GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Gulf Charities in Africa: Opportunities and Constraints in an Era of Global Restructuring
Paper Proposal Text :
In this paper I explore how current changes in the global context are affecting the activities of charities from the Gulf states on the ground in Africa. On the basis of field research in Chad and Senegal, I highlight the negative effects of the so-called ‘War on Terror’ on Gulf charities and their African target groups, as well as some more recent trends that may be facilitating the work of Gulf charities in Africa. These include the emergence of an increasingly multi-polar world order challenging the hegemony of the West in economic, political and cultural domains, and changing ideas about religion and ‘development’ in the humanitarian field.

When conducting research on Gulf charities in Chad in 2004, the effects of the War on Terror were palpable with many such charities I studied forced to close down. The ‘War on Terror’ has not only severely constrained the number and room for maneuver but has also negatively influenced their image internationally. More recent developments, however, indicate a contrapuntal trend in the sense that they might help to create opportunities for Gulf charities in Africa.
First, over the last few years it has become clear that the world has taken on an increasingly multipolar character through the emergence of such economic global powers as China, India, Brazil, Turkey and the Gulf states. Whereas the ‘War on Terror’ attempted to assert Western control, it is increasingly apparent that the West no longer has the economic, political and cultural hegemony it long proclaimed. This multipolarity might offer opportunities for charitable work from the Gulf in Africa because of the reinforcement of economic, political and diplomatic linkages between Gulf states and African countries and concomitantly changing perceptions of actors from the Gulf among African political and religious leaders and populations.
Second, among humanitarians, academics and policy makers, more nuanced and positive perspectives about Islamic charities have emerged in the framework of renewed interest in faith-based organizations (FBOs). Interestingly, the negative and positive perspectives both have their roots in the recognition that culture matters in today’s global era. Interpreted negatively, this has led to the kind of ‘clash of civilization’ thinking that is so apparent in the ‘War on Terror’ discourse. Interpreted positively, this leads to the idea that FBOs, including Islamic NGOs, are often better equipped to offer relief than other actors with religion presumably being the vehicle for the requisite cultural proximity to the target groups. Such a development has expanded opportunities for Gulf charities to link up with other organizations locally and internationally and to break with their isolated position in the larger humanitarian field. Examples from Chad and Senegal illustrate how charities from the Gulf states are engaging with these opportunities and help us to understand their objectives and strategies in this changing context.