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War Has Arrived

8 min read.

Writer and feminist activist Reem Abbas on the personal costs of the war between Sudan’s military and the Rapid Support Forces.



Breaking the Chains of Indifference
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The bullet which triggered the start of the war was fired close to our home. On a morning during Ramadan, I was on holiday. In two days I would be starting a new job, and I was taking the opportunity to sleep in late that day. That morning I woke up to sounds of gunfire, or shooting, or something I couldn’t recognize. This was before we learned that weapons had names.AK-47s were behind the exchange of gunfire. Then, the rocket-propelled grenade, or RPG, was sounding like a bomb, and fighter jets of the Russian manufacturers called MiG or Sukhoi shelled different parts of the capital. I jumped out of bed and scrolled through social media. There was fighting near the Sports Complex in Khartoum which was approximately five kilometers away from my house, and it was between the paramilitary force Rapid Support Forces (RSF), and the national army.

Why should I be surprised?

After all, I did see this war coming. I saw it a few days beforehand, right after the RSF took over a military airport in Meroe in Northern Sudan. I had seen this war coming since 2019, when the revolution attempted to thwart the security committee of former president and general, Al-Bashir (Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir). However, politicians made a deal to split power and share it between the army and the RSF. I saw it coming after the 2021 military coup was launched against the flawed transitional government, and after I saw how politicians worked to empower the RSF in the aftermath of that coup d’état. They dwarfed the national army (the Sudanese Armed Forces) and furthered the concept of having two armies. I saw it coming because no country has two armies unless the two are at war with each other and they are controlling different territories.

I panicked momentarily. We don’t have enough food. I need to pay my phone bill. Do we have diesel for the generator in case the power goes out for days? I ran to the kitchen to fill up every pot and pan with water. Water could be turned off at any moment. My mind was racing; I went through a war-essentials checklist. It was never a tried and tested checklist, but I was hoping for the best. Two days later, I found myself in my sister’s home office, trying to finish an orientation for work. We had to stop it mid-way, as the fighter jets were looming too close to home. I could not focus.

My nights were sleepless, I didn’t know where to place my daughter so that she would be covered. I never realized that our beds weren’t raised high enough to fit her underneath, which, according to friends on Facebook, is the safest place to be. I felt like my room was the safest because it had one window that was blocked by another building. I forced my whole family to switch their rooms. My sister slept on a mattress on the floor, and my mother slept on a bed next to my daughter and I.

I wasn’t able to learn how to sleep at night again, because the fighter jets would come after 12 am. Their sound actually comforted me. Sound as a phenomenon is described as a wave of compressed air. The high compression of sound reduces its loud volume so if you hear the jet, it means that it is far away and not going to hit you with bombshells. There is always silence before your house is shelled. A few days into the war, my sister and I left the house to buy food. I told her, if anything happens to me, pretend you don’t know me. Walk away. One of us has to return, we can’t leave our parents alone. A small grocery shop was open. We bought basic non-perishable goods. I bought Oreos for my daughter. She likes them and I wanted to give her a sense of normality.

Another shop opened a few days later. Its metal door was still locked, but the shopkeepers would open it just a little bit, just enough to allow us to crawl inside. We used the last cash we had to buy more food. I bought fresh bread that day and felt better after binging on it. A few days into the war, my mother told us to enjoy the salad, as it was the last tomato that we had in our fridge.

The war began taking a toll on my family. We began bickering on a daily basis. My daughter’s father asked me if he could take her with him to another city. I was under pressure, I felt that choosing to resist him would undermine her safety. She began to ask me about the day this would end and said that she missed her school and her friends. She wanted to go to the restaurant we had gone to a week before the war, where she played on the trampoline while I had a latte, and where she loved eating the pizza. My father and I wanted the family to stay. We began to hear that the RSF was occupying houses. They would kick people out of their houses, loot those houses and then move in. They were not just occupying houses, they were occupying the city. As inhabitants, we were being erased from Khartoum. Our life was cheap, it was only worth as much as a phone or some cash that they could loot. The RSF would take your property, live in your house and drive your car.

Our street, which was close to a highway, became a bus station overnight. Buses that were heading out of Khartoum into other states or even into Egypt, were just a few steps away from our house. There was an exodus happening, but we felt the need to stay.“Staying in our house is in itself resistance,” wrote my father on his Facebook page. But three weeks into the war, we were packing our bags.

We felt suffocated in our own home. We were too terrified to leave the house and we also felt a bit defeated. My stomach was upset and I had my period twice in three weeks. I was completely nerve-wracked as I packed my bags. I looked at my books, collected over fifteen years. I looked at the beautiful painting by Essam AbdelHafiz that I bought to hang in my new apartment. Just a few weeks before the war, I had gone to his exhibition with my colleagues and we talked about art and resistance. I had no idea why I packed the way I did. With me came a few non-fiction books and the book by George Packer that I was reading, as well as two dresses and two pants, and some skincare to save my face which has aged non-stop since the war arrived in my city.

When we left Khartoum and drove three hours to Medani, I felt strange. I had come to Medani many times for work and to visit friends. But, I was now a stranger in my own country. I was learning how to walk on the streets again. I was learning how to sit at a cafe, and I was learning how to live without the constant sounds of gunshots and fighter jets.

The supermarket shelves were becoming emptier and emptier. Stocks were low because most factories in Khartoum were burned down or looted or both. Carnage was the new normal in Khartoum,  led by the RSF as they broke into banks, factories, companies, and houses.

We have all worked very hard to build the little infrastructure we had, and now it is gone. I was joking with a friend that there was no Coca-Cola in Medani. No Coca-Cola in the country that produces one of the most vital ingredients in this drink, gum-arabic. If the war continues, the world may actually start caring because of the Coca-Cola shortage. A war-torn country in the horn of Africa could be relevant after all, for international business.

Hemedti captured the revolution

When I joined the protests in 2019, one of the main slogans was: “The military to the barracks, the RSF to its dismantling.” This slogan continued until the sit-in that brought an end to Al-Bashir in April 2019. The RSF could read the street, they knew that Al-Bashir’s rule was coming to an end. They began marketing themselves as supporting the will of the people. Its leader Hemedti (Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo), emerged as a separate political force. Sudan emerged as a country with two armies. No entity has reaped the fruits of the revolution as has the RSF.

The transitional period (2019-2021), failed to fix the most critical problem: the problem of how to merge the two forces and reform the problematic military institution. In the period after the coup, the international community began working with political actors to reach an agreement that would once again realize a new partnership between the political forces and the military institution. Once they carried out security sector reform talks, the military dragged their feet, because it became clear that the agreement would largely disempower the military. It would take away their key economic interests and also empower the RSF by giving them space to continue growing their economic power. Not only that, it would take almost a decade to integrate RSF forces into the army. Much to the dismay of the international community who kept pushing for an agreement to be signed, the government postponed signing the agreement. For civilians, the agreement still meant that for at least a decade, the country would continue to have two armies.

The war was inevitable, but one can never prepare for a war. In Medani, I tried to withdraw money from my account. I had about two dollars in my pocket, just enough to buy coffee from the tea lady on the side of the road, as I sat on a stool awaiting my turn at the bank. I was client number 101, and the bank had set up a massive tent to shield the clients from the sun. They said the system was down and there was no hope. After three hours, I left defeated.

My whole life is (was?) in Khartoum. Our home has books and paintings and the many spices I buy when I travel. My mother is a plant mom. She always claims that her plants smile when she walks into the garden to water them and that they move when she speaks to them lovingly. When we left, we kept our refrigerator and freezer running. We were only supposed to be gone for a few days. I told my mother’s plants that we would spend two days and then return. Two days before the war, I had an appointment at the Spanish embassy. I was excited about going to France to meet my colleagues and to travel with them to Granada and Barcelona. Now my passport was stuck at the embassy and all the diplomats had been evacuated.

Khartoum is no longer ours. Our building, a building we spent 10 years building with my father’s retirement money, is now controlled by RSF. They live in the rooms and they park their car in our garage. Our house remains safe, but we are waiting for the news that we don’t want to hear. RSF is close to our house and they began looting our neighbors. The war got close to our doorsteps, but we are no longer there.

A few days after we left, I read the news online. RSF had looted the bank at Omdurman Ahlia University, and the looting of the university itself began. A research center inside the university was burned to the ground. Ten years ago, my family celebrated at this very same center. We donated thousands of books from the library of my great-grandfather, a politician, public servant, and author, to this center. It was full of books, resources, and manuscripts. It was part of our cultural infrastructure. This war was coming for us, it was coming for our history and our very existence.

I saw the news on Twitter. The Spanish embassy was broken into and everything was looted. But some young men went there and picked up some passports. After hearing this, I was now trying to trace my passport. At that point, I was ready to pay any price. I ended up retrieving my passport from one of these young men through a friend over a month later after the war broke out. By that time, I had crossed the border to Egypt using an old passport that I renewed at a border town. I  now have a valid passport, but no home to go back to.

This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site every week.

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Reem Abbas is a writer, women's rights activist and researcher from Sudan.


Being Black in Argentina

What does Javier Milei’s presidential victory mean for Argentina’s black and indigenous minorities?



Being Black in Argentina
Photo: Argentinian President Elect Javier Milei. Image credit Mídia NINJA CC BY 4.0 Deed.
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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.

This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site every week.

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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.



Risks and Opportunities of Admitting Somalia Into the EAC
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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.

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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.



The Repression of Palestine Solidarity in Kenya
Photo: Image courtesy of Kenyans4Palestine © 2023.
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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.

This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site every week.

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