Gabon seeks bigger voice in 57-member platform for Muslim countries

April 23, 2012, Monday/ 18:21:00/ ABDULLAH BOZKURT

Having successfully hosted a ministerial-level meeting of the world’s largest intergovernmental body after the UN in it’s capital of Libreville, Gabon is now seeking more clout in the 57-member forum for Muslim countries.

Gabon spoke loud and clear at the meeting of the 9th session of the Islamic conference of Information Ministers held in Libreville last week, even though this was the first time Gabon has hosted a high-level OIC meeting.

The fact that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) held a meeting here was certainly a landmark event for Gabon and it means a lot,” said Ekmeleddin ihsanoğlu, who heads the OIC, based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. “It has significantly strengthened ties between Gabon and the Muslim world,” he told Today’s Zaman on the sidelines of the meeting.

İhsanoğlu said he discussed a number of possible joint projects for the OIC and the gabonese government with Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba.

“The future relationship between the OIC and the Muslim world looks very promising,” İhsanoğlu said. He also announced that a senior diplomat from Gabon will work at the OIC headquarters in Jeddah.

The OIC head predicted that the high-level meeting would impact Gabon’s neighboring countries in Central and West Africa. The OIC conference was the first meeting of its kind to be held in central Africa.

It was clear that Gabon placed much importance on hosting the OIC event, giving top-level treatment to the OIC Secretary General and all the delegates who participate in the meeting. President Ondimba lent his own plane to İhsanoğlu for the secretary general’s return flight to Jeddah and drove him to the mosque in his luxurious Rolls Royce to attend Friday prayer at the Central mosque in Libreville, where Imam Muhammad Rizogo praised the OIC for contributing to peace and development in the Muslim world. Delivering his sermon both in Arabic and French, Rizogo asked Muslims to restore the distorted image of Islam and Muslims and to present its true image to the world. Before the Friday prayer, OIC leader İhsanoğlu was awarded with the honorary title Grand Commander of the Order of the Gabonese Republic (Grand commandeur de l’ordre de la République Gabonaise) by the Gabonese president.

“President Bongo was determined to anchor his country firmly in the group of active Muslim countries and he did great job with this high level meeting in Libreville,” İhsanoğlu stated. He added that Gabon, which is influential in Central Africa, is an important player in the OIC. In his address to the conference, İhsanoğlu praised the leadership of President Bongo and paid tribute to Bongo’s late father, El Haji Omar Bongo whom he said was responsible for turning Gabon into a stable country.

Gabon has shown interest in many issues confronting Muslims today. In his speech to the delegates at the OIC conference, Gabonese Minister of Digital Economy Communications and Post Blaisse Louembe reiterated his country’s support for the Palestinian cause and for the reconciliation agreement between Palestinian groups signed in the Qatari capital of Doha. His country endorsed a resolution calling for the return of calm, peace and security to the Sahel and Sahara regions.

The resolution condemned and rejected “any attempts to undermine the security and stability of the Republic of the Sudan.” It also stressed the OIC’s commitment to the security, safety and inalienable sovereignty of the Republic of Mali concerning its borders.

The Gabonese minister also elaborated on the need to support dialogue, solidarity and consultation among OIC member states.

Louembe noted that Islamophobia should be combated through diplomacy and with peace, dialogue and tolerance. He called for awareness-raising campaigns to eliminate violence advocated by some extremist movements.

In his welcoming speech, President Ondimba warned against the looming dangers of Islamophobia and the growing hatred of Muslims in Western media. He called for a comprehensive strategy to combat terrorism, extremism and radicalism, stating that Islam and Muslims are the first victims of extremism.

Gabon is planning to use its relations with OIC member countries to expand its influence in Africa by raising issues that are important for the African countries such as development, famine and education. At the conference last week, the Gabonese government proposed a special media program to be organized by the OIC to highlight Africa’s position and role in the Muslim world, which was unanimously approved. The program will aim to “project the significance of this continent [Africa] and its economic, cultural, and tourist potential, thus reflecting its bright image in local and international media.”

Establishing an international satellite TV channel under the name of the OIC was another proposal put forward by the Gabonese government. The Islamic satellite channel will raise awareness about the OIC, its members and activities, as well as all issues which could affect Muslim countries, while promoting cooperation in politics, cultural events, the economy, artistic events and tourism.

Gabon also extended its promise to follow up on the implementation of the projects and resolutions adopted in the OIC conference, and promised to report back to the OIC at the next meeting. Gabon will work with Morocco and Iran to follow up on resolutions adopted in the 9th Islamic Conference of Information Ministers.

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