as:
– Egypt’s presidency of the African Union with its promising agenda that puts boosting Arab-African ties at the top of its priorities.
- Saudi Arabia’s hosting of the next summit, being an Arab state with increasing interest in African affairs, as reflected in the Saudi sponsorship of the Jeddah Accord for Ethiopian-Eritrean reconciliation.
- The increasing interest of a number of Arab non-African countries in the African dimension, such as the UAE.
- The successful record of previous Arab-African summits, represented by a number of achievements and initiatives, which means that the fifth summit will not start from scratch, but has positive precedents, such as Al-Sabah’s initiative to finance African development and infrastructure projects).
- African stances that generally support the Palestinian cause. This is embodied in the rejection of the chairperson of the African Union Commission of the US administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The same rejection was adopted by the majority of African governments.
On the other hand, the success of the fifth Arab-African Summit depends on overcoming a number of challenges posed by the current situation in the Arab and African world:
- Differences on the Arab internal front, even if Arab-African tension is not currently obvious, the Arab front is suffering from divisions as some countries insist on pursuing policies that destabilize their Arab neighbors.
- The major security and political challenges faced by a number of key countries in the Arab and African circles, such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, Nigeria and Sahel states.
- The negative role played by a number of international forces. These are former colonizers who regard the Arab-African rapprochement as a threat to their interests.
- The role played by a number of Middle Eastern powers (Turkey, Iran and Israel) that are eager to play a greater influential role in Africa at the expense of Arab countries.
After all, the Arab-African Summit remains one of the most important mechanisms for enhancing bilateral cooperation, reflecting the common desire to advance relations. In order to ensure the sustainability of the Arab-African Summit mechanism, the 2019 summit must prioritize drafting a suitable formula to activate the recommendations made at the previous summits, in addition to those of the upcoming summit.
In addition to the Arab-African Summit, the relationship between both sides needs more efforts, such as expanding diplomatic representation and exchanging visits at the official and popular levels, especially among youth sectors, through increasing the number of African students in Arab universities and institutes as well as dispatching experts and technicians to African countries, and organizing cultural, artistic and archeological events.
There is also an urgent need to adopt a developmental perspective based on expanding the implementation of joint projects and mutual investments as an alternative to grants and donations, thus linking both two sides via common interests. In this regard, the role of financial institutions, such as the African Development Bank and the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, is of great importance.
The integration of all these efforts is needed in view of the current challenges posed by the need to develop security and intelligence cooperation in the face of common cross-border threats such as terrorism, illegal immigration and human trafficking.
This article was first published in: Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, Africa 2019… Equilibrium Severs … Promising Future, Cairo, March 2019.