Islam reaches into Africa

April 19, 1996

The Islamic nations of the Middle East are exerting an influence on sub-Saharan Africa comparable to that of western institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, according to Heather Deegan of Middlesex University.

She said western analysts had taken too little notice of this in part because they saw the third world as a single homogenous entity. "If we want to continue using the term in any meaningful sense, we will have to recognise that different regions are not equal, and that some dominate others."

The 149 million Muslims in Africa now outnumber those in the Middle East and the weakness of African nation states gave Islam great appeal. "The Islamic agenda looks beyond the nation state."

Existing African Islamic states are keen to see their style applied to others. Dr Deegan said that a senior member of the Sudanese government hoped that the whole of sub-Saharan Africa might become Muslim in the next ten years.

Among the most important agents of change is the Islamic Conference Organisation (ICO) and the associated Islamic Development Bank (IDB). "Countries that join the ICO have to state their support for Muslim forms of political behaviour and, in particular, for Sharia law," said Dr Deegan. Countries have to become an ICO member to access IDB funds.

The IDB operates similarly to the IMF and the World Bank: "They aid the same sort of projects and are similar in terms of both structure and lending capacity."

She argued that sub-Saharan African countries seeking development aid found themselves under pressure from two directions, with the World Bank and IMF demanding political and economic liberalisation on one side and the Islamic agenda on the other.

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