Few African leaders have spoken openly about the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. Those who have, maintain a firm stance on their divergent positions.
Reactions have been mixed with analysts suggesting positions are not only based on relationships with Israel and Palestine, which include government interests, but also the individual historical context of each African country.
Israel: Cameroon, DRC, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Zambia
“Kenya joins the rest of the world in solidarity with the State of Israel and unequivocally condemns terrorism and attacks on innocent civilians in the country,” wrote President William Ruto on X (formerly Twitter) shortly after Hamas’ attack on southern Israel on 7 October.
Ruto was not alone. Days later, during a trip to Washington, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo said the country “like all civilised countries, is firm in her support of Israel”.
Perhaps Israel’s fiercest advocate on the continent resides in Cameroon, with President Paul Biya expressing “sincere condolences” to Israel, a victim of the “Islamic Palestinian militant group Hamas,” in a letter to Israeli President Isaac Herzog.
Israel is an attractive partner for many African governments mainly because of its advanced defence technology and its position as a global leader in the agricultural sector.
Take Rwanda, where Israel’s Gigawatt Global developed the first utility-scale solar photovoltaic facility in East Africa in 2015, or Cameroon, where Israeli-based NUFiltration installed water decontamination systems in 2018.
In the last decade, Israeli private charities, tech companies and politicians have ramped up their efforts to claim prominence in Africa.
Palestine: Algeria, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia
On Monday, South Africa’s minister in the presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said that the country is recalling its diplomatic staff from Tel Aviv, referring to the conflict as “another holocaust”. The move came days after Chad recalled its ambassador to Israel.
Before that, South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) had already made its position clear: “It can no longer be disputed that South Africa’s apartheid history is occupied Palestine’s reality,” said ANC spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri in a statement on 8 October.
Algeria’s foreign ministry also took to X to show its support for the Palestinian people in a statement. “Algeria strongly condemns the brutal air strikes by the Zionist [Israeli] occupation forces in the Gaza Strip, and which caused many casualties, including children and women.”
Another member of The Arab League, Tunisia, called on the international community to “stand with the Palestinian people, and to remember the massacres committed by the Zionist enemy to our Arab people in Palestine”.
In Egypt, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi came out in mid-October, professing ‘unwavering support’ for Palestinians, but concerns remain in the country regarding the possible influx of refugees.
The message coming from the pro-Palestinian corner is clear – this is not war, this is genocide.
Neutrality: Nigeria, Uganda
Nigeria and Uganda, while not remaining silent, have remained decidedly neutral.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has voiced his support for a ‘two-state solution’ while a statement from Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged both sides to “exercise restraint” and “prioritise the safety of civilians”.
Did [Israel] go into Africa because we wanted votes at the United Nations?
“Israel is coming back to Africa, and Africa is returning to Israel,” said current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February 2016 while welcoming former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta during a state visit in Jerusalem.
But Israel’s ties to Africa go back further than that. In the late 1950s and 1960s, then foreign minister Golda Meir conducted an intense diplomatic campaign across the continent and by the end of the decade had established solid diplomatic relationships with at least 30 African countries.
Meir’s campaign purportedly aimed to show support for the anti-colonial movement sweeping the continent at the time.
“Did we go into Africa because we wanted votes at the United Nations? Yes, of course that was one of our motives – and a perfectly honourable one – which I never, at any time, concealed either from myself or from Africans,” Meir says in her autobiography.
Today, Israel has embassies and consulates in 12 African countries with 44 AU member states recognising Israel’s statehood.
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