There’s a long-standing connection between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, shaped by trade and faith. Former BBC Africa Editor Martin Plaut explores this relationship, which has caused increased tensions between and within the countries in the Horn, and which has affected the Christians there badly.
Over centuries, trading between the two regions has gone hand in hand with the export of Islam. Saudi Arabia especially funded the expansion of Wahhabism – its interpretation of Islam – through the establishment of mosques, Qur’anic schools and imams.
However, not everyone was ready to embrace this authoritarian form of Islam.
In Somalia, for example, most Somalis practised a moderate form of Sufi Islam, but the Islamic fundamentalists of al-Shabaab didn’t. Imposing a much more severe form of the faith, they destroyed mosques and desecrated shrines of revered Sufi leaders.
Today, Somalia is a fragmented country and the second most difficult place to live for Christians in the world.
On the back of trade and religion, arms and military influence have also entered the region. The war in Yemen between the government and Houthi rebels is no longer a “local” affair, as it involves countries as far away as Eritrea. There, both the Saudis and United Arab Emirates have established bases from where they, amongst others, support the Yemeni government.
Eritrea is no. 8 on the World Watch List of countries where Christians are most persecuted, produced by Open Doors. Islamic oppression is the most common cause of pressure against Christians worldwide and it is rising most sharply in Africa.