From Africa to Palestine: The pan-African fight against Israeli apartheid

Pan-African Palestine Solidarity Network
7 min read
25 March, 2022
In-depth: In a historic meeting, civil society activists from 21 African countries gathered to reaffirm support for the Palestinian liberation struggle and mobilise against Israeli apartheid and normalisation across the continent.

In August 1975, at the height of the struggle for freedom from colonisation across the continent, Africa’s then continental body, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), declared: “...the racist regime in occupied Palestine and the racist regime in Zimbabwe and South Africa have a common imperialist origin… having the same racist structure and being organically linked in their policy aimed at repression of the dignity and integrity of the human being...”

Almost half a century ago, Africa’s leaders had already identified Israel as an apartheid state - a label now affirmed by some of the world’s leading human rights organisations. Crucially, however, African leaders had already begun boycotting the Israeli regime.

Now, however, some of the continent’s leaders have embraced Israel, despite the intensification of Israel’s occupation of Palestine and its continuation of apartheid policies against the Palestinian people. Earlier this year, the OAU’s successor, the African Union (AU), even tried to welcome Israel by granting it observer status, in a move that was widely criticised by activists.

"But amidst deepening ties, African civil society is pushing back against Israel’s back-channel diplomacy on the continent, and breathing new life into the continent’s solidarity with Palestine"

Israeli companies with expertise in intelligence, surveillance, cyber security and arms have eagerly assisted some of the continent’s most repressive leaders to cling to power.  Over the last decade, Israel’s military exports to Africa have more than tripled. Helping dictators stay in power has proven an effective way for Israel to make African friends.

But amidst deepening ties, African civil society is pushing back against Israel’s back-channel diplomacy on the continent, and breathing new life into the continent’s solidarity with Palestine.

A historic gathering

Between 10 and 12 March, activists from 21 African countries met in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, to strategize and build a coordinated, continent-wide Palestine solidarity movement.

The event was hosted by Plateforme de Solidarieté Sénégal-Palestine (Senegalese Palestine Solidarity Platform) and the Senegalese branch of Amnesty International under the theme “From Africa to Palestine: United against Apartheid”, marking the first in-person conference hosted by the Pan-African Palestine Solidarity Network (PAPSN).

The full panel from the Pan-African Palestine Solidarity Network conference.
From left to right: Saleh Hijazi, head of Amnesty International Palestine; Jamal Juma', head of Stop The Wall Campaign and founding member of the BDS Movement; Safwat Ibraghith, Palestinian Ambassador to Senegal; Madieye Mbodj, Chair of the Senegalese Palestine Solidarity Committee; Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandela, South African Parliamentarian and grandson of Nelson Mandela; Roshan Dadoo, South African BDS Coalition; Emma Nyerere, Pan African Women's Organisation and grand daughter of Julius Nyerere. [PAPSN]

The gathering was a historic one.   

Delegates represented political organisations, trade unions, student networks, religious groups and various other civil society formations from Botswana, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“This was the first time that activists held a gathering like this in Africa. The wide representation of groups from across the continent is unprecedented in terms of Palestine solidarity,” said PAPSN spokesperson, Roshan Dadoo.

While many countries in Africa have Palestinian solidarity organisations, the lack of a pan-African solidarity network has weakened their effectiveness, something that PAPSN is looking to change by fostering collaboration and organising efforts. 

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Exposing Israel, deepening BDS in Africa

During the two-day strategy meeting, delegates resolved to build an effective Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

African civil society has been somewhat lacking in broadening and deepening the BDS campaign against Israel. This is mainly due to Israel’s penetration on the continent through its provision of military and surveillance technology to African governments, along with agricultural and water projects.

Various Christian communities and church structures on the continent - influenced by American evangelicals - have also provided a theological justification for Israel’s crime of apartheid.

Although delegates that The New Arab spoke to were unable to specify details, they have confirmed that they are working on a multi-pronged campaign to isolate Israel in Africa.

"PAPSN’s ultimate aim is to get African governments, Regional Economic Communities, and the African Union to break all ties with Israel, following in the footsteps of the fight to take down the apartheid regime of South Africa"

This includes exposing how Israel undermines democracy and human rights in Africa by arming autocratic regimes on the continent; as well as the ‘greenwashing’ of Israeli apartheid policies through the sale of irrigation, water and agricultural technology to Africa.

PAPSN’s ultimate aim is to get African governments, Regional Economic Communities, and the African Union to break all ties with Israel, following in the footsteps of the fight to take down the apartheid regime of South Africa. The network also intends lobbying African countries to push for the reactivation of the United Nations’ anti-apartheid mechanisms, and for these to be used against Israel.

The latter is a particularly significant objective in the light of UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), Michael Lynk, recently concluding that Israel’s policies amounts to apartheid. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reached similar conclusions. Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Saleh Hijazi, was also in Dakar for the conference.

Unbreakable bonds between Africa and Palestine

Delegates acknowledge that they face a mammoth task in isolating Israel, but are motivated to support Palestine by a shared history of colonialism and occupation.   

For Senegalese activist Dialo Diop, Palestine is both a professional and personal issue. Diop has been a member of Amnesty International’s medical group for decades and understands - from an institutional perspective - the need to end the occupation of Palestine.

Personally, he heads up the political prisoners campaigns at the Senegalese Palestine Solidarity Platform, and considers it an “historical and ethical obligation” as an African to fight against Israeli apartheid.

It’s a sentiment shared by Ester Meameno Shitana, who represented the Namibia National Students Organisation (NANSO) in Dakar. “NANSO is a student organisation that was birthed in response to a repressive apartheid regime, so we can never stand by and watch or support an Israeli apartheid regime,” explained Shitana.

Reverend Kolade Fadahunsi of Kairos Nigeria saw the Dakar conference “as an opportunity for us to come together as a network and a strong force to address the issue of seeking justice for the Palestinians.”

"Delegates acknowledge that they face a mammoth task in isolating Israel, but are motivated to support Palestine by a shared history of colonialism and occupation"

Fadahunsi believes that African Christians must renounce - in the strongest terms possible – any attempts to defend the Israeli occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people using the Bible.

Mafa Kwanisai Mafa, chairman of the Zimbabwe Palestine Solidarity Council (ZPSC), says that it is unconscionable that the African Union – which has always supported self-determination and a decolonial agenda - now welcomes Israel. Revoking Israel’s observer status at the AU is a priority for ZPSC.

Honouring Africa's history

Honouring Africa’s long-standing legacy of supporting the Palestinian cause was a major theme at a public event on 12 March. The event was opened by Palestinian ambassador to Senegal Safwat Ibraghith and speakers included Algerian freedom fighter and former foreign minister Lakhdar Brahimi, and Moroccan human rights activist, Khadija Ryadi.

Also present was Emma Nyerere - whose grandfather, Tanzanian liberation icon, Julius Nyerere, was among the first world leaders to recognise the PLO in 1973. Representing the Pan-African Women’s Organisation, Nyerere said she was proud that PAPSN was continuing Africa’s support of Palestine.

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“This [gathering] sends a strong message to the people of occupied Palestine that you are not alone and that the people of Africa stand with you in your struggle just as you stood by us during our struggles for liberation across the continent,” declared Zwelivelile Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela.

It’s a message that has reached Palestinians.

Speaking from the besieged Gaza Strip, Aya Al-Ghazzawi of the One Democratic State Campaign, said she was “deeply overwhelmed and proud” of the solidarity shown at PAPSN’s conference. “It gives us stamina to keep resisting apartheid and settler-colonialism.”

“Even when undemocratic, corrupt governments betray principles and sell out, this gathering shows that the bond between peoples in a common struggle against military occupation, neo-colonialism and apartheid cannot be broken,” said Mahmoud Nawajaa, general coordinator of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC).

Even as the governments of several African countries with proud anti-colonial legacies and histories of recognising and fighting injustice have normalised relations with Israel, in Dakar, civil society and activists sent a clear message that Africa’s peoples remain firmly committed to the Palestinian people’s fight against Israeli apartheid.

Suraya Dadoo is a writer based in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

Follow her on Twitter: @Suraya_Dadoo