Day of Infamy: African Union Embraces Israel and Abandons Palestinians


Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere shown with U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter during a 1977 U.S. visit. Nyerere must tremble in his grave as he sees how AU has drifted. 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The African Union, the successor to the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was long-held as a beacon of Pan African unity, a platform for popular mobilizations for emancipatory freedom and an end to colonialism and imperialist machinations. 

Today, the African Union is embracing neoliberal policies opening the way, not only for the material looting of the continent but the dispossession of memory.

The AU is now dancing and dining with new “friends” losing its connection to its own histories and values of its founding fathers such as Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Tanzania’s Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda and many others of that era.

Dancing with former foes and enemies, now means the AU is liquidating the people’s memory – the guiding OAU principles and values as it strives to open an era of neoliberalism that is anchored more on following the dollar sign than anything else.

Israel, an old foe over its apartheid policy toward Palestinians, has wormed its way strategically into every tiny nook and crevice of the African Union building, using its strong political, economic and security muscle to expand its influence on the continent.

On July 22 the African Union announced, against all odds and the founding values of the AU, that Israel had obtained AU observer status after 20 years of diplomatic efforts.

Previously, Israel held the role at the OAU but was long thwarted in its attempts to regain it after the AU replaced the OAU in 2002.

Israel is celebrating a diplomatic coup, saying this new status will enable Israel and the AU to forge stronger cooperation on various aspects, including the fight against the coronavirus and the prevention “of the spread of extremist terrorism” on the African continent.

This decision has not gone down well with South African and other African countries who have long supported the oppressed people of Palestine. In response to the AU move, South Africa said it was “appalled” by the African Union Commission’s decision to grant Israel observer status at the African bloc. In a statement, the South African government said the “unjust and unwarranted” move was taken “unilaterally without consultations with its members.”

The move came as a surprise for many. For decades, Africa stood unwavering and unflagging in condemning  all racist ideologies—including Zionism—the ideology behind Israel’s establishment and the continued oppression of Palestine. Africa is now in bed with the Israelis and support for the Palestinian cause is waning. Palestine has lost a long treasured partner in their struggle for freedom and human rights.

The South African government said the African Union’s decision “is even more shocking in a year in which the oppressed people of Palestine were hounded by destructive bombardments and continued illegal settlements of the land.”

In May this year, tensions between Israel and Hamas, the group governing the Gaza Strip, over the forced expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem, escalated into an 11-day assault on Gaza. The Israeli offensive killed at least 260 people, including 66 children, in the besieged enclave, while 13 Israelis people died due to rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups.

The latest decision by the AU is a slap on the face to Africa’s long held position against Zionism and the continued oppression of the Palestinian people. Africa and most of its partners in the global south have for years voted in favor of pro-Palestinian resolutions at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), further contributing to Israel’s sense of isolation on the international stage. Winning back Africa is a major plus for Israeli’s international diplomacy but a major setback for the Palestinian struggle.

“Regrettably, Africa’s solidarity with Palestine started to erode in the 1990s. It was in those years that the US-sponsored peace process gained serious momentum, becoming the Oslo Accords and other agreements that normalized the Israeli occupation without giving Palestinians their basic human rights,” wrote Ramzy Baroud, a writer and political commentator on Middle East issues in a report.

“With many meetings and handshakes between beaming Israeli and Palestinian officials featuring regularly in news media, many African nations bought into the illusion that a lasting peace was finally at hand. By the late 1990s, Israel had reactivated its ties with a whopping 39 African countries. As Palestinians lost more land under Oslo, Israel gained many new vital allies in Africa and all over the world.”

In all this, Israel is winning the hearts of Africa’s ruling elite and less on the broad majority who still hold the Palestinian cause dearly in their hearts. Weakening Pan African and Pan Arab unity and collaboration has worsened the cause of the Palestinian struggle. With the greedy pursuit of the dollar sign, the masses in African are fast losing the memory of the Pan African values and philosophies as espoused by Kwame Nkrumah and many others.

For years, under chairman Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian liberation movement under the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) carved out valuable alliances with many anti-colonial organizations in Africa. Now, things have changed. Many in Africa feel betrayed by the about-face and hypocrisy of the African Union.

“I think African countries that are establishing ties with Israel could be looking at the economic benefits they will get. This will certainly reduce some solidarity support for Palestine,” Shadrack Gutto, an emeritus professor at the University of South Africa, told a news agency.

Pan Africanism as an instrument of continuing process of decolonization is at risk of further erosion and even extinction. The selfless commitment of our Pan African forefathers who sacrificed their time, energy and even lives for the emancipation of Africans and other oppressed people from enslavement, imperialism and colonialism is going up in smoke.

When you kiss a thief, count your teeth–Africa.

Sifelani Tsiko is a veteran journalist based in Harare, Zimbabwe [email protected]

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