by MTHULISI SIBANDA, MARIA MACHARIA, AHMED MOOLA & EMEKA OKONKWO
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – THE divisions by governments in the continent over the raging war between Israel and the Hamas underlines how African countries have been caught up in geopolitical wrangles.
It highlights how their positions are determined by political and economic interests.
While the African Union (AU) has sought a neutral, non-aligned stance, some member states have made it clear whose side of the conflict they are on since Hamas, the militant group seeking self-rule in the Palestine territories launched surprise, deadly attacks on Israel on October 7.
The death toll in both territories is put at around 5 000.
Since the so-called Operation Al-Aqsa Flood commenced, a number of African countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda have affirmed some form of solidarity with Israel.
“Kenya joins the rest of the world in solidarity with the State of Israel and unequivocally condemn terrorism and attacks on innocent civilians in the country,” Kenya president, William Ruto, was among the first to condemn.
Some opposition politicians have criticised the stance by Ruto’s administration and demanded that the government cut ties with Israel and expel its envoy.
Ghana’s foreign affairs ministry stated it affirmed its support for Israel’s right to self exist, and defend itself, but called on that Israeli government to exercise restraint in its response to Hamas attacks.
Rwanda’s statement was cryptic but it is evident it is on the Israeli side.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Republic of Rwanda avails itself of this opportunity to renew the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel.”
Meanwhile, in South Africa, revelations of communication between Naledi Pandor, the International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) minister, and the Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, put the cats among the pigeons.
There were even reports that, in that dialogue, the minister expressed South Africa’s support of the Operation Al-Aqsa Flood.
Clayson Monyela, DIRCO spokesperson, dismissed such.
“During the call, and in line with the government’s position, Minister Pandor reiterated South Africa’s solidarity and support for the people of Palestine and expressed sadness and regret for the loss of innocent lives both Palestinians and Israelis,” Monyela said.
He disclosed Pandor and the Hamas leader discussed how to get the necessary humanitarian aid to Gaza and other parts of the Palestinian territories.
“The reports that Minister Pandor also offered support for the ‘Battle of Al-Aqsa Flood’ are untrue and meant to impugn the Minister and the Government of South Africa.
Vincent Magwenya, spokesperson for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, said it was false the government was offering support to Hamas.
“We do not have a bilateral relationship with Hamas. We have bilateral ties with the Palestinian authority. Support for the Palestinian struggle against occupation does not equate to support for Hamas,” Magwenya said.
It should be clarified that Hamas actions are not necessarily representative of Palestinians.
South Africa has over the years been the most vocal of African countries against Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories of Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Ramaphosa blamed the continued occupation as the trigger to the latest conflict.
Israel’s policies and actions in its occupation of the Palestinian territories have drawn accusations that it is committing the crime of apartheid, an oppressive system South Africa practiced from 1948 until its fall in 1994.
The conflict was on the agenda when the ruling African National Congress’ (ANC) National Executive Council (NEC) met this week.
Members wore the Palestinian keffiyeh, the chequered black and white scarf, in solidarity.
“The ANC re-asserts its stance on a peaceful resolution of this conflict between Israel and Palestine whilst expressing our solidarity with Palestine for their liberation from conditions that have been characterised similarly to our own historical experience of oppression under the apartheid regime,” Secretary-General, Fikile Mbalula, said.
While South Africa and Israel’s rift is widening, the latter’s relations with most Sub-Saharan countries are on a high.
In 2021, the AU approved Israel’s request for observer status, paving way for stronger cooperation in various areas.
Israel, an ally of the United States, has diplomatic relations with 44 (out of 55) AU member states. Palestine has 26.
Israel appeals to African governments for its prowess in agriculture, technology and security.
There has been no appeal in recent days in parts of North Africa in recent days.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry evacuated staff from the embassy in Cairo, Egypt and from the liaison office in Rabat, Morocco due to protests in support of Palestinians amid the Israel-Hamas war.
Protests have taken place outside of the Israeli missions.
The demonstrations have largely denounced the explosion at the Al-Ahli al-Arabi Hospital in Gaza, which killed at least 471 people and wounded 314 others.
Palestinian authorities attributed the blast to an Israeli airstrike, which Israeli officials have denied.
Israeli authorities have increased security measures at diplomatic missions globally.
The evacuation of remaining Israeli diplomatic missions throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is possible in the coming days.
Pro-Palestinian rallies are scheduled and are likely to escalate on October 20 and continue through late October in the region.
In North Africa, CAJ News Africa ascertained these will be held in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.
“While many demonstrations will almost certainly exhibit a strong anti-Israeli and anti-Western sentiment, significant violence is unlikely at most rallies,” said a security expert in the region.
In Nigeria, the continent’s largest country by population (220 million) the government of President Bola Tinubu, advocated for dialogue.
However, an aide of President Bola Tinubu’s ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), mentioned how a decision by the regional bloc to rescind military action against Niger has saved the region from a crisis akin to the one ravaging Hamas and Israel.
The aide, Femi Fani-Kayode, was referring to the action the Economic Community of West African Countries (ECOWAS) initially set to take after the July coup in Niger.
“Many towns and communities in our sub-region would be suffering what the innocent men, women and children of Israel suffered last Saturday at the hands of Hamas and what Gaza and its people are suffering today at the hands of the Israelis,” Fani-Kayode said.
“Hundreds of thousands of our people would have been slaughtered and millions would have been displaced and turned into vagrants, vagabonds, homeless wanderers and refugees. Worse of all is the fact that the rest of the world would not have given a damn,” he said
The Hamas-Israel conflict is the latest war to elicit divisions among African governments. Similar differences emerged after the Russia-Ukraine war broke out in early 2022.
When the United Nations (UN) put forward a resolution to vote to condemn the invasion by Russia, 28 African countries voted for, 17 voted to abstain, eight did not submit a vote and only Eritrea voted against.
– CAJ News