South Africa is leading a number of African countries in opposing Israel’s admission as an observer in the African Union. At a bilateral meeting on 8 October 2021, South Africa’s International Relations and Cooperation Minister, Naledi Pandor, and Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Riad Malki, agreed that Israel’s observer status at the African Union should be rescinded.
“There can be no justification for AU chairperson granting observer status to Israel. The decision was totally inexplicable and we will continue to argue that the decision should be rescinded,’’ Pandor said in the capital Pretoria. South Africa is backed by Namibia, Botswana, Tunisia, Eritrea, Senegal, Tanzania, Niger, the Comoro Islands, Gabon, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Algeria and Seychelles.
In an interview with CNN on 27 September 2021, Minister Pandor said all countries associated with the AU must reflect the co-values and principles of its charter. “They must be anti-colonial, they should not be occupiers of anyone’s land, they should not be oppressive in denial of human rights and democratic practice. All these principles in the charter are not reflected in Israel’s relations with the people of Palestine,” Pandor said.
Israel’s occupation of parts of Palestinian territory has been at the centre of a protracted conflict. On 2 August 2021, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that Palestinians may continue living in their houses in Sheikh Jarrah, a disputed area of East Jerusalem, as “protected tenants” but they must pay an annual fee of NIS1,500 (about KSh51,500) to the Nahalat Shimon Company per home. This would mean that they accept the property effectively belongs to Nahalat Shimon, a Jewish settlement company, according to the Indian Express.
While the ruling was seen as a compromise to forestall evictions from the Palestinian neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, the Palestinians have not welcomed it. They argue that the court judgment ignores their own claims to the property.
The ownership of Jerusalem has been at the core of the conflict for decades and the families that were under threat of eviction — which triggered the 11-day bombardment in May 2021 — have been living in Sheikh Jarrah since 1950, after they were forced to flee territories affected by the declaration of the establishment of the state of Israel. The would-be settlers cite an Israeli law that allows Jews to reclaim ownership of property lost before 1948.
So, what happened?
The State of Israel was proclaimed by David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, on 14 May 1948. On the same day, US President Harry Truman, a close ally of Israel, recognized the new nation. This marked the start of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
How did this happen?
Formation of the Jewish state
In 135CE, the Roman Empire evicted Jews from Jerusalem and renamed it Judea, later changed to Palestine to dissociate the Jews from the land. As a result, Jews were scattered across Europe and persecuted wherever they went as they were considered the killers of Jesus Christ. The persecution continued well into the 19th Century when they came together under Zionism to protect themselves and their identity.
Encyclopaedia Britannica defines Zionism as a Jewish nationalist movement that had as its goal the creation and support of a Jewish national state in Palestine, the ancient homeland of the Jews. It has evolved to become a religious, political and ideological movement.
Zionism sought to stop the persecution of Jews and to push for their return to Palestine. “By 1903, at least 30,000 Jews had already re-established themselves inside Palestine. By 1914, 40,000 more Jews had returned and then the First World War started, the Ottoman Empire collapsed,” Palki Sharma of Wion News narrates.
The British took control of Palestine and as more Jews returned, tensions between them and the Arabs escalated, often resulting in violence, with each side playing victim. The British issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917 (which they would renounce in 1947), a statement that announced their support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.
The declaration came in the form of a letter from Britain’s then foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, addressed to Lionel Walter Rothschild of the British Jewish community. The rise of Nazi Germany in the early 1930s worsened the situation, however, and left more than six million Jews dead in the Holocaust. Many sought refuge in neighbouring countries and in the US but were unwelcome. For instance, in June 1939, a ship carrying some 900 Jews to America was sent back to Europe because of “lack of necessary immigration documents”.
As the Jewish population in Palestine grew, around 1944, the West backed the establishment of a Jewish state. There had been earlier attempts, among them Ararat City in the US in 1820, the British Uganda Programme in 1903, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the former Soviet Union in 1928, the Madagascar Plan of 1940, the British Guiana plan in 1940 and the Ethiopia and Australia plans, all unsuccessful.
President Truman played a key role in the establishment of the State of Israel and this could explain the close relations between the US and Israel to date. Soon after taking office in April 1945, Truman appointed experts to study the Palestinian issue. According to the US Office of the Historian, in May 1946, Truman approved a recommendation to admit 100,000 displaced persons into Palestine and in October declared support for the creation of a Jewish state.
Partition of Palestine
The UN Special Commission on Palestine was established on 15 May 1947 following the UK’s request that the General Assembly make “recommendations under article 10 of the Charter, concerning the future government of Palestine”. This is after it renounced the Balfour Declaration of 1917.
Throughout 1947, UNSCOP examined the Palestinian question and recommended its partition into a Jewish and an Arab state. On 29 November 1947 the UN adopted Resolution 181 (also known as the Partition Resolution) that would divide Britain’s former Palestinian colony into Jewish and Arab states in May 1948, when the British mandate was scheduled to end.
President Truman played a key role in the establishment of the State of Israel and this could explain the close relations the US has with Israel to date.
The religious sites surrounding Jerusalem would remain a corpus separatum under international control administered by the UN. This meant that they had a special legal and political status without enjoying a sovereign, independent status.
Although the US backed Resolution 181, the Department of State recommended the creation of a UN trusteeship with limits on Jewish immigration and the division of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab provinces but not states.
Truman ultimately decided to recognize the State of Israel despite the recommendation of the Department of State, which was based on fears of an increasing Soviet role in the Arab world, the potential for restriction of supplies to the US by Arab oil-producing nations, and the possibility of war in Palestine as Arab states threatened to attack almost as soon as the UN passed the partition resolution. The neighbouring Arab states declared they would prevent the creation of the Jewish state by all means and with that, a wave of violent attacks against Jews began.
When Israel declared independence on 14 May 1948, five Arab armies — Egypt, Transjordan (Jordan), Syria, Lebanon and Iraq — invaded Israel the same night, seeking to destroy it. Saudi Arabia and Yemen sent additional contingents. They maintained that the only solution to the problem of Palestine was the establishment of a unitary Palestinian state.
This became the Arab-Israeli War or the War of Independence for Israelis. At the end of the war in 1949, Egypt had control of the Gaza Strip and Jordan had annexed the West Bank.
More than 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from what is now Israel during what they call the Nakba, while at least 260,000 Jews in the Arab world were pushed into the new state. Israel lost about 6,000 people, 1 per cent of the population.
In December 1948, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 194, establishing a UN Conciliation Commission to facilitate peace between Israel and the Arab states. It resolved that,
Refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible
Many of the articles of the resolution were not fulfilled as they were either opposed by Israel, rejected by the Arab states, or were overshadowed by war as the 1948 conflict continued.
The second Arab-Israeli war broke out on 29 October 1956 when Israel, Great Britain and France launched a joint attack against Egypt in an attempt to depose its leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser and regain control of the Suez Canal.
Why was Israel involved?
Since the establishment of the state of Israel, cargo shipments to and from Israel had been subject to Egyptian authorisation, search and seizure while passing through the Suez Canal. On 1 September 1951, UNSC Resolution 95 urged Egypt “To terminate the restrictions on the passage of international commercial ships and goods through the Suez Canal, wherever bound, and to cease all interference with such shipping.” This didn’t stop.
In 1954, President Nasser began sponsoring raids into Israel by Palestinian militias who often targeted civilians. Israel responded in kind. It was Nasser’s intention to gain recognition among the anti-Zionists as a way of establishing his leadership over the Arab world.
UNSCOP examined the Palestinian question and recommended its partition into a Jewish and an Arab state.
Then came the third Arab war or the Six-Day War of 1967 that involved Israel and Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. The conflict started over the Straits of Tiran, the sea passages between the Sinai and Arabian peninsulas that separate the Gulf of Aqaba from the Red Sea.
Israel had withdrawn from the second war on condition that the passages would remain open. However, in May 1967, a month before war broke out, Nasser announced that passage would be closed to Israeli vessels. Israel launched a series of airstrikes against Egyptian airfields on 5 June, initially claiming it was responding to Egyptian attacks but later admitting the airstrikes were “pre-emptive”.
Who started the war remains a matter of debate and controversy but Israel won, seizing the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria. This marked the beginning of Israeli occupation of these regions and between 280,000 to 325,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from the West Bank. On 22 November 1967, “in an effort to secure a just and lasting peace”, the Security Council adopted Resolution 242 calling for Israel to withdraw from “territories occupied in the recent conflict,” the basis of all subsequent peace initiatives.
Israel accepted the resolution, with its UN Permanent Representative saying on 1 May 1968, “My government has indicated its acceptance of the Security Council resolution for the promotion of agreement on the establishment of a just and lasting peace. I am also authorized to reaffirm that we are willing to seek agreement with each Arab State on all matters included in that resolution.” But the occupation continues to date.
The resolution was the basis for negotiations that led to Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt (1979), Jordan (1994) and the 1993 and 1995 agreements with the Palestinians. Up until 1988, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which represented Palestinians at the UN, continued to reject the resolution “because it lacked explicit references to Palestinians”.
Then came the Security Council Resolution 338 (1973), which called for a ceasefire in the Middle East during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War or the Yom Kippur War involving Israel, Egypt and Syria. Egypt’s objective was to seize control of the east bank of the Suez Canal and consequently negotiate the return of the rest of the Sinai.
The resolution called for a total ceasefire, the implementation of Resolution 242 in all of its parts immediately and concurrently with the ceasefire, and the start of negotiations with the aim of establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East.
In 1974, the Arab League meeting in Tunisia declared the Palestine Liberation Organization as the legitimate representation of Palestinians based on Resolution 181. This was followed by the Camp David peace process or the Camp David Accords, signed between Egypt (President Anwar Sadat) and Israel (Prime Minister Menachem Begin) on 17 September 1978.
The Accords had three parts: (1) a process for Palestinian self-government in the West Bank and Gaza, (2) a framework for the conclusion of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, and (3) a similar framework for peace treaties between Israel and its other neighbours.
Prime Minister Begin and the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) agreed that a transitional self-governing Palestinian Authority be elected to replace the Israeli political and military forces in the Occupied Territories.
The second of these frameworks — Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel — led directly to the 1979 Egypt–Israel peace treaty. The agreement, officially titled the “Framework for Peace in the Middle East”, won Sadat and Begin the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978.
More than 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from what is now Israel during what they call the Nakba.
However, the PLO rejected the Accords, as did its Arab friends. Egypt was ejected from the Arab League. The PLO objected to the lack of sovereignty and to the right of Israel to maintain Jewish neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem. The UN backed Palestine, saying the deal was a bilateral agreement between Israel and Egypt, without the participation of the PLO.
On 15 November 1998, the PLO declared the independence of Palestine with Yasser Arafat as the first President of the State of Palestine.
The next major development were the Oslo Accords signed by Israel and the PLO in 1993. They included provisions with regard to the West Bank and Gaza that were similar to those in the Camp David Accords. They also included a transitional period, an elected self-governing Palestinian Authority, withdrawal of the Israeli military government and redeployment of Israeli troops, the establishment of a local police force, and a plan to move ahead with negotiations on the final status of the Occupied Territories.
But they too collapsed.
Writing in The Atlantic, Einat Wilf, a former Israeli politician who served as a member of the Knesset for Independence and the Labor Party, observes that throughout the interim years of the Oslo Accords, Israeli settlement was allowed to continue unimpeded, with the number of settlers increasing from 110,000 on the eve of the Accords in 1993, to 185,000 in 2000 during the negotiations over a final status, to 430,000 today. “That increase seriously undermined the notion that Israel was sincere about making way for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza,” she notes.
Einat, who worked with Yossi Beilin and Shimon Peres, and co-authored The War for Return with Adi Schwarz, adds that, meanwhile, Palestinian leaders continued to pursue what they referred to as the “Right of Return”, their demand that ever-growing numbers of Palestinians be allowed to settle within the territory of pre-1967 Israel, which would make Jews a minority in an Arab state.
There were nearly 3 million Palestinians registered with UNRWA as refugees in 1993, a number that increased to 3.8 million in 2000, and which stands at 5.3 million today. Palestinian leaders never dared face their people to tell them that as part of a final peace agreement, just as Jews would be expected to vacate their settlements east of the pre-1967 lines, Arab Palestinians would be expected to renounce their claim to settle west of those lines.
What doomed the Oslo Accords, she says, is also what made them possible in the first place: constructive ambiguity.
Einat recommends the two-state solution as the only option that recognizes the national rights of both peoples and provides a measure of justice to each. However, the approach needs to be different: “To get there, the parties need to approach the negotiations not as a marriage, but as a divorce”. “Serious peacemakers need to let go of vague and nebulous concepts such as ‘trust’ and ‘confidence building’, and behave more like harsh divorce attorneys who spell out every detail. In place of destructive ambiguity, we need constructive specificity.”
The UN backed Palestine, saying the deal was a bilateral agreement between Israel and Egypt, without the participation of the PLO.
Since then, there have been other attempts to broker a deal, among them the July 2000 Camp David Summit between US President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, president of the Palestinian National Authority,
The Summit collapsed after two weeks because of disagreements over territory, Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, refugees and Palestinian right of return, as well as security arrangements and settlements.
Palestine insisted on the implementation of Resolution 242, which calls for full Israeli withdrawal from the territories it captured in the Six-Day War, as part of a final peace settlement, maintaining, “There cannot be a compromise on a compromise”. This referred to the 78 per cent of the territory occupied by Israel and the 22 per cent that Palestine had been left with.
Who started the war remains a matter of debate and controversy but Israel won.
Israel had captured the Golan Heights, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. With the exception of the Sinai, which Egypt regained as part of the 1979 Camp David Accords, Israel still holds all these territories and has indicated that it will not relinquish Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, thus contravening Resolution 242. Essentially, Palestine was pushing for a return to the 1967 borders, which Israel rejected saying that would endanger its security.
A major contention revolved around the final status of Jerusalem, which determined the fate of the talks. Another collapse. Palestinians demanded complete control over East Jerusalem and the holy sites of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. On the other hand, Israel proposed that the Palestinians be granted “custodianship” of the Temple Mount and not sovereignty. Palestine insisted that Israel had no right to maintain Jewish neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.
It is, therefore, not surprising that the 11-day bombardment of Gaza by Israel in May and the rocket-firing were triggered by tensions around the Temple Mount or the Al-Aqsa Mosque. It boils down to the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank where, according to a Human Rights Watch report, Israeli authorities methodically privilege Israeli Jews and discriminate against Palestinians.
In a past interview with this writer, the Ambassador of Palestine to Kenya, Hazem Shabat, accused Israel of provoking East Jerusalem. “Israel is evicting people from Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, who had been living in their houses for over a century on the basis that there is suspicion that these plots or areas once belonged to a Jewish organization in 1870, which is preceding the existence of Israel by almost half a century,” Shabat said in May.
Shabat noted that the evictions failed to recognize that the people who were living there were driven out of their homes in other cities of what is now Israel, where they left houses and stretches of land they had owned before they took refuge in Jerusalem.
At the time, Oded Joseph, Israel’s ambassador to Kenya, admitted to an ownership row over the properties and said the matter was in court.
When provoked, Hamas, a militant group that controls Gaza, has often resorted to violence. The conviction that the conflict can only be solved violently, Ambassador Shabat says, is because after 30 years of negotiating with Israel, the situation has “deteriorated beyond redemption, beyond salvation”. “How come I have been negotiating for 30 years, accepting all international parameters? We had the Mitchell plan, we had the Tentative plan, we had the Roadmap, we had to have the international quartet overseeing the peace process. All which I have collaborated with, and fulfilled commitments but still the result is zero,” says Shabat, adding, “And when the peace process started, there were 200,000 settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Today, as we speak, there are more than 700,000.”
“So basically, the signal that is given is that these negotiations or the political cause will not yield any results. And by doing so we’re just prolonging the misery of the Palestinian people as Israel only understands the language of power. And this is how we should speak to Israel,” Shabat says.
For honest negotiations, he says, the international community has the duty to force Israel into compliance with international law just as it does with any other country that breaks it.
This includes UN resolutions, including Resolution 242 that calls for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Occupied Territories and respect for territorial integrity.
What doomed the Oslo Accords is also what made them possible in the first place: constructive ambiguity.
Despite the blame game between the two envoys, which is essentially a reflection of the positions of their respective governments, they do have a common position — that the solution lies in honest negotiations.
Ambassador Oded says the solution is to go back to the negotiating table and reach a deal that allows Palestine and Israel to live side by side in dignity. But he argues this has not been possible because “the Palestine Authority has no control of the talks as Hamas has taken over”.
In all this, there is the significant influence of the various external forces in the Arab world and in the West who are remote-controlling the positions held. Given the various interests, and the fears and the mistrust between Israel and Palestine, a solution seems out of reach.
In May 2014, for instance, Martin Indyk, US Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, blamed the construction of Jewish settlements for the breakdown of peace-making with the Palestinians. Indyk said neither side had “the stomach to make the necessary compromises”, but singled out settlement-building on occupied territory as a particular obstacle. Israel fired back, accusing Indyk of hypocrisy, saying he had known construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem would continue during the discussions.
Palestinians continue to be on the receiving end.
In a report titled A Threshold Crossed: Israel Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution released in April, Human Rights Watch accused Israel of apartheid in the Occupied Territories. A summary of the reports reads in part,
Several widely held assumptions, including that the occupation is temporary, that the “peace process” will soon bring an end to Israeli abuses, that Palestinians have meaningful control over their lives in the West Bank and Gaza, and that Israel is an egalitarian democracy inside its borders, have obscured the reality of Israel’s entrenched discriminatory rule over Palestinians.
Human Rights Watch said that laws, policies, and statements by leading Israeli officials make plain that the objective of maintaining Jewish Israeli control over demographics, political power, and land has long guided government policy.
In pursuit of this goal, authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated, and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity. In certain areas, as described in this report, these deprivations are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.
This was not the first time such claims were being made.
In March 2017, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia published a report accusing Israel of imposing an “apartheid regime” of racial discrimination on the Palestinian people. It was the first time a UN agency had publicly made the accusation, said ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf, a Jordan national.
Israel likened the report to Der Stürmer, an anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda publication. This remains Israel’s position. Ambassador Oded described the report as bad propaganda that should not be bought.
In a 2005 study, The Future of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, the US Institute of Peace blamed the Israeli political system, saying it has become a serious obstacle to a solution. “Any likely governing coalition in the coming years will probably be unable to sustain more than a partial peace process before collapsing under the weight of internal coalition contradictions,” it said.
As predicted, things didn’t get any better under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s regime, going by the 2014 and 2021 bombardments, and according to experts, the new government will not be any different.
Palestine was pushing for a return to the 1967 borders, which Israel rejected saying that would endanger its security.
Writing for The Conversation, Ian Parmeter, Research Scholar at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies of the Australian National University, says the new government has “strange bedfellows”.
The eight parties in the coalition range from the right-wing nationalist Yamina party to social-democratic Labor and left-wing Meretz. And for the first time in Israeli history, the coalition includes an Arab-Israeli party, Ra’am, whose four Knesset (parliament) seats enable the coalition to reach a majority. Another oddity of the new government is that Yamina leader Naftali Bennett will have the first two-year turn of a rotating four-year prime ministership with Ya’ir Lapid, leader of centrist party Yesh Atid,” he writes.
The coalition’s fragile make-up will almost certainly eschew initiatives to advance negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority for a two-state solution as Bennett is in some ways more right-wing than Netanyahu.
Natan Sachs, Director of the Brookings Institution Center for Middle East Policy, corroborates this in a Twitter thread, ”Bennett is very (very) right-wing on the Palestinian issue. Much more so than Bibi . . . Bennett is ideologically opposed to a two-state solution.”
The continued occupation, the blame games, the domestic politics, the religious positions and the global politics paint a very grim picture of an unending conflict.
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Being Black in Argentina
What does Javier Milei’s presidential victory mean for Argentina’s black and indigenous minorities?
On November 19, Javier Milei secured the presidency of the Republic of Argentina with 56% of the vote. However, his victory is expected to significantly impact a specific segment of the country.
During my six-month exchange in Argentina’s Venado Tuerto (pop. 75,000) in 2016, I encountered someone of shared Black ethnicity on the street only once. A person whom many locals incidentally mistook for me—along with a Cuban Black girl, the only black person like me in the whole high school. As insignificant as a census of this small city’s population may seem, it effectively illustrates a sobering reality: the presence of Black people in Argentina is sparse, and their numbers have dwindled over time.
“Hay más por otros lados, acá no llegaron” (There are more of them elsewhere, they have not arrived here) is a rhetoric prevalent among many Argentines, but the reality is quite dissimilar. Contacts between Argentina and Black people, particularly of African descent, date back to the 16th century transatlantic slave trade, when West and Central Africa people were brought by Spanish and Portuguese settlers to the coastal city of Buenos Aires, only to be sold and moved mostly within the Río de la Plata, present-day Argentina and Uruguay. In “Hiding in Plain Sight, Black Women, the Law, and the Making of a White Argentine Republic,” Erika Denise Edwards reports that between 1587 and 1640 approximately 45,000 African slaves disembarked in Buenos Aires. By the end of the 18th century, one-third of Argentina’s population was Black.
What, then, became of the Black African population in Argentina? Some attribute their decline to historical factors such as their active involvement in conflicts including the War of Independence against Spanish colonists (1810-1819) and the war with Paraguay (1865-1870), in which Black men often found themselves on the front lines, enduring the brunt of the attacks, or even choosing to desert and flee the country. These factors intersect with a gradual process of miscegenation and interracial mixing, leading to a progressive whitening of the population—both in terms of physical attributes and ideology.
Adding to this complex mix, political rhetoric comes into play. Influential Argentine leaders, such as Domingo Faustino Sarmiento in the 19th century, idealized white Europe not only as a model for overcoming the country’s socio-economic challenges but also as a narrative that implied the absence of Black people in Argentina, thereby erasing an integral part of the nation’s history.
Doing so has shrewdly allowed a country to avoid reckoning with its past of slavery and navigate the complexities of its presence, using the escamotage that there are no race-related issues in the country because there are no Black people. This assertion is incorrect for several reasons beyond those mentioned above. First, despite being imperceptible to the naked eye, there is a small but existing population of Afro-descendants in Argentina. Nevertheless, in my second stay in Argentina, this time in Buenos Aires, it became more apparent to me how a certain nationalistic current, in the footsteps of Sarmiento, proudly makes itself of this consistent lack of Black heritage. Comparing itself favorably to neighboring countries, this current boasts a notion of white supremacy in Argentina, which celebrates the Italian immigration from the 19th and 20th centuries as the foundation of national identity, while largely overlooking the historical legacy of African bodies that predates it.
As a result, even in a cosmopolitan capital city such as Buenos Aires, a significant portion of the white Argentine population based its identity on my opposite—not knowing that as an Afro-Italian, my Italian citizenship actually made them closer to my blackness and African roots than they wanted. Asserting that there are no racial concerns in Argentina is misleading. It amounts to the invisibilization of racial discrimination in a country where those who deviate from the preferred prototype, including Indigenous communities such as Mapuche, Quechua, Wichi, and Guarani, experience limited access to education and social services, and are disproportionately prone to experience poverty than their white counterparts.
Even within everyday discourse in Argentina, the assertion is refuted: many are labeled Black despite not matching the physical appearance associated with the term. The expression “es un negro” might refer to everyone who has darker skin tones, grouping them into a specific social category. However, beyond a mere description of physical attributes, “es un negro” delineates a person situated at various margins and lower rungs of society, whether for economic or social reasons. The appellation is also ordinarily used in jest as a nickname for a person who, of “black phenotype,” has nothing. The label “morocho” seems to be the most appropriate appellation for dark-skinned people in the country.
Argentine white supremacist identity is often matched by a certain right-wing political ideology that is classist, macho and, to make no bones about it, xenophobic. In the 2023 elections, such a systemic structure takes on the face of Javier Milei. The Argentine’s Donald Trump claimed in 2022 at the presentation of his book that he did not want to apologize for “being a white, blonde [questionable element], blue-eyed man.” With false modesty, the demagogue took on the burden of what it means in the country to have his hallmarks: privilege, status, and power.
Milei’s need for apologies should not revolve around his connotations but rather the proposals presented during his election campaign and outlined in his political program, which include the dollarization of pesos and the removal of government subsidies. Besides assessing if these actions would really benefit the vulnerable economy of the country, it’s worth questioning why it’s the middle-class, often white population that stands to suffer the least from such policies. They can afford to transact in dollars, weather an initial depreciation of their income, and provide for their children’s education without relying on government subsidies. In essence, they can do without the limited benefits offered by the Argentine state, given their already privileged positions.
The election of this politician not only adversely affects Black minorities, but also targets apparent minorities whom this divisive ideology seeks to erase, including Indigenous populations and the poorest segment of society—the current Argentinian “blacks”—who significantly enrich the Argentine populace. In such a scenario, one can only hope that the world will strive for a more consistent record of their existence.
Risks and Opportunities of Admitting Somalia Into the EAC
The process of integrating Somalia into the EAC should be undertaken with long-term success in mind rather than in the light of the situation currently prevailing in the country.
The East African Community (EAC), whose goal is to achieve economic and political federation, brings together three former British colonies – Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania – and newer members Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, and most recently the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Somalia first applied to join the EAC in 2012 but with fighting still ongoing on the outskirts of Mogadishu, joining the bloc was impossible at the time. Eleven years later, joining the bloc would consolidate the significant progress in governance and security and, therefore, Somalia should be admitted into the EAC without undue delay. This is for several reasons.
First, Somalia’s admission would be built on an existing foundation of goodwill that the current leadership of Somalia and EAC partner states have enjoyed in the recent past. It is on the basis of this friendship that EAC states continue to play host to Somali nationals who have been forced to leave their country due to the insecurity resulting from the prolonged conflict. In addition, not only does Somalia share a border with Kenya, but it also has strong historical, linguistic, economic and socio-cultural links with all the other EAC partner states in one way or another.
Dr Hassan Khannenje of the Horn Institute for Strategic Studies said: ”Somalia is a natural member of the EAC and should have been part of it long ago.”
A scrutiny of all the EAC member states will show that there is a thriving entrepreneurial Somali diaspora population in all their economies. If indeed the EAC is keen to realise its idea of the bloc being a people-centred community as opposed to being a club of elites, then a look at the spread of Somali diaspora investment in the region would be a start. With an immense entrepreneurial diaspora, Somalia’s admission will increase trading opportunities in the region.
Second, Somalia’s 3,000 km of coastline (the longest in Africa) will give the partner states access to the Indian Ocean corridor to the Gulf of Aden. The governments of the EAC partner states consider the Indian Ocean to be a key strategic and economic theatre for their regional economic interests. Therefore, a secure and stable Somali coastline is central to the region’s maritime trade opportunities.
Despite possessing such a vast maritime resource, the continued insecurity in Somalia has limited the benefits that could accrue from it. The problem of piracy is one example that shows that continued lawlessness along the Somali coast presents a huge risk for all the states that rely on it in the region.
The importance of the maritime domain and the Indian Ocean has seen Kenya and Somalia square it out at the International Court of Justice over a maritime border dispute.
Omar Mahmood of the International Crisis Group said that ”Somalia joining the EAC then might present an opportunity to discuss deeper cooperation frameworks within the bloc, including around the Kenya-Somalia maritime dispute. The environment was not as conducive to collaboration before, and perhaps it explains why the ICJ came in. Integrating into the EAC potentially offers an opportunity to de-escalate any remaining tensions and in turn, focus on developing mechanisms that can be beneficial for the region.”
Nasong’o Muliro, a foreign policy and security specialist in the region, said: “The East African states along the East African coast are looking for opportunities to play a greater role in the maritime security to the Gulf of Aden. Therefore, Somalia joining the EAC bloc will allow them to have a greater say.”
Third, Somalia’s membership of the Arab League means that there is a strong geopolitical interest from Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. However, Somalia stands to gain more in the long-term by joining the EAC rather than being under the control of the Gulf states and, to a large extent, Turkey. This is because, historically, competing interests among the Gulf states have contributed to the further balkanisation of Somalia by some members supporting breakaway regions.
On the other hand, the EAC offers a safer option that will respect Somalia’s territorial integrity. Furthermore, EAC partner states have stood in solidarity with Somalia during the difficult times of the civil conflict, unlike the Gulf states. The majority of the troop-contributing countries for the African Union Mission to Somalia came from the EAC partner states of Uganda, Kenya and Burundi. Despite having a strategic interest in Somalia, none of the Gulf states contributed troops to the mission. Therefore, with the expected drawdown of the ATMIS force in Somalia, the burden could fall on the EAC to fill in the vacuum. Building on the experience of deploying in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, it is highly likely that it could be called upon to do the same in Somalia when ATMIS exits by 2024.
The presence of the Al Shabaab group in Somalia is an albatross around its neck such that the country cannot be admitted into the EAC without factoring in the risks posed by the group.
According to a report by the International Crisis Group, the government of Somalia must move to consolidate these gains – especially in central Somalia – as it continues with its offensive in other regions. However, Somalia may not prevail over the Al Shabaab on its own; it may require a regional effort and perhaps this is the rationale some policymakers within the EAC have envisioned. If the EAC can offer assurances to Somalia’s fledgling security situation, then a collective security strategy from the bloc might be of significance.
Somalia’s admission comes with risks too. Kenya and Uganda have in the past experienced attacks perpetrated by Al Shabaab and, therefore, opening up their borders to Somalia is seen as a huge risk for these countries. The spillover effect of the group’s activities creates a lot of discomfort among EAC citizens, in particular those who believe that the region remains vulnerable to Al Shabaab attacks.
If the EAC can offer assurances to Somalia’s fledgling security situation, then a collective security strategy from the bloc might be of significance.
The EAC Treaty criteria under which a new member state may be admitted into the community include – but are not limited to – observance and practice of the principles of good governance, democracy and the rule of law. Critics believe that Somalia fulfils only one key requirement to be admitted to the bloc – sharing a border with an EAC partner state, namely, Kenya. On paper, it seems to be the least prepared when it comes to fulfilling the other requirements. The security situation remains fragile and the economy cannot support the annual payment obligations to the community.
According to the Fragility State Index, Somalia is ranked as one of the poorest among the 179 countries assessed. Among the key pending issues is the continued insecurity situation caused by decades of civil war and violent extremism. Furthermore, Human Rights Watch ranks Somalia low on human rights and justice – a breakdown of government institutions has rendered them ineffective in upholding the human rights of its citizens.
Somalia’s citizens have faced various forms of discrimination due to activities beyond their control back in their country. This has led to increasingly negative and suspicious attitudes towards Somalis and social media reactions to the possibility of Somalia joining the EAC have seen a spike in hostility towards citizens of Somalia. The country’s admission into the bloc could be met with hostility from the citizens of other partner states.
Dr Nicodemus Minde, an academic on peace and security, agrees that indeed citizens’ perceptions and attitudes will shape their behaviour towards Somalia’s integration. He argues that ”the admission of Somalia is a rushed process because it does not address the continued suspicion and negative perception among the EAC citizens towards the Somali people. Many citizens cite the admission of fragile states like South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo as a gateway of instability to an already unstable region”.
Indeed, the biggest challenge facing the EAC has been how to involve the citizens in their activities and agenda. To address this challenge, Dr Minde says that ’’the EAC needs to conduct a lot of sensitisation around the importance of integration because to a large extent many EAC citizens have no clue on what regional integration is all about”. The idea of the EAC being a people-centred organisation as envisioned in the Treaty has not been actualised. The integration process remains very elitist as it is the heads of state that determine and set the agenda.
The country’s admission into the bloc could be met with hostility from the citizens of other partner states.
Dr Khannenje offers a counter-narrative, arguing that public perception is not a major point of divergence since “as the economies integrate deeper, some of these issues will become easy to solve”. There are also those who believe that the reality within the EAC is that every member state has issues with one or the other partner state and, therefore, Somalia will be in perfect company.
A report by the Economic Policy Research Centre outlines the various avenues through which both the EAC and Somalia can benefit from the integration process and observes that there is therefore a need to fast-track the process because the benefits far outweigh the risks.
EAC integration is built around the spirit of good neighbourliness. It is against this backdrop that President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has extended the goodwill to join the EAC and therefore, it should not be vilified and condemned, but rather embraced. As Onyango Obbo has observed, Somalia is not joining the EAC – Somalia is already part of the EAC and does not need any formal welcoming.
Many critics have argued that the EAC has not learnt from the previous rush to admit conflict-plagued South Sudan and the DRC. However, the reality is that Somalia will not be in conflict forever; at some point, there will be tranquillity and peace. Furthermore, a keen look at the history of the EAC member states shows that a number of them have experienced cycles of conflict in the past.
Somalia is, therefore, not unique. Internal contradictions and conflict are some of the key features that Somalia shares with most of the EAC member states. The process of integrating Somalia into the EAC should, therefore, be undertaken with long-term success in mind rather than in the light of the situation currently prevailing in the country.
The Repression of Palestine Solidarity in Kenya
Kenya is one of Israel’s closest allies in Africa. But the Ruto-led government isn’t alone in silencing pro-Palestinian speech.
Israel has been committing genocide against the people of Occupied Palestine for 75 years and this has intensified over the last 30 days with the merciless carpet bombing of Gaza, along with raids and state-sanctioned settler violence in the West Bank. In the last month of this intensified genocide, the Kenyan government has pledged its solidarity to Israel, even as the African Union released a statement in support of Palestinian liberation. While peaceful marches have been successfully held in Kisumu and Mombasa, in Nairobi, Palestine solidarity organizers were forced to cancel a peaceful march that was to be held at the US Embassy on October 22. Police threatened that if they saw groups of more than two people outside the Embassy, they would arrest them. The march was moved to a private compound, Cheche Bookshop, where police still illegally arrested three people, one for draping the Palestinian flag around his shoulders. Signs held by children were snatched by these same officers.
When Boniface Mwangi took to Twitter denouncing the arrest, the response by Kenyans spoke of the success of years of propaganda by Israel through Kenyan churches. To the Kenyan populous, Palestine and Palestinians are synonymous with terrorism and Israel’s occupation of Palestine is its right. However, this Islamophobia and xenophobia from Kenyans did not spring from the eternal waters of nowhere. They are part of the larger US/Israel sponsored and greedy politician-backed campaign to ensure Kenyans do not start connecting the dots on Israel’s occupation of Palestine with the extra-judicial killings by Kenyan police, the current occupation of indigenous people’s land by the British, the cost-of-living crisis and the IMF debts citizens are paying to fund politician’s lavish lifestyles.
Kenya’s repression of Palestine organizing reflects Kenya’s long-standing allyship with Israel. The Kenyan Government has been one of Israel’s A-star pupils of repression and is considered to be Israel’s “gateway” to Africa. Kenya has received military funding and training from Israel since the 60s, and our illegal military occupation of Somalia has been funded and fueled by Israel along with Britain and the US. Repression, like violence, is not one dimensional; repression does not just destabilize and scatter organizers, it aims to break the spirit and replace it instead with apathy, or worse, a deep-seated belief in the rightness of oppression. In Israel’s architecture of oppression through repression, the Apartheid state has created agents of repression across many facets of Kenyan life, enacting propaganda, violence, race, and religion as tools of repression of Palestine solidarity organizing.
When I meet with Naomi Barasa, the Chair of the Kenya Palestine Solidarity Movement, she begins by placing Kenya’s repression of Palestine solidarity organizing in the context of Kenya as a capitalist state. “Imperialism is surrounded and buffered by capitalistic interest,” she states, then lists on her fingers the economic connections Israel has created with Kenya in the name of “technical cooperation.” These are in agriculture, security, business, and health; the list is alarming. It reminds me of my first memory of Israel (after the nonsense of the promised land that is)—about how Israel was a leader in agricultural and irrigation technologies. A dessert that flowed with milk and honey.
Here we see how propaganda represses, even before the idea of descent is born: Kenyans born in the 1990s grew up with an image of a benign, prosperous, and generous Christian Israel that just so happened to be unfortunate enough to be surrounded by Muslim states. Israel’s PR machine has spent 60 years convincing Kenyan Christians of the legitimacy of the nation-state of Israel, drawing false equivalences between Christianity and Zionism. This Janus-faced ideology was expounded upon by Israel’s ambassador to Kenya, Michel Lotem, when he said “Religiously, Kenyans are attached to Israel … Israel is the holy land and they feel close to Israel.” The cog dizzy of it all is that Kenyan Christians, fresh from colonialism, are now Africa’s foremost supporters of colonialism and Apartheid in Israel. Never mind the irony that in 1902, Kenya was the first territory the British floated as a potential site for the resettlement of Jewish people fleeing the pogroms in Europe. This fact has retreated from public memory and public knowledge. Today, churches in Kenya facilitate pilgrimages to the holy land and wield Islamophobia as a weapon against any Christian who questions the inhumanity of Israel’s 75-year Occupation and ongoing genocide.
Another instrument of repression of pro-Palestine organizing in Kenya is the pressure put on Western government-funded event spaces to decline hosting pro-Palestine events. Zahid Rajan, a cultural practitioner and organizer, tells me of his experiences trying to find spaces to host events dedicated to educating Kenyans on the Palestinian liberation struggle. He recalls the first event he organized at Alliance Français, Nairobi in 2011. Alliance Français is one of Nairobi’s cultural hubs and regularly hosts art and cultural events at the space. When Zahid first approached Alliance to host a film festival for Palestinian films, they told him that they could not host this event as they already had (to this day) an Israeli film week. Eventually, they agreed to host the event with many restrictions on what could be discussed and showcased. Unsurprisingly they refused to host the event again. The Goethe Institute, another cultural hub in Kenya that offers its large hall for free for cultural events, has refused to host the Palestinian film festival or any other pro-Palestine event. Both Alliance and Goethe are funded by their parent countries, France and Germany respectively (which both have pro-Israel governments). There are other spaces and businesses that Zahid has reached out to host pro-Palestine education events that have, in the end, backtracked on their agreement to do so. Here, we see the evolution of state-sponsored repression to the private sphere—a public-private partnership on repression, if you will.
Kenya’s members of parliament took to heckling and mocking as a tool of repression when MP Farah Maalim wore an “Arafat” to Parliament on October 25. The Speaker asked him to take it off stating that it depicted “the colors of a particular country.” When Maalim stood to speak he asked: “Tell me which republic,” and an MP in the background could be heard shouting “Hamas” and heckling Maalim, such that he was unable to speak on the current genocide in Gaza. This event, seen in the context of Ambassador Michael Lotem’s charm offensive at the county and constituency level, is chilling. His most recent documented visit was to the MP of Kiharu, Ndindi Nyoro, on November 2. The Israeli propaganda machine has understood the importance of County Governors and MPs in consolidating power in Kenya.
Yet, in the face of this repression, we have seen what Naomi Barasa describes as “many pockets of ad hoc solidarity,” as well as organized solidarity with the Palestinian cause. We have seen Muslim communities gather for many years to march for Palestine, we have seen student movements such as the Nairobi University Student Caucus release statements for Palestine, and we have seen social justice centers such as Mathare Social Justice Centre host education and screening events on Palestinian liberation. Even as state repression of Palestine solidarity organizing has intensified in line with the deepening of state relations with Apartheid Israel, more Kenyans are beginning to connect the dots and see the reality that, as Mandela told us all those years ago, “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestinians.”
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