Alarmed by Libya's armed involvment in Chad and its tampering with other sub-Saharan nations. Africans are beginning to complain about what they see as exploitation by the Arabs.
Oil-rich Arab nations, according to Western diplomats and African commentators, want political support from Africans on the Palestine issue -- but are damaging poor African economies through the escalating oil prices they demand.
Moreover, the Africans complain, Arab nations tend to favor Islamic Africa over secular or Christian areas. And, if Libya is an example, rich Arab states soon may become neocolonial powers in the Islamic band of African countries.
The economic complaints are not new. AS far back as 1974, after Saudi Arabia , Libya, and Egypt had coaxed almost all Organization of African Unity (OAU) countries away from close relations with Israel and into backing the Palestinian cause, black African nations accused Arab oil producers of insensitivity to their needs.
The 1977 Afro-arab summit meeting in Cairo ensued, and Saudi Arabia led Arab nations in making billions of dollars in grants and low-interest loans available to Africans. But Africans contend that aid cannot counter- balance the tremendous weight of ever-higher oil prices over the long run.
"The view of many African countries is that African support of the Arab-led diplomatic attempts to isolate Israel in the third world has been rewarded by paltry material assistance," Mark Nyirenda writes in the March issue of New African magazine.
Conspicuously absent from the complaints, however, is Egypt. Viewed as a sellout nation by other Arabs because of its peace with Israel, Egypt nevertheless has generally excellent relations with African countries. Western analysts in Cairo say this is due to expert, low-profile Egyptian aid to African nations and to the perception among Africans that Egypt presents a counter to Libyan adventurism.
Egypt and Libya have the most active African foreign policies of any Arab countries. Libya funds governments and opposition groups throughout the region and recruits Africans for Col. Muammar Qaddafi's Islamic Legion. Egypt has been sending technicians and teachers throughout Africa for some years. Egypt maintains military aid to Somalia, Sudan, and to anti-regime rebels in Chad.
Whereas Colonel Qaddafi may dream of an Islamic republic in Saharan Africa, diplomats in CAiro say Egypt always has perceived itself as leader of the Arab, Islamic, and African worlds.
"Egypt's position with African nations has actually been strengthened since Camp David," a Western diplomatic source in Cairo says. "Sadat has paid a lot of attention to Africa. The oil states haven't come through to help the African states, and so many have found that an anti-Egyptian position does not pay."
This source contends that most OAU countries "buy Sadat's argument" that there are bands of Soviet influence stretching across the African and Arab worlds: one running from Angola to Mozambique in southern Africa, and another from Chad to Ethiopia to South Yemen in northeastern Africa.
Interestingly, CAmp David rejectionists have warned that because of renewed Egyptian-Israeli relations, Israel now has an inroad on black Africa.
But nothing has aroused African suspicions as much as Libya's involvement in Chad. Instead of using surplus oil wealth to aid the impoverished continent, Colonel Qaddafi appears to many African journalists and politicians to be embarking on a policy of empire building that mirrors that of the big powers in the 19th century.
Last summer Leopold Senghor, Senegal's former president, warned that Qaddafi wanted to put together an Islamic republic in the Sahara, uniting Libya, Chad, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania. Senghor also said Qaddafi was funding opposition groups throughout West Africa. Gambia, Senegal, Ghana, Gabon, Mauritania, and Nigeria were sufficiently alarmed to alter or break diplomatic ties with Libya in the past nine months.
Qaddafi's interest in Chad is not considered by Arab watchers to be part of a coordinated Arab policy toward Africa. If anything, his involvement with Soviet and East-bloc advisers and technicians puts him more in a category with the Ethiopian and Angolan regimes, which are similarly tied to the USSR.
But several African commentators argue that the Libya-Chad affair shows that instead of being committed to a special relationship with Africa, Arab nations may resort to the old imperial-type behavior when given the opportunity.
As Europe and the United States exploited western and southern Africa for centuries through slavery and colonialism, so Arabs and Ottoman Turks exploited East Africa down the Nile valley as far as Zanzibar. When powers such as France , Portugal, and Great Britain colonized Africa, Arab-african and Christian-Muslim distinctions were generally subordinate to the colonial government.
With the present warnings from Washington that US bilateral aid to Africa could be cut, Soviet and Arab aid could b e decisive factors in the future of Africa.