cc. Mukoma Wa Ngugi reflects on the absence of action by African governments against the Israeli invasion of Gaza and lambasts the divide between African Muslim and non-Muslim populations, calling for a solidarity of action.
In rounding up and reflecting on the various responses coming from Africa on the now widely condemned Israeli Gaza invasion that has left 700 Palestinians and 12 Israelis dead, it is best to begin with Desmond Tutu, a Nobel peace laureate, an Anglican Archbishop Emeritus, and an anti-apartheid activist who in December of 2006 was blocked by the Israeli government from “investigating the killing of nineteen Palestinians in Gaza .
Tutu does not mince words when in a statement he notes that “in the context of total aerial supremacy, in which one side in the conflict deploys lethal aircraft against opponents with no means of defending themselves, the bombardment bears all the hallmarks of war crimes.”
Sherine Bahaa, in Criminals vs cowards, might as well be writing about Africans and African governments when he speaks to the disconnect between rhetoric and action from Arab governments. He writes that “Judging by past summits, Arab heads of state are unlikely to fulfil popular aspirations, especially if that would put them in conflict with Israel and Washington.” This is the plight of African governments. They are too dependent on Western and Israeli foreign aid to do more than express indignation where what is needed is action.
So when the African Union “strongly condemns the ongoing air raids on the Gaza Strip by Israel, since 27 December 2008” and notes that the “massive and disproportionate attack constitutes a clear violation of international humanitarian law and will further aggravate the suffering of the civilian population,” one can only praise the words as strong and beautiful, then ask – Where is the action? If the AU truly believes that “international humanitarian law” has been broken, isn’t it morally beholden to take a collective action against the invasion?
Phandu Skelemani, Botswana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has a watered down condemnation however: “The Botswana position is that we don't need war…War has never brought any solution to problems. The downside about war is that it affects innocent elderly people, women and children, not those who initiate it." Can one imagine a more general and useless statement?
So in Botswana it has been left to Bawood Khonat, Deputy Chairman of the Botswana Muslim Association, to put things in perspective: For the Botswana Muslim Association (BMA), "Israel is an apartheid state" and it is “ironic that ‘Zionists,’ who were victims of horrible atrocities committed by Nazi Germany during the Second World War, should become perpetrators of similar horrors themselves.”
Scouring the news, it is immediately evident that African Muslims are more vocal than non-Muslims. From Nigeria, one reads that “the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) is disturbed by Israeli intransigence.” MURIC goes on to warn that “this type of attitude can only serve as fuel for terrorism,” noting that “by aiding and abetting Zionist aggression, the West has become a major recruitment sergeant for terrorists.”
Kenya’s largest newspaper, the Daily Nation, describes Muslims marching, protesting and urging “President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to cut ties with Israel as a show of Kenya’s commitment to human rights.”
That African Muslims are more vocal than non-Muslims is a huge problem in a continent that has so many divides along ethnicity, religion, colonial monikers of Anglophone, Lusophone and Francophone, and along the so called Sub-Saharan and Northern Africa divide that in practice demarcates a racialized line between Arabs and Non-Arabs.
This difference in response captures a larger problem when it comes to Africans and other peoples’ struggles. Africans have come to believe they have the monopoly of suffering and as a consequence expect others to struggle on their behalf, without Africans showing the same solidarity to others. For example, we expect African Americans to struggle on our behalf but not we for them. We expect them to rally around our political prisoners, yet Mumia Abu Jamal, who has been a political prisoner since 1981, has more support in France than in most African countries.
In the same vein, where are the Palestinian solidarity movements and campaigns? Is Middle Eastern geography, history or literature taught in African schools?
South Africa is an exception. The ANC, both as a liberation movement and as a ruling party, is an exception perhaps because the anti-apartheid movement was a national and also a truly international struggle. One needs only to recall Mandela’s refusal to disown Cuba at the insistence of the United States and his response that no one would dictate to South Africa whom its friends are going to be.
So one also reads in Business Day that in addition to condemning the Gaza killings, the ANC has also “said it was time for the Israeli government to accept that there would be no peace or a lasting solution in the region as long as it continued to occupy land that rightfully belonged to the Palestinians.” In South Africa one finds officially sanctioned fact finding missions to Gaza, and the organization Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
The South African Communist Party, in a statement that calls the invasion genocidal, goes further than the ANC and “condemns the criminal complicity of the US administration, the major backer and arms supplier to the Zionist state, and the hypocrisy of all major western governments.”
In the same statement quoted previously, Bishop Tutu goes on to say that the plight of Palestine in the face of Israeli aggression is “a blight not only on the Middle East, but on the entire world - and particularly world leaders who have consistently failed the people of Palestine and Israel over the past 60 years.”
What we need as Africans is a re-examination of the term solidarity. Solidarity should not be measured against future military and economic aid – or even simply making common cause against a common enemy. Solidarity should be about, collectively, doing what is morally right when, as the AU puts its, international humanitarian law is violated. Solidarity is making common cause with a common humanity. Solidarity is a revolutionary act.
Recently, solidarity and action have come from a rather unexpected source. Mauritania has recalled its ambassador to Israel. If it takes a government installed through a coup and led by a military junta to do the right thing, it is indeed a blight on the entire continent.
*Mukoma Wa Ngugi is a political columnist for the BBC Focus on Africa Magazine and Assistant Editor of Pambazuka News