Gulf cash fu­els fight for Mus­lim hearts and minds in Africa

Crit­ics say donors cham­pion stricter Wah­habi school of Is­lam that in­spires mil­i­tancy, ji­hadism

The East African - - OUTLOOK -

By KATA­RINA HOIJE

Ibrahim Kon­tao is busily sign­ing cheques as men and women line up out­side his air-con­di­tioned of­fice in the Malian cap­i­tal, Ba­mako, to ask him for do­na­tions and help with their chil­dren’s school fees.

Mr Kon­tao, who stud­ied the­ol­ogy in Saudi Ara­bia, heads Mali’s wealth­i­est Is­lamic char­ity, known as Al-farouk, which channels $3 mil­lion a year from donors in Gulf Arab states and Tur­key to open mosques, Ko­ranic schools and health clin­ics in ru­ral ar­eas starved of so­cial ser­vices.

Crit­ics say it and other groups are cham­pi­oning the stricter Wah­habi school of Is­lam that in­spires Al Qaeda- and Is­lamic State-af­fil­i­ated mil­i­tants who claim at­tacks across West Africa.

“They gain peo­ple’s trust by tak­ing care of their needs,” said Brema Ely Dicko, the 36-yearold head of the So­cial An­thro­pol­ogy De­part­ment at the Uni­ver­sity of Ba­mako. “To­day you see women wear­ing niqabs, some­thing that used to be very for­eign to Mali.”

Mali teetered on the brink of col­lapse when a loose al­liance of eth­nic Tuareg sep­a­ratists and Is­lamist in­sur­gents, bol­stered by an in­flux of weapons from Libya, seized the north in the wake of a 2012 coup that left the army in tat­ters.

Wide­spread in­se­cu­rity

The mil­i­tants shocked the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity with a se­ries of at­tacks in Tim­buktu on the cen­turies-old build­ings with tombs of holy men, turn­ing sites into piles of rub­ble be­cause they were con­sid­ered idol­a­trous by the in­sur­gents. The In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court, in an un­prece­dented rul­ing in 2016, jailed the leader of the raids for nine years.

De­spite the de­ploy­ment of a 15,000-strong United Na­tions peace­keep­ing mis­sion and a French mil­i­tary force, ji­hadist at­tacks have spread to Mali’s cen­tre, re­sult­ing in the deaths of hun­dreds of troops and civil­ians.

The in­se­cu­rity has spilt over into Burk­ina Faso, Niger and Ivory Coast and prompted the cre­ation of a 5,000-strong West African force that is to strengthen bor­der pa­trols. Saudi Ara­bia it­self has joined the bat­tle against the mil­i­tants, pledg­ing 100 mil­lion eu­ros ($113 mil­lion) to the force known as G5 Sa­hel.

Pres­i­dent Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s gov­ern­ment has failed to main­tain ba­sic ser­vices in re­mote ru­ral ar­eas as it fo­cuses spend­ing on the mil­i­tary.

That is where the Gulf­backed char­i­ties step in to of­fer an al­ter­na­tive to the state.

“Many peo­ple are strug­gling; I want to do what I can to help,” said Mr Kon­tao at the Al-farouk char­ity. “We are al- Malian Pres­i­dent Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s gov­ern­ment has failed to main­tain ba­sic ser­vices in re­mote ru­ral ar­eas as it fo­cuses spend­ing on the mil­i­tary. That is where the Gulf states-backed char­i­ties step in to of­fer an al­ter­na­tive to the state. Mus­lim lead­ers have long vied for po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence in Mali. In re­cent years, they have pub­licly thrown their weight be­hind pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, helped raise for­eign donor money, halted Bills aimed at strength­en­ing women’s rights and me­di­ated talks be­tween the gov­ern­ment and in­sur­gents.

Pic­ture: AFP

The Is­lamic cen­tre leg­endary town as na­tion. and a mosque in Tim­buktu, Mali. The UN cul­tural or­gan­i­sa­tion, Un­esco, listed the an en­dan­gered world her­itage be­cause of the deadly unrest hit­ting the West African

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