• Irũngũ Houghton

Has Government lost its moral compass on Palestinian-Israeli conflict: An Africa Day thought

First published Saturday Standard,May 26, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

Yesterday, one billion people across 54 countries marked the 55th anniversary of the birth of the Organisation of African Unity. Africa Liberation Day is marked on May 25 each year. This year, I am left wondering whether our otherwise Pan-Africanist foreign policy may have lost its moral compass on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Only 32 free and independent African states declared an end to colonialism, white minority rule and a commitment to return sovereignty to the continent in 1963. Jomo was there, so was Kwame, Selassie, Nassir and Nyerere among others. Africa had finally found its feet after 400 years of slavery and the forced abduction of 12 million men, women and children. 2 million never made it across the Atlantic to the Americas.

At the time the OAU Charter was signed, popular movements were reclaiming control of the world’s second largest and most-populous continent. The demand for majority rule, equality and non-discrimination anchored their moral compass. In their struggle, they inspired hundreds of millions of non-African citizens and tens of states globally. The abolitionist movement, Organization of Afro-American Unity, Pan African Movement, Non-Aligned Movement, Anti-Apartheid Movement and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation were some of the organized expressions of solidarity with Africa.

Today, Africa is politically free and on the verge of one of the world’s biggest common markets. We can boast of having produced the world’s largest concentration of minerals, 25 Nobel Laureates and two United Nations Secretary Generals. Within this context, it wounds our national conscience that the Government chooses to ignore the recent atrocities committed by the Israeli Government in the Gaza strip.

From March 30 onwards, over 100 Israeli snipers have shot repeatedly into protesting crowds on the border with the Palestinian territory. The demonstrations are protesting the failure to implement a 70 year old UN resolution and Israeli expansion into Palestinian territories. At least 58 have died from gunshot wounds to the head, chest and back. Thousands have been wounded with several now amputees. Children have not been spared in these gory statistics according to the Office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights. In defense, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Hamas of violently attacking their border patrols. The United Nations and independent human rights organization disagree.

Violence is also sadly etched in Africa’s history. Despite this, instead of condemning the violence, our Kenyan embassy chose to attend the opening of the United States of America Embassy in Jerusalem on May 14. Our attendance violated a United Nations decision in December that voted against the US proposal to move their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Alongside diplomats from Côte d’Ivoire, Rwanda, Cameroon, Congo, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia, South Sudan, Angola and Ethiopia, Acting High Commissioner Jon Chessoni raised a cocktail glass or two, less than 100 kilometers from the killing fields.

The African Union swiftly condemned the relocation arguing it jeopardizes the possibility of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. South Africa promptly recalled its Ambassador and the Angolans fired two top diplomats. Our Foreign Ministry seems to hope no-one has noticed this diplomatic blunder.

The city of Jerusalem is significant for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Often forgotten by non-muslims, Jerusalem is also a holy city for 1.6 billion Muslims globally. Al Aqsa mosque, the third most sacred Muslim site, is located here. By recognizing the US Embassy and failing to condemn the violence, we have violated international law and broken ranks with the African Union, the Arab League and the United Nations. We have also further complicated the demilitarization of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the search for peace in the middle east.

Instead of this risky path, we need to re-center ourselves within AU and UN positions. Our moral compass has to be placed out of the reach of the “aid goodies”. We must speak our truth as a country. We owe it to our history. It will not mean we love the Israeli or Palestinian people less. It will mean we care enough to bring this suffering and injustice to an end. It is time our Government also calls for an international arms embargo and an end to the use of lethal force.

This is my birthday wish for Africa. That we remember all the Pan-Africanists who died over the year is my other wish. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Hugh Masekela, Calestous Juma, Rok Ajulu and Adebayo Adedeji have joined Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem and all our other ancestors. May they continue to watch over us and send us a signal from time to time.


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