GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
Al Ghassani
First Name:
Title of Paper:
Gulfrica: Blowing the Horn of Light into Afrabia
Paper Proposal Text :
Gulfrica: Blowing the Horn of Light into Afrabia.


Harith Al Ghassani

One corridor of “Afrabia” covers those areas of the Arab and African regions bordering the western Indian Ocean that are intimately bound together by history, language, culture, and economics. Twenty Arab states, one third of the Arab world and around 72% of Arab lands are in Africa. According to Professor Ali A. Mazrui who coined the term “Afrabia”, there are more Arabs living in Africa than in Arabia. An even longer and deeper relationship is the connection between the Arab/Persian Gulf with East and Central Africa. It is a demographic fact that outside the United Republic of Tanzania, there are more Swahili-speaking Zanzibaris in the Sultanate of Oman and the Arab Gulf in general than anywhere else in Africa or in the world.
Linked for over two thousand years by alternating monsoon wind patterns that ferry dhows from one end to the other and back again, the two sites (the Arab/Persian Gulf and East and Central Africa) have deep connections that began with trade. Linguistic ties emerged through the lingua franca of Kiswahili, which now binds communities throughout the East African littoral and Arab/Persian Gulf. It is estimated that around 40% of Swahili vocabulary derives from Arabic, and the language is spoken in Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, the Comoros, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.
Oman’s liberation of the west Indian Ocean from the Portuguese in late 17th century literally established the current border between Tanzania and Mozambique, the later is said to have been named after an Omani chieftain, Musa bin Bek. Political consolidation in the early 19th century of the Al-Busaidi empire under Oman’s Sultan Sayyid Said bin Sultan and establishment of Zanzibar as the seat of his political and economic power consolidated a layer of political coherence to an already existing and far-flung network of mutually beneficial economic exchange. Omani sultans would continue to rule Zanzibar and much of East Africa from the time of Sultan Sayyid Said until the 1964 Zanzibar revolution. Misunderstood by both Zanzibaris, Omanis, Tanzanians, and international scholars in general, the so-called “Arab” or “Islamic” slavery and the ethnographic narratives of the Zanzibar revolution, are major historical hurdles and will be elucidated during the workshop as opportunities to revive one of the oldest relationship in the world, i.e. between the Gulf and Africa south of the Sahara.
But of greater imperative for the workshop is the future and especially the more recent developments encompassing the new global forces that are entering East and Africa, the relations between the Sultanate, Zanzibar and Tanzania in the last fifty years, the curbing of East African identity in Oman, the identity of Omanis living in East and Central Africa, the Omani television series on Zanzibar (2013) and their impact on Omani people, the establishment of the Oman Academic Fellowship Program for the State University of Zanzibar (2012)), the state visit (2012) to Oman of Dr. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, the President of the United Republic of Tanzania, the opening of a branch of the Oman Oil company in Dar es Salaam (2014), the building of the Sultan Qaboos mosque in Zanzibar (2013), “History of Islamic Civilization in Eastern Africa” held in Zanzibar (2013), this years’ establishment of the Embassy of Oman in Kenya, etcetera; are all contributions and an omen of better relations between Oman and East Africa.
What is missing is “Gulfrica” another coinage of Professor Ali A. Mazrui that can be used as a facilitating/coordinating horn of light think-tank to blow new life into old Afrabia (along the United Nations University model as suggested by Professor Ali Mazrui) study abroad programs/exchange program and research for young scholars from the Gulfrica and the West. As a case study in the theme of cross cultural, historical and future understanding that will permeate the project, my presentation will touch on the visit of the vessel Sultana to New York. The Sultana loaded cargo in Muscat and in Zanzibar in 1839 and anchored in New York harbor on 30 April 1840 after 87 days at sea. It bore the first diplomatic emissary and trade mission of either an African or Arabian state to the United States. This constituted the earliest diplomatic/economic exchange involving Africa, Arabia, and the US.
Beyond Gulfrica enriching future young scholar’s understanding and forging the new Afrabia, this project aims to establish long-lasting ties between the Gulfrica, US and UK universities. For example, SUZA and other Zanzibar universities will benefit by promoting Zanzibar as a renewed center of learning and by recapturing its former status as the educational/cosmopolitan cockpit of the Indian Ocean region. Relatively new Gulfrica institutions of higher learning both stand to gain from the interactions to be had between their students/faculty and those from older and well-established universities from the US-UK. Moreover the Gulfrica-West triangulation (along the lines of Kishore Mahbubani’s thesis on the “March to Modernity”) will benefit from the challenge Gulfrica poses to traditional areas studies paradigms (African, Arab, Islamic, Middle Eastern) that leave under-researched intermediate potential area studies such as Afrabia that transcend conventional regional boundaries. This offers a high potential for future collaborative strategic research-to-policy studies amongst them.
At its core, however, Gulfrica seeks to dislodge common understandings of global culture as a single Western phenomena and begin to rely upon the intermediary courtyard of imagination, research-to-policy studies within the fluctuating and changing worlds of Gulfrica and the West. Gulfrica and Afrabia intermediate area studies scholars and students will be provoked to question simultaneous stereotypes of millennia-old Arab societies as unchanging, of Africa as “the Dark Continent,” and of Islam as an essentially fundamentalist and conservative religion. “Gulfrica: Blowing the Horn of Light into Afrabia” will engage participants to transcend such positions and feel the full force of standing in Afrabia through Gulfrica and within the context of the shift of global power to the Indian Ocean.