Kenya in the Israel-Palestine war

The government's position, interests and concerns

16-10-2023 by Freddie del Curatolo

Those who live in Kenya, frequent it or work there are wondering in recent days what the position of the country, its government and the public is towards the new dramatic war between Israel and Palestine and what are the possible consequences for public order and security, with an inevitable look at tourism as well.

Historically, Kenya has always had good commercial and institutional relations with the state of Israel, but at the same time it cannot forget its 11% Islamic citizens who sympathize with the complete independence of Palestine and the diplomatic implications that include relations with tribulated neighbor Somalia and those with the Middle East.

Not to be underestimated in this scenario is the fact that some past terrorist attacks in Kenya have occurred because of the presence of Israeli assets or properties traceable to Tel Aviv, such as in the case of the Paradise Beach Hotel in Kikambala, near Mombasa in 2002, where 15 people died including 3 tourists who were precisely Israelis.
Already during the Al Qaeda attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1998 that killed 220 people, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, the first of the current leader, was among the first to send a team of 160 rescue workers to the Kenyan capital.

Despite the risks, from which, moreover, any world nation that has distanced itself from Hamas is not exempt, the Ruto government has confirmed its full support for Israel, condemning the attacks that started from the Gaza Strip. Kenya's position, it is worth remembering, is not that of every other country on the continent. The African Union is divided in taking the side of one faction or the other, and clearly economic interests emerge on one side and ideological or religious interests on the other.

Like Kenya, Ghana and Zambia for example have also explicitly criticized Hamas, while South Africa, which for years has openly condemned Israel for its actions in the occupied territories, has sided with Palestine, and with it Djibouti and Sudan, as well as the North African area.
AU President Moussa Faki Mahamat himself has not expressed an official position but has hinted that in general the continent would lean on the side of Palestine.

According to Standard columnists Bryan Obara and Mwangi Maina, "It has become evident that the continent is faced with the difficult task of delicately balancing its support for Israel's right to self-defense and the Palestinian aspiration for a homeland. This complex situation is imbued with the history of African colonialism, which adds layers of historical resonance to the ongoing dilemma."
Specifically regarding Nairobi, there is also the idea that Kenya does not feel the need to take sides openly in a conflict that ultimately does not directly involve economic interests.

Nevertheless, Ruto has friendly and working relations with Tel Aviv, especially in the field he studied for and initially entered politics so many years ago: agriculture.
Even when he was minister, his trips to the Jewish state were frequent, and some Israeli projects in Kenya also took shape thanks to his intervention. One of which, the well-known Galana-Kulalu, which was supposed to develop the huge Galana River valley inland from Malindi, becoming the country's second-largest agricultural hub and at the same time guaranteeing the poor people on the coast cornmeal at decidedly affordable prices, foundered, creating one of the few diplomatic woes between Kenya and Israel.

In 2020, the Israeli ambassador to Kenya, Noah Gal Gendler, expressed his disappointment at the turn of events, declaring that the Galana-Kulalu project was the first Israeli government-funded project to fail miserably in 70 years.
"The Galana Kulalu project was destroyed by cartels composed of corn producers and importers," Gendler said bluntly. "They were the reason the project was delayed from the beginning. It was a government-to-government project and it failed."

Having become first deputy and then president, Ruto has been able to strengthen relations with Tel Aviv, paying an official visit last May and signing important bilateral agreements, and the first lady, Rachel, has also recently worked with the Israeli embassy. With her "Mama Doing Good Initiative," she created "Zion Gardens" in Machakos County.
The previous head of state, Uhuru Kenyatta, otherwise did not have a good feeling with Tel Aviv and its representatives at the United Nations, several times had sided with pro-Palestinian statehood motions.

Today Kenya stands with Israel, it is a fact, although it has never expressed an adverse opinion to the creation of an Arab state in the occupied territories. In a recent vote on alleged health rights violated by the Israelis against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Kenya was not among the 13 countries that voted against (for the record, the motion passed with 76 votes in favor) but preferred to abstain.
However, shortly thereafter, it was among the countries that spoke out against Palestine's request for an International Court of Justice opinion on the legal consequences of the Israeli occupation.

Not surprisingly, in recent days, the U.S. Embassy has been warning its compatriots about the risk of possible attacks in Nairobi, advising them against traveling to places frequented by foreigners and large gatherings.
Kenya's own counterterrorism police unit, the Standard points out, has issued a call for increased vigilance in response to concerns that Al-Shabaab may launch attacks as an expression of "solidarity" with Hamas.
"The conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has an impact on global security. Terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab could conduct attacks in solidarity with Hamas to remain relevant. Kenyans must be vigilant and report terrorist activities to the police for action," reads a statement reported in the Kenyan newspaper.

Perhaps to sweeten the international pill, after Ruto's criticism of Hamas, came an online statement from Kenyan Deputy Foreign Minister Korir Sing'oei, who primarily hoped for a peaceful solution between the two factions.
"We must have the audacity to believe that a restored brotherhood between Israel and Palestine is possible," he wrote. Words that reflect the thinking of most Kenyans, as can be read in the comments of major articles online that cover the topic or update on the tragic nature of the conflict.

Few take a stand (and those few are pro-Palestinian and have Arab names or "nicknames"), almost all of them praise peace and sympathize with the ordinary people, on both sides, who find themselves in the midst of missiles and barbarism. For them and also so that in the world, and especially in Kenya, there is no retaliation. And in this, of course, Hamas and its supporters are much scarier than the Jewish state.

(picture from Facebook: "Israel in Kenya" Page)

TAGS: israelepalestinarutogovernogalanaagricolturaprogettiguerra

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