Europe’s “Scramble for Africa” began in earnest in 1881, but never ended. Attempts to dominate the continent using old and new strategies continue to define Western relationships with this rich region.
This reality was further validated when I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, on June 23. Although my objective was to address various Kenyan audiences at universities, public forums and in the media, I also came here to learn. Kenya, like the rest of Africa, is a source of inspirationfor all anti-colonial and liberation movements around the world. We, the Palestinians, can learn a great deal from the Kenyan struggle.
Although African countries have fought valiant battles for their freedom against their Western colonizers, neocolonialism now defines the relationship between many independent African countries and their former occupiers. Political meddling, economic control and, at times, military interventions, as in the recent cases of Libya and Mali, point to the unfortunate reality that Africa remains, in myriad ways, hostage to Western priorities, interests and diktats.
At the infamous Berlin Conferenceof 1884, Western colonial regimes attempted to mediate among the various powers that were competing for Africa’s largesse. It assigned each a share of the continent, as if Africa was the property of the West and its white colonists. Millions of Africans died in that protracted, bloody episode unleashed by the West, which shamelessly promoted its genocidal oppression as a civilization project.
Like most colonized countries in the Southern Hemisphere, Africans fought disproportionate battles to gain their precious freedom. Here in Kenya, which became an official British colony in the 1920s, freedom fighters rose in rebellion against the brutality of their oppressors. Most notable among the various resistance campaigns was the Mau Mau Rebellion of the 1950s, which remains a stark example of the courage of Kenyans and the cruelty of colonial Britain. Thousands of people were killed, wounded, disappeared or were imprisoned under the harshest of conditions.
Palestine fell under British occupation, the so-called British Mandate, during the same period that Kenya also became a British colony. Palestinians, too, fought and fell in their thousands as they employed various methods of collective resistance, including the legendary strike and rebellion of 1936. The same British killing machine that operated in Palestine and Kenya at that time also operated, with the same degree of senseless violence, against numerous other nations around the world.
At one of my recent talks in Nairobi, I was asked by a young participant about “Palestinian terrorism.” I told her that the Palestinian fighters of today are Kenya’s Mau Mau rebels of yesteryear. I said that, if we allow Western and Israeli propaganda to define the discourse of Palestinian national liberation, then we condemn all national liberation movements throughout the Southern Hemisphere, including Kenya’s own freedom fighters.
We Palestinians, however, must shoulder part of the blame of why our narrative as an oppressed, colonized and resisting nation is now misunderstood in parts of Africa. When the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) committed its historic blunder of signing off Palestinian rights in Oslo in 1993, it abandoned a decades-long Palestinian discourse of resistance and liberation. Instead, it subscribed to a whole new discourse, riddled with carefully worded language sanctioned by Washington and its European allies. Whenever Palestinians dared to deviate from their assigned role, they were decreed by the West to return to the negotiating table, which became a metaphor for obedience and submission.
Throughout these years, Palestinians mostly abandoned their far more meaningful alliances in Africa. Instead, they endlessly appealed to the goodwill of the West, hoping that the very colonial powers that primarily created, sustained and armed Israel would miraculously become more balanced and humane.
However, Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, etc., remained committed to Israel and, despite occasional polite criticism of the Tel Aviv government, continued to channeltheir weapons, warplanes and submarines to every Israeli government that has ruled over Palestinians for the last seven decades.
Alas, while Palestinians were learning their painful lesson, betrayed repeatedly by those who avowed to respect democracy and human rights, many African nations began seeing in Israel a possible ally. Kenya is, sadly, one of those countries.
Understanding the significance of Africa in terms of its economic and political potential (particularly support for Israel at the UN General Assembly), right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has launched his own “Scramble for Africa.” Netanyahu’s diplomatic conquests on the continent have been celebrated by the Israeli media as “historic,” while the Palestinian leadership remained oblivious to the rapidly changing political landscape.
Kenya is one of Israel’s success stories. In November 2017, Netanyahu attended the inauguration of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who supposedly received an astonishing 98 percent of votes in the previous month’s elections. While Kenyans rose in rebellion against their corrupt ruling classes, Netanyahu was seen embracing Kenyatta as a dear friend and ally.
Netanyahu’s strategy in Kenya — and the rest of Africa — has been based on the same logic, where Israel would use its security technology to support corrupt and undemocratic regimes in exchange for their political support.
Tel Aviv had hoped that the first Israel-Africa summit in Togo would usher in a complete paradigm shift in Israeli-African relations. However, the October 2017 conference never materialized due to pressure by various African countries, including South Africa. There is still enough support for Palestine on the continent to defeat Israeli stratagem, but that could soon change if the Palestinians and their allies do not wake up to the alarming reality.
The Palestinian leadership, intellectuals, artists and civil society ambassadors must shift their attention back to the Southern Hemisphere, and Africa in particular, rediscovering the untapped wealth of true, unconditional human solidarity that is provided by the peoples of this ever-generous continent.
The legendary Tanzanian freedom fighter Julius Nyerere, who is also celebrated in Kenya, knew well where his solidarity lay. “We have never hesitated in our support for the right of the people of Palestine to have their own land,” he once said— a sentiment that was repeated by the iconic late South African President Nelson Mandela and many other African liberation leaders.
This generation of African leaders should not deviate from that noble legacy. If they betray it, they betray themselves, along with the righteous struggles of their own peoples.