If there is one continent that should feel the most for the plight of the Palestinians, it is probably Africa. Because oppression, colonialism, genocide, and various other human rights violations are lived experiences for Africa. This is an observation, but waving the "victim/victim" flag has not brought any solution anywhere. Because, as Thomas Sankara emphasized, "Only struggle liberates", never victimization. Today, Israel's genocidal policy against the Palestinian people has significantly strengthened the solid support of Africans on this issue. However, the African position on direct intervention or taking a position is still varied. This nuance is reflected in the African Union summit, particularly in the statement by Commission President Moussa Faki Mahamat on the escalations that began in October 2023.
Between Emotion, Empathy, and Interest Some African countries have demonstrated unequivocal support for the Palestinian issue because of their attachment to Arab ethnic identity. Countries north of the Sahara Desert share ethnic origins with Palestine, embrace a common history and therefore have a motivation stemming from their Arab ethnic identity. This is not the case for the nations south of the Sahara Desert. At the same time, others express this solidarity with empathy because they too have faced similar experiences, such as Algeria and apartheid South Africa. Within the continent, however, different perspectives are evident. Some countries see the conflict as a distant problem and therefore do not consider it a matter of direct concern. Also, other African countries have warmer relations with Israel on the basis of economic exchanges and political interests, although they do not express their position openly. These situations, or lack of interest, present a portrait of an Africa that relies on history, ethnic and political diversity, and difference in the face of conflict. In other words, it is a multipolar Africa. Moreover, if half or even the majority of African nations do not seem to be concerned at the highest level, this can be explained in several ways. First, repression and various human rights violations are widespread on the African continent. While different from Palestine, there is no shortage of tragedies, from Sudan to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where thousands of children, women, and innocent civilians have lost their lives. This reality in Africa may leave some unresponsive to the ongoing evil in Palestine.
Moreover, many Africans are discouraged by the silence of the Arab countries and Palestine's neighbors, both geopolitically and socio-economically, which should be of most concern. This is exemplified by Thomas Sankara's famous quote: "The slave who cannot take up his resistance does not deserve to feel sorry for himself. If this slave is deluded about the suspicious contempt of a master who claims to have made him free, he will be solely responsible for his misfortune." Since slavery was known to have been abolished centuries before Sankara's birth, there is little doubt that he was referring to the capitalist-imperialist oppression to which Africans were and perhaps still are subjected. Therefore, given that the genocidal Israeli regime practiced a policy of suffocation against all non-Jews, it is possible to draw parallels with cases of Western imperialist oppression of the rest of the world. At a time when the world is divided into alliances based on purpose, ethnicity, interest and geography, this raises the question for many Africans: Why intervene in the Palestinian conflict if the Arabs themselves do not care about their own fate? In this context, the complexity of Africa's engagement with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict suggests the need for a nuanced approach to understanding the continent's overall stance on this complex issue. To better understand this trigonometric relationship, it is important to take a historical overview, going back to the histories of the parties to the conflict, but also to Africa's history.
It is also crucial to examine the demographic, politica,l and socio-economic dimensions in order to gain a deeper understanding of the internal dynamics of the phenomenon. Until the late 1960s, relations between Palestinians and Africans were almost non-existent, except for South Africans. For Palestinians, black Africa was not a big issue politically, but Africans were not interested in a subject that seemed distant to them. This mutual indifference was exacerbated by the fact that Israel at that time embarked on a policy of large-scale expansion on the continent. The turning point came when Ghana, under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah, established the first diplomatic and economic relations with Israel. This initiative was quickly followed by other African countries, so that by the mid-1960s, around forty countries were cooperating significantly with Israel in various fields such as agriculture and defense, and offering scholarships for their students. However, the subsequent evolution of the situation witnessed significant changes. The Palestinians gained a great deal of sympathy for their cause as an oppressed group. At the same time, the Israelis gained strong support from business and political circles with a pragmatic approach focused on economic considerations. This complex evolution reveals the changing dynamics of relations between Palestinians, Africans, and Israel over time, showing how political, economic, and social factors have influenced the relationship.
Palestine: A Case Beyond Ethnicity The Palestinian issue has transcended ethnic boundaries into a quest for social justice and fundamental rights, a profound issue deeply rooted in the global consciousness. This perspective is particularly meaningful in Africa, as solidarity with Palestine transcends ethnic boundaries and embraces universal principles of human dignity and the fight against oppression. The situation in Palestine is often interpreted as a social justice issue for the indigenous people who have lost their land and for those who face discrimination. Human rights violations, such as restrictions on movement and settlements, raise international concerns, and similar experiences of dispossession throughout history in Africa foster a shared empathy. The Palestinian issue represents an example of oppression and resistance, drawing solidarity from those who see themselves as oppressed. This solidarity transcends geographical boundaries and resonates with experiences of struggle against oppression in many African communities, thus strengthening emotional ties to the Palestinian issue.
In addition to the Rainbow Nation - South Africa - whose steadfast position is rooted in its apartheid past, Chad has withdrawn its diplomats from Israel, despite its recent attempt to rapprochement with Israel. This represents a significant shift in the positions of most African countries. Faced with internal challenges, such as terrorist attacks in the Sahel, civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and events in Sudan, countries are shifting their support in favor of the Palestinian people. There are several factors motivating these developments. First, traditionally, Africa has been sensitive to the Palestinian issue. Summits of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the forerunner of the African Union (EU), have been memorable for the participation of Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). This commitment is largely rooted in Africa's colonial past, which fuels it with solidarity for all peoples struggling for independence and freedom. Moreover, African support for the Palestinians stems from the humanitarian tragedy of this conflict. South Africa has characterized the situation as "a genocide taking place in full view of the international community", while Chad has expressed its sorrow at the loss of innocent civilians.Finally, African support for Palestine is based on the memory that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was historically the starting point of Islamist movements. This memory is all the more vivid at a time when Africa is currently facing terrorist attacks.
Israel: A Hated Partner Everywhere Following the October 7, 2023, Hamas counter-attacks and the genocidal Israeli response, Sub-Saharan African countries have generally reacted timidly and belatedly to the situation in the Middle East. The question is this: How to explain these timid positions, despite the lack of support for Israel and historical orientations towards the Palestinian cause? Before the 1973 war, Israel had managed to establish very positive relations with many newly independent African countries. The 1960s saw a period of cooperation promoted through the Mashav organization, when Israel opened embassies in many African countries. Golda Meir, both Foreign Minister (1956-1966) and Prime Minister of Israel (1969-1974), played a key role in promoting this cooperation. However, the situation changed dramatically with the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, when most OUA member states severed diplomatic relations out of solidarity with Egypt. The revival really gained momentum from the Oslo Accords onwards, although many countries had previously established trade or diplomatic relations on an informal basis. Unfortunately, the Second Intifada (2000-2005) again hampered the development of these diplomatic relations. Today, it is impressive to see that 46 of the 54 members of the African Union officially recognize Israel. This number is even more significant when compared to the Arab League, where 18 of its 22 members (5 in Sub-Saharan Africa) do not recognize Israel.
Despite the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, discussions continued around the settlement issue in the West Bank. At the same time, symbolic figures such as Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, remained particularly popular in Sub-Saharan Africa. A comparative analysis, especially between the post-Oslo period and relations before the Yom Kippur War, makes it clear that the African continent did not really occupy a prominent place in Israel's strategic priorities. Before 1973, the country had thirty embassies on the continent, a number that has dropped to ten today, but Israel still has relations with over forty African countries.
In 2017, most African countries strongly opposed the US decision to open an embassy in Jerusalem at an emergency meeting at the UN. The limits of Benjamin Netanyahu's policy towards Africa have become even more evident, especially within the African Union, where Israel gained observer status in 2021 with Ghana's support. In the African Union, where Palestine has been an observer member since 2012, this inauguration provoked significant protests, especially from the continent's major actors, such as South Africa and Algeria. These controversies led to a significant delay of the definitive accreditation to Israel. In February 2023, the situation reached a critical point when an Israeli diplomat was expelled from the room where Israel's African Union summit was taking place and its observer status was suspended.
The positions of African countries towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reflect a variety of approaches, influenced by factors such as historical relations, regional political considerations and international alliances. Some African countries, such as South Africa, Algeria, and Tunisia, offer strong support for the Palestinian cause on the principles of historical solidarity and national liberation struggle. Others adopt more nuanced positions, such as Morocco, which has chosen a certain neutrality in its relations with Israel, moving towards a normalization in 2020. Some African countries, such as Nigeria, tend to show sensitivity to Palestinian rights while at the same time recognizing the need for peaceful coexistence. Simultaneously, countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda have established diplomatic relations with Israel, emphasizing various approaches within the continent. The vast majority hold passive positions, adhering to classic statements such as "calling for a ceasefire" or "peaceful coexistence".