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Many African governments still support Israel. Here’s why.

By Simon Mwebaze

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV.

October 7th, 2023 took the entire world by surprise. Hamas gunmen launched an unprecedented surprise attack, killing nearly 1200 people and taking 248 hostages. Israel responded with heavy airstrikes, and on October 23, 2023, the Israel Defense Forces invaded Gaza as retaliation and declared a war to eliminate Hamas once and for all. So far, the war in Gaza has killed over 22,000 Palestinians.

This conflict is not new. 38 years after capturing the area in 1967, Israel left the Gaza Strip in 2005. Since then, Gaza has been under the rulership of Hamas. There have been four wars excluding the current conflict. The four wars were in 2008-2009, 2012, 2014, and 2021, usually as retaliation for thousands of rockets fired from Gaza and Israelis taken hostage by Hamas.

In times of war, countries worldwide usually take sides. But Africa, apart from South Africa,  seems to be flying under the radar. Since African countries can relate to the Palestinian struggle due to their experience with colonialism and apartheid, it is expected that they would be louder for the cause of Palestinians. While they have not been pivotal in solving the issue, African countries are not new to showing their stance on the conflict.

Since 1973, many African countries under the Organization of African Unity cut ties with Israel. This was due to the occupation of Egyptian territories in 1975 which led to 25 African states cutting ties with Israel in solidarity with Egypt. But over time, the relationship between Africa and Israel has warmed up following the Camp David Accords and Oslo Accords.

The relationship has grown positively to the extent that 46 of 55 African Union country members have ties with Israel. As a result, 30 African countries have opened up embassies and consulates in Tel Aviv. With a conflict that has raged on for decades and a continent that knows all too well about colonialism and apartheid, it may beg the question of why several African countries continue ties with Israel.

African countries do not only relate with Palestinians but Israelis, too. This is especially true about the challenge of terrorism from militant Muslim groups. Both East and West Africa have suffered the brunt of terrorism. Some examples include Kenya which suffered an attack by Al Qaeda at the US embassy in 1998 that led to the death of 200 people. In 2013, Al-Shabaab conducted another terror attack on Kenya at Westgate Mall, killing 68 people and injuring 175.

Kenya has not been the only victim of such attacks in the East African region. Uganda has also borne its fair share. The most recent attack was by the Allied Defense Forces (ADF), a Muslim militant group that is based in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The worst attack in Uganda was in 2010 at Kyadondo Rugby Club and the Ethiopian Village Restaurant where people were watching the 2010 World Cup Finals. The attack killed at least 76 people. In the west, Nigeria suffered the brunt of 90 armed assaults and 59 suicide attacks from Boko Haram in 2017.

Due to the terrorism challenges, many of these African countries have resorted to creating ties with Israel. Israel provides intelligence and strategies that help manage the threat of terrorism.

More so, Israel and Africa have a trade relationship. The biggest trade partners of Israel in Africa include South Africa and Nigeria. In 2021, trade between Sub Saharan Africa and Israel surpassed $750 million, with two-thirds of the pie going to South Africa. While South Africa also trades with Palestine, the volume is incomparable.

Israel has offered training and assistance in several African economic sectors, especially agriculture. Since they have seen success in agriculture in Israel, an arid area, they have plenty to share with African countries experiencing unfavorable weather conditions. Some challenges Israel helps African countries with include drought, famine, and floods. This is important to the African continent because it has a 5% undernourished population therefore guaranteeing food security is critical. 70% of the world’s hungriest people live in Africa in countries like Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia.

Senegal and Kenya have also enjoyed training from the Israel International Aid Agency. Additionally, in Cameroon, Israel propped up Paul Biya, their current president. They assisted by training an army unit known as BIR.

Maybe the final reason is the majority of Africa subscribes to Christianity. Christians make up 50.9% of the population of Africa. Christianity is attached to the support of Israel.

While a few African countries have an uncompromising stance against Israel like Algeria, most African countries tacitly support Israel. They are mostly silent on the war or in support of Israel due to the benefits they receive in several vital sectors. The relationship between Israel and African countries is more mutually beneficial than the relationship between African countries and Palestine.

African countries enjoy aid support, agricultural technology and innovations, intelligence on terrorism, and military training and support. Besides removing Israel as an AU Observer in February 2023, South Africa and Chad retrieving their representatives from Tel Aviv, and supporting resolutions for Palestine at the United Nations, Africa subtly supports Israel.

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Simon Mwebaze

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