19 February 2013

Nigeria: Mali Crisis and the OIC

En route France and the United Kingdom penultimate week, President Goodluck Jonathan made a stopover in Cairo, Egypt, to register Nigeria's presence at the 12th Summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Top of the agenda at the Cairo meeting were the conflicts that many of its members -Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, and Mali-are grappling with.

OIC Secretary General Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said in the opening address remarked, "As for the situation in Mali, which is facing multiple challenges with serious regional and international implications, it impresses on us the need to work earnestly with all parties concerned to address the root-causes of the conflict. We shall continue our efforts until this objective is met."

Ihsanoglu announced the designation of Dr Jibril Bassouli, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Burkina Faso and African Union's mediator in the Malian crisis, to be the OIC's special envoy on Mali and the Sahel region to contribute in finding a peaceful outcome to the conflict in that country.

The OIC is the second largest intergovernmental organisation after the United Nations, and has membership of 57 states spread over four continents. The organisation aims at safeguarding and protecting the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace.

The OIC, like many similar organisations, has been called a toothless bulldog because its antecedents have not shown that it can intervene in a robust manner to end political conflicts in member countries.

That is why there is a lot of scepticism that it can contribute in any concrete way to change the course of events now unfolding in Mali, with many western nations now involved. If the OIC had any influence, it would have helped mediate a successful end to the Somali civil war, which has been raging now for nearly a quarter of a century. Or even the Sudan-South Sudan debacle, or the Darfur situation. Again, the voice of the OIC is not heard on the civil conflicts in many of its member countries, such as Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen.

Like the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, the OIC has many challenges to contend with. Although straddling four continents, without the resources of, say, the United Nations, the OIC cannot do much.

Based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the OIC has local competition in the Muslim World League, with headquarters in Mecca. While the OIC can be likened to Nigeria's Jama'atu Nasril Islam (JNI), as a collection of heads of states headed by mostly 'traditional rulers' of Arab countries, the League is more like the Nigerian Supreme Council on Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), which has Islamic scholars among its membership, and competes for influence.

Similarly, the OIC, unlike the UN, AU or ECOWAS, cannot muster armies to enforce any peace it may broker; nor does the MWL. Again, the OIC is under the purview of, and is financed by, the Wahhabi-led Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The conflict in Mali has pitted the government against a militant organisation with a Wahhabi bent. Most of the militant organisations are offshoots of the Saudi and U.S.-funded and -trained bulwark against the Cold War-era communist Soviets of the 1970s and 1980s Afghanistan.

The value of the OIC to countries such as Nigeria may be the economic windfalls that may accrue from associating with the well-oiled Middle Eastern countries that have control over the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and similar agencies. Similarly, the Kuwait Fund and the Qatar Foundation, among other donor agencies, are philanthropic organisations that do a lot of good humanitarian and development work.

The Malian crisis, like the Sudan and the Somali crises before it, can therefore offer some opportunity for OIC members to plan for the short-and long-term sustenance of the country after the international coalition against the Touaregs has left the country. Nigeria is a member of that coalition.

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