Africa and the Middle East


Violence without Borders

Africa is in the thick of the conflicts in the Middle East.  With Iraq up in flames and an estimated 50,000 innocent Iraqi civilians dead and the threat of Syria and Iran being dragged into the War, the Middle East is now a rumbling volcano that can erupt at any time.  And globalization means that the reverberations of a political earthquake in one part of the world are felt in other parts.  Because Africa has substantial Muslim populations, Muslim nations, a dependence on Middle Eastern Oil, US Foreign Aid and Israeli Army and Intelligence training, it has a huge stake in the Middle East. 

The recent war between Israel and Lebanon did not begin with the Hezbollah capture of two Israeli soldiers; it is a flare up of historical hostilities that start with the formation of an Israeli State in 1948 at the expense of Palestinians who were forced into refugee camps.  But in immediate contention was the Israeli detention of 4 Lebanese and close to10, 000 Palestinians for alleged crimes against the Israeli state.  For millions of Muslims in and outside of Africa the detainees are freedom fighters. 

Violence in the Middle East, a result of US empire building, Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and oppression of Palestinians, legitimate resistance and terror organizations has already spilled over onto African soil.  Kenya lost 224 citizens and Tanzania 12 in the 1998 Al – Qaeda terrorist attacks aimed at Americans.  In Kenya again, 15 people died when Al – Qaeda bombed an Israeli resort in Mombassa in 2002.  In Somalia the U.S. has been backing war-lords to fight a proxy war against the Union of Islamic Courts which now controls Mogadishu. 

Ethiopia, eyeing American dollars, is poised to attack Somalia under the pretext of fighting terrorism.  A war between Somalia and Ethiopia will inevitably drag Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Eritrea and other African countries into the conflict.  Because the United States has tied foreign aid to support of its war on terror, many African countries have passed or are contemplating passing anti-terror bills that favor U.S. interests.

The future of the United Nations is also at stake.  Israel defies with impunity U.N. resolutions which call for its return to its 1967 borders because of massive unmitigated U.S. support. If the U.N., already dependent on American dollars, is further weakened, it will leave the weaker nations in Africa and the rest of the world vulnerable to stronger predator nations.  To say that what is happening in the Middle East deeply affects Africa cannot be an overstatement.

African Solidarity with Palestine

On the Palestinian question, African countries have historically broken rank with the U.S., which for the last 61 years has vetoed U.N. resolutions that sanction Israel.  In response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Egypt called for an immediate ceasefire and condemned Israel for its attacks of innocent civilians and for detaining Abdel Aziz Duaik, the speaker of the Palestinian Parliament.   Algeria condemned the Qana massacre as did the African Union which released a statement condemning “in the strongest terms the bombing of Qana, which cannot be justified under any circumstances”.  South Africa called the Israeli attacks a civilian “collective punishment”.  And mass protests denouncing Israel took place in Cape Town and Cairo.  Kenyan Muslims have called for their government to cut ties with Israel. 

It should be noted that no African country has denied Israel the right to exist and none of the statements issued have been anti-Semitic. Rather it is the history of Palestinian oppression and the one sided nature of a war in which an Israeli life is deemed worth 10 Arab lives that have led to the condemnation of Israel’s actions.  With recent memories of colonialism it is natural that Africans would ally themselves with Palestinians.

In the 1970’s 26 African countries severed diplomatic ties with Israel.  But back then Africa could turn to the Soviet Union.  The real question for a present day Africa heavily dependent on the West for trade and aid is whether it is in a position to oppose Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian and wars of expansion and aggression without risking punitive measures from the U.S.

But if Africa wants to express a true solidarity with the Palestinians it has to be willing to make sacrifices. At the risk of donor taps running dry, African countries should consider cutting diplomatic and economic ties with Israel. Fighting colonialism and apartheid Africans demanded solidarity and sacrifice from others.   The African owes a historical debt to the Palestinian who endures what even Jimmy Carter calls “apartheid”.

If today Africans want sanctions declared against the Sudanese government for the ongoing Darfur Genocide, and for the rest of the world to demand an end to wars for profit, and insist on equitable trade in place of labor and raw material exploitation, then they too must be willing to do the same for the Palestinians and other oppressed peoples.

A True solidarity cannot be without sacrifice.  And freedom and well being in Africa should not be at the expense of the Palestinian in the same way Palestinian freedom should not come at the expense of the African.

Toward a One State Solution

The Holocaust, a major event in the long and continuing history of Jewish persecution and anti-Semitism, claimed 6 million Jewish lives.  But not without Jewish resistance that entailed an armed guerilla struggle against the Germans as exemplified by the heroic Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943.  Is it odd then, that the Palestinians have taken up arms against the state of Israel?  A page from Jewish history shows that Israeli oppression of the Palestinian demands Palestinian resistance. 

Perhaps when we think of possible solutions, Africa can be helpful. Africa has experienced slavery, colonialism, civil wars, dictatorships, famine and poverty, and is now witnessing another genocide.  Africa is suffering through a lonely AIDS epidemic.  But Africa has both resiliency and hope.  In Liberia a limping and flawed democracy is in place.  Nigeria survived the Biafran War.  Somalia, if Ethiopia can stop its war-mongering might know peace.  Apartheid fell in South Africa and no matter how flawed post-Apartheid South Africa is, the effort at truth and reconciliation shows that people from vehemently opposed sides can someday talk to and live with each other. 

A bi-national state in which Jews and Palestinians live together is possible.  A one-state solution might not seem today but history changes to the extent its makers will it.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not predestined or God-ordained; it is a result of Israeli oppression of the Palestinian.  Justice for the Palestinian therefore opens up the possibility of a one-state solution. 

Each successive generation does not have to inherit the sins of the previous one.  By beginning to actively dream in our present, Palestinians and Jews can lay the groundwork that will make it possible for their children to live together tomorrow. 

 

Mukoma Wa Ngugi is the author of Hurling Words at Consciousness (poetry) and Conversing with Africa: Politics of Change and a political columnist for the BBC Focus on Africa Magazine.  He is also the Coordinator for the Toward an Africa Without Borders Organization.

A shorter version of the above article first appeared in the October – December, 2006 issue of the BBC Focus on Africa Magazine.

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