In recent years, the African continent has seen a strengthening of its ties with the State of Israel, as the nation gains more allies across Africa. While most African states have historically supported the Palestinian people, the African Union (AU), through its Commission President, Moussa Faki Mahamat, called for de-escalation in the conflict between Hamas and Israel on October 7th. Faki Mahamat, a Chadian, advocated for a “return to the negotiation table without preconditions to implement the two-state solution” and emphasized the need to defend “the interests of the Palestinian and Israeli people.” He added that the “denial of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people, including an independent and sovereign state, is the primary cause of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian tension.”
African Nations’ Differing Responses
Support from Surprising Quarters
Surprisingly, Kenya immediately voiced its unequivocal support for Israel, condemning the Hamas attack without reservation. President William Ruto stated that “there is no justification for terrorism, which poses a serious threat to international peace and security.” Korir Sing’Oei, Kenya’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, went further, firmly condemning the “heinous terrorist attack” and expressing regret for the senseless loss of human lives. He emphasized Israel’s right to retaliate.
Mixed Reactions from Long-standing Allies
Togo, whose Head of State, Faure Gnassingbé, has visited Israel several times, condemned the “Hamas terrorist attack on Israeli civilians” and called for the release of hostages, as stated by its Foreign Affairs Minister, Robert Dussey. Meanwhile, Rwanda and Cameroon, both traditional supporters of Israel in Africa, had not yet issued public statements as of October 9th. Israel has gained significant support in Africa, with diplomatic efforts extending even to Sudan.
Morocco’s Delicate Position
In the Maghreb region, Morocco has maintained the closest ties with Tel Aviv. The predominantly Arab nation normalized its diplomatic relations with Israel in 2020 under the Abraham Accords. This proximity now places Morocco in a delicate position, as its leaders strive not to take sides. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed “deep concern over the deteriorating situation and the outbreak of military actions in the Gaza Strip” while condemning “attacks on civilians wherever they may be.” Morocco, led by a king who chairs the Al-Quds committee overseeing Jerusalem’s holy city, also calls for an “immediate halt to all acts of violence and a return to calm, while avoiding any form of escalation that could undermine prospects for peace in the region.” This neutrality did not prevent solidarity demonstrations for the Palestinian cause in Rabat, Casablanca, and Marrakech.
Egypt’s Role in De-escalation
On the borders of Israel and Gaza, Egypt, the first Arab country to normalize relations with Tel Aviv in 1979, urged both parties to “exercise the utmost restraint,” warning of “the grave danger of the ongoing escalation.” President Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi cautioned against “the danger of a further deterioration of the situation.” Following an attack in Alexandria that resulted in the death of two Israeli tourists and their Egyptian guide, the Israeli National Security Council advised its citizens to “leave Middle Eastern countries,” urging those in Egypt to “shorten their stay” and depart “as soon as possible.”
Tunisia’s Unwavering Support
In contrast to Egypt and Morocco, Tunisia expressed “total and unconditional support for the Palestinian people.” It affirmed that Gaza is “Palestinian territory under Zionist occupation for decades” and that the Palestinian people have the right to reclaim all of Palestine. The Ministry of Education ordered all schools to hoist the Palestinian flag alongside the national flag and have students and teachers sing the Palestinian national anthem as a sign of support. This stance comes as Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed has occasionally exhibited anti-Semitic sentiments, including suggesting a “Zionist” conspiracy behind a Libyan storm, drawing criticism.
Widespread African and Arab Solidarity
The Palestinian cause garners strong support in Tunisia, with widespread backing from civil society organizations and labor unions, including the Tunisian General Labour Union. Opposition parties initiated several rallies in Tunis, showing solidarity with the Palestinians. Similar reactions were observed in Algeria, where the People’s National Assembly’s session featured its President, Ibrahim Boughali, and some deputies wearing scarves inscribed with “Jerusalem is ours” in support of Palestine. The Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement condemning “barbaric Zionist aggressions” in Gaza, expressing deep concern over the loss of innocent Palestinian lives.
Africa’s Stance: A Tradition of Solidarity
Alongside Arab countries and African member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, South Africa has traditionally been one of the continent’s staunchest supporters of the Palestinian cause. While President Cyril Ramaphosa had not publicly commented as of October 9th, the ruling ANC party has consistently aligned with Nelson Mandela’s vision, viewing themselves as “comrades-in-arms of the Palestinian Arabs in their struggle.” The ANC blamed Israel for the current escalation, citing it as a consequence of Israel’s “illegal occupation and colonization of Palestine.” The party called for an “immediate ceasefire.” South Africa’s opposition to Israel was also evident in its objection to granting Israel observer status in the African Union in 2021, a move that caused division within the organization.
Africa’s Complex Diplomatic Landscape
Africa’s evolving relationship with Israel amidst the Hamas-Israel conflict showcases the continent’s diverse stances. While some nations stand in solidarity with Israel, others continue to unwaveringly support the Palestinian cause. These varying positions highlight the intricate diplomatic landscape within Africa and its influence on international dynamics.