Across Africa, official reactions to the Israel-Hamas war have been mixed. For countries that have taken sides, their positions are based on their relationship with Israel and Palestine, as well as their own unique histories. Reporting by Victoria Audu and Wale Lawal.
(In this report, we refer to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. Note: Hamas is a militant group whose actions should not be read as necessarily representative of Palestinians. However, Hamas’s attacks have occurred against the backdrop of Israel and Palestine’s long-running conflict.)
On 07 October 2023, Hamas, an acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement, bombed Israel in a surprise attack with a death toll of over 1,200. During the attack, Hamas took up to 150 people—a mix of Israelis and foreign nationals—hostage to bargain for the release of Palestine political prisoners held in Israeli jails. The following day, Israel formally declared war on Hamas with a directive from the defence minister, Yoav Gallant, to carry out a ‘complete siege’ of Gaza that has so far claimed more than 950 lives. The Hamas attack is one blow in the sequence of attacks that have been happening between Israel and Palestine for decades. This attack, however, has gained international attention as the deadliest attack on Israel in 50 years.
Israel maintains support from Western powers such as the United States, which provides Israel $3.8 billion in military aid annually under a memorandum signed in 2019. ‘You may be strong enough on your own to defend yourself, but as long as America exists, you will never ever have to. We will always be there by your side,’ US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said on 12 October, appearing beside Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Critics, however, have argued that in declaring war on Gaza, ‘Israel is manufacturing a case for genocide’.
Across Africa, official reactions to the Israel-Hamas war have been mixed. Considering the broader context of the Israel-Palestine conflict, some African countries have presented as pro-Israel; some have indicated support for Palestine; and others are campaigning for a ceasefire with a neutral position similar to the two-state solution, as proposed by the United Nations. For countries that have taken sides, their positions are based on their relationships with Israel and Palestine, as well as their own unique histories.
AFRICA’S PRO-ISRAEL CORNER (KENYA, GHANA, RWANDA, DRC)
Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have expressed some form of support for Israel since the Israel-Hamas war.
Kenyan president, William Ruto expressed through his ‘X’ account that Kenya is ‘in solidarity with the State of Israel and unequivocally condemn terrorism and attacks on innocent civilians.’ This support is no surprise as Kenya has positioned itself as a strong Western ally with close ties to the US, Israel’s strongest backer. The US was one of the first countries post-colonial Kenya established diplomatic ties with and this happened in 1964. Back then, the US considered Kenya a strategic location for fighting against communism in Africa. More recently, the US has provided support and weapons to Kenya to fight against threats such as Somali Islamist group, al Shabaab. In 2020, the East African reported that the US had made supporting Israel’s political and commercial interests one of the conditions for a trade deal.
While condemning the ‘Hamas militants from Gaza Strip’, Ghana also proclaimed its support for Israel. The official statement from the ‘X’ account of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the government was saddened by the attack and called for the immediate cease of attacks by Hamas. It further added that Israel should exercise restraint in its response and briefly called on negotiation talks for both parties. Ghana and Israel have had relations even preceding Ghana’s independence from colonial rule when, with the permission of the then colonial power, Britain, Israel established a consulate in Accra. Ghana was also the first African country to establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel before these relations were severed following a resolution from the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union) after the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. The two countries have since rekindled diplomatic ties.
Rwanda condemned the attack as an ‘act of terror’. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs extended condolences to Israel following the ‘terror attacks’. In addition, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) expressed support for Israel via its presidency’s ‘X’ account. The post condemned the ‘terrorist attacks’ on Israel and expressed ‘solidarity with the Israeli people.’ This comes as the DRC and Israel have growing diplomatic relations.
AFRICA’S PRO-PALESTINE CORNER (ALGERIA, TUNISIA, SOUTH AFRICA, SUDAN)
Algeria, Tunisia, South Africa and Sudan have expressed some form of support for Palestine since the Israel-Hamas war.
So far, one of Palestine’s strongest African supporters is Algeria. Shortly after the attack, the Algerian government released a statement on their ‘X’ account in full support of Palestine. Algeria condemned the ‘brutal air strikes by the Zionist (Israel) occupation forces in the Gaza Strip’. They also stated that they are in ‘full solidarity with the Palestinian people’ while calling on the international community to act against the ‘repeated and systematic criminal attacks.’ Zionism is a Jewish nationalist movement that aims to claim Palestine as a Jewish state. Algeria is a member of the Arab League, which boycotts Israel and does not recognize Israel as a state.
Tunisia is also a member of the Arab League and expressed its ‘complete and unconditional support for the Palestinian people’ who have been ‘under Zionist occupation for decades.’ The Tunisian government shared this in a statement on Facebook. They also called on the world ‘to stand by the Palestinian people and remember the massacres carried out by the Zionist enemy.’
Some others on the Palestinian side have taken their position with more caution by advocating for an end to the conflict while highlighting that the occupation of Palestine by Israel is the cause of this escalation in the first place. Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, for instance, used this approach on behalf of the African Union.
The African Union shared a statement on their ‘X’ account signed by Mahamat to express ‘utmost concern at the outbreak of the current Israeli-Palestinian hostilities’. Mahamat also described the ‘denial of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people’ as the main cause of the tension. He further called on the international community to impose peace.
Similarly, South Africa, while advocating for the removal of ‘obstacles to peace’, has also strongly condemned the siege in Gaza and ‘the continued illegal occupation of Palestine land.’ The South African government released a statement on the South Africa Department of International Relations and Cooperation website calling for ‘the immediate cessation of violence, restraint, and peace between Israel and Palestine.’ The statement also stated that South Africa is ready to lend its experience in mediation and peace talks to ease the conflict. South Africa’s Palestinian support comes as no surprise as Israel provided political and military support for the South African apartheid regime. In July 2022, the South African government also called for Israel to be declared an apartheid state.
AFRICA’S PEACE TALK CORNER (Nigeria, Uganda)
Nigeria and Uganda have taken a neutral stance since the Israel-Hamas war.
Those that are more clearly neutral include Nigeria. The day of the attack, Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs shared a statement, signed by Minister Yusuf M. Tuggar, to condemn the ‘cycle of violence and retaliation that the current escalation has assumed’. The statement also called for both sides to ‘exercise restraint’ and ‘prioritize the safety of civilians.’ Nigeria has had a long history with both Israel and Palestine. Nigeria is a founding member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation which supports the Palestinian cause and there are over 50 Israeli companies operating in Nigeria. In 2021, former President Goodluck Jonathan also called for a ceasefire between Israel and Palestine.
Although Uganda has not taken an official side, its president, Yoweri Museveni, shared on his ‘X’ account that Israel and Palestine needed to adopt a ‘two-state solution’⎈
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