by Musa Bah
When the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) agreed a few years ago for The Gambia to host the summit, none was unaware of the deficiencies of this country in terms of financial muscle. The Gambia is a poor country – in fact, one of the poorest in the world – which is no secret at all.
Besides, it is a well-known fact that hosting conferences like the OIC Summit is such an expensive endeavor that no third world country can do it without help from outside, especially the Arab countries.
We have seen it hosted in Senegal, a much bigger and more developed economy, but even they needed, and were given, assistance from the rich countries.
It may not be that these countries did not give any support as we have seen their people shuttling into and from Banjul many times, but perhaps it was too little too late.
It is quite clear that a country like Saudi Arabia alone could have singlehandedly foot the entire bill of The Gambia’s bid to host the event. With the amount of oil money available to the Saudis, this would have been small change for them.
The Gambia hosting the OIC Summit meant, from the very onset, building the entire infrastructure from scratch. From the road infrastructure, to hotels for accommodation, to the provision of transportation, internet access, and conference centre (which luckily had already been donated by China to the tune of $50M and so on. They all knew this before awarding it to poor Gambia.
However, in the spirit of Islam, rich countries should help cover the shortcomings of the poorer ones. It was morally – if not legally – binding on Saudi Arabia and the other Arab states to assist The Gambia financially to prevent this huge embarrassment to, not only The Gambia as a country, but to the entire Muslim world.
The Gambia has lost a huge opportunity to turn the tide and register some level of success, economically. Islam teaches that one should help one’s brother to stand on his own feet and stop depending on others. The Saudi Arabia government had an opportunity to pull The Gambia out of the current quagmire it finds itself.
This failed bid to host the summit may be one of the biggest blows to hit The Gambia since we succeeded in peacefully defenestrating a dictator for which we came under the spotlight of the world’s attention, for a positive reason.
If indeed Saudi Arabia was serious about Islamic solidarity and had had the intention of rendering genuine help to The Gambia’s bid to host, nothing could have stopped this summit from happening here.
Could it be that the Saudi Arabia government wanted to sway The Gambia government in a particular direction failing which they began to drag their feet? This is quite possible given their track record in the world where they support countries based on how much influence they can exert on the government.
Speculations have it that the bid was given a new impetus when former President Yahya Jammeh declared The Gambia an Islamic State threatening to introduce Shariah law in the country.
It is possible that that was the motivation behind giving the country the nod to host this very important summit. If that is the case, then it simply exposes the hypocrisy of some of these rich Muslim nations who use their God-given oil money not to help poor countries genuinely as taught by Islam, but use it to buy influence, sometimes at catastrophic consequences for those poor nations.
Instead of the hundreds of millions of dollars that these Arab nations spend and invest in the West, they could easily have assisted their Muslim brothers get out of the clutches of crushing poverty as they are battling now.
The support we see mostly is Saudi Arabia giving dates, meet and copies of the Holy Qur’an instead of what we really want and need. Where is the Islamic solidarity that they keep talking about?
No wonder the poor African countries prefer the West to the Arab nations despite belonging to the same religion as them. It is not impossible also that The Gambia Government also has a portion of the blame in this case given the deeply rooted corruption in our society. Whether that is the case or not we may never know as they have not – are unlikely to – come out to clarify these issues.