African leaders are united in condemning violence in the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but remain deeply divided over who is to blame.
Following an unprecedented attack on Israel by the militant group Hamas, a number of African leaders issued statements reacting to the violence. But in the first sign of disagreement, even they couldn’t agree on whether to call it terrorism or war.
President William Ruto on Saturday expressed “solidarity” with Israel, saying Kenya “unequivocally condemns terrorism and attacks on innocent civilians in the country (Israel).
“Kenya strongly maintains that there exists no justification whatsoever for terrorism, which constitutes a serious threat to international peace and security,” President Ruto argued.
“All acts of terrorism and violent extremism are abhorrent, criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of the perpetrator, or their motivations.”
Nairobi called on the international community to mobilise and hold all perpetrators and their financiers accountable.
Since the morning raid, the conflict has snowballed into a battle of rocket fire, with the death toll quickly approaching 2,000 by Wednesday night, according to both sides.
Israel responded by declaring “war” on Hamas and imposing a blockade on the entire Gaza Strip. But even Nairobi avoided naming Hamas.
Kenya later clarified that it hadn’t changed its position on the conflict.
Foreign Affairs PS Korir Sing’oei told Nation.Africa on Tuesday that Nairobi was condemning terrorism, which it has consistently done, as Kenya has been a victim in the past.
“Kenya’s reaction, as indicated in the statement by the President, was focusing on a particular incident, that is the new terrorist attacks. Terrorism anywhere is completely unacceptable,” he said.
“That has nothing whatsoever to do with our longstanding position [on the] Israel-Palestine conflict. Kenya continues to be a victim of terrorist attacks and that is what we condemned.”
Critics had argued that Nairobi was departing from the African Union’s position, which often avoids labelling acts of violence by Palestinians as terrorism and calls for a peaceful solution through the creation of two contiguous independent states.
Dr Sing’oei said Kenya continues to support calls for a peaceful solution, including the creation of two states of Israel and Palestine living side by side as a long-term solution, and said Nairobi had also raised concerns about flagrant violations of international humanitarian law, including the targeting of civilian sites and attacks on non-combatants.
“We are also concerned with the retaliatory attacks on the part of Israel. It looks like it is excessive and not proportional. The best thing is a return to the path of peace,” he said.
Kenya had called for de-escalation on Saturday, acknowledging the complexity of the conflict and declaring “our firm stand in solidarity with all those calling on the parties to desist from further attacks”.
Kenya’s statement echoed that of Rwanda, which condemned “this act of terror, particularly targeting innocent civilians”, although it called for de-escalation.
President Felix Tshisekedi also “firmly condemned the terrorist attacks that struck the state of Israel on Saturday, causing heavy loss of life and many injuries.” He was criticised by local activists.
But his position was at odds with other countries in the region, as well as the African Union.
The AU Commission described the new conflict as “hostilities” and blamed Israel for sowing the seeds.
“The Chairperson (Moussa Faki Mahamat) wishes to recall that denial of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people, particularly that of an independent and sovereign state, is the main cause of the permanent Israeli-Palestinian tension,” said a statement from the AU Commission.
“The Chairperson urgently appeals to both parties to put an end to military hostilities and to return, without conditions, to the negotiating table to implement the principle of two states living side by side, to safeguard the interests of the Palestinian people and the Israeli people.”
Tanzania condemned the “violence” and called for a peaceful solution to the conflict.
The African Union has struggled to balance its position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as Israel expands its influence on the continent. To date, Israel is recognised by 46 of the AU’s 55 member states and has 17 embassies and 12 consulates in Africa. But the AU has been unable to confirm Israel’s observer status since it applied to rejoin in 2021. This year, leaders failed to reach a consensus, punctuated by the embarrassing expulsion of Israeli diplomat Sharon Bar-li from AU meetings.
In 2021, Mr Faki had accepted the credentials of Israel’s ambassador to the African Union, Aleligne Admasu, signalling formal admission. But when leaders refused, Faki accused member states of hypocrisy.
“What is this logic that allows a member state to enjoy the recognition of a state at home and to refuse it to the organisation, whose overwhelming majority recognises this state?” Faki told a meeting of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government in Addis Ababa last February.
“Is the said state [acceptable] at the national level while it cannot be [accepted] at the African level? Frankly, I would like someone to explain this kind of double standard to me.”
On Monday, Sudan, the last African country to recognise Israel, said it “renews its support for the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to have their independent state.”
Uganda called on both sides to agree to a two-state solution.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said “to be condemned, in particular, is the practice of targeting civilians and non-combatants by the belligerents.” But he also avoided using the word ‘terror’.
South Africa, one of the countries that has often criticised Israel for its treatment of Palestinians, echoed the AU Commission’s position.
“The new conflagration has arisen from the continued illegal occupation of Palestine land, continued settlement expansion, desecration of the Al Aqsa mosque and Christian holy sites, and ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people,” Pretoria said.
“The region is in desperate need of a credible peace process that delivers on the calls of a plethora of previous UN resolutions for a two-state solution and a just and comprehensive peace between Israel and Palestine.”
In all their statements, however, they made no mention of Hamas, the militant group declared a terrorist organisation in most Western countries.
Djibouti blamed Israel for what it called the constant violation of Palestinian rights.
“Djibouti insists on the need for urgent action by the international community to force Israel to put an end to its provocations and its flagrant violations of international law, and to prevent these events from being used as a pretext for the ignition of a new unequal conflict against Palestinian civilians,” it said.