African nations are experiencing increased expenses due to a conflict initiated by the Palestinian militant group Hamas against Israel this week.
Days after the unprecedented assault on Israel, which triggered a sustained Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, analysts predict that African nations might not face casualties. Still, they could experience increased security concerns, higher importation costs, and diplomatic pressures on their positions.
On Thursday, members of Al Shabaab, the Somali militant group, distributed a document to journalists in which they expressed support for Hamas and its actions against Israel, a common adversary they have opposed for years.
Security analysts note that the Al Shabaab and Hamas have had no direct relations yet but could still target East African installations for opportunistic attacks and raise their own profile.
“Brace for terrorist learning and copy-cat,” Dr Rashid Abdi, Horn of Africa security researcher, warned on his X page.
Hamas is recognized as a terrorist organization by several Western countries. However, their decision to initiate attacks on Israel was in retaliation for what they perceived as ongoing violations of Palestinian rights by Israel.
Despite Hamas being labeled a terrorist organization, some individuals who support Palestinian freedom view their actions as heroic. This has led to concerns that those openly supporting Israel may face targeting worldwide. In East Africa, there’s the potential for solidarity-based mobilization among certain groups.
“We are living in polarised times and grievances related to the Palestinian issue have been a driver for some to join militant groups,” said Dr Hawa Noor, an independent researcher.
“The best thing for Kenya would be to keep a low profile; being the proponent of peace, without aligning with any side,” she said.
In past years, Kenya has faced the wrath of Palestine militants, for offering support to Israel. An Israeli-owned hotel was attacked. In 2002, Al Qaeda agents launched rockets on an Israeli airliner near Mombasa. They missed, but the airline stopped flights to Kenya to date, citing security.
Immediately after Hamas fattacked Israel on October 7, Kenya noted it “stands in solidarity with Israel.” But the Ministry of Foreign and Diaspora Affairs later clarified that Nairobi also calls for de-escalation.
“Kenya’s reaction, as indicated in the statement by the President, focused on a particular incident, that is the new terrorist attacks. Terrorism anywhere is completely unacceptable,” Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Korir Sing’oei said.
“We are also concerned with the retaliatory attacks on the part of Israel. It looks like it is excessive and not proportional. The best thing is a return to the path of peace.”
Others like Sudan, Djibouti and South Africa blamed Israel for igniting anger among Palestinians, saying the continual violations had radicalised the group.
Sudan was one of the most recent African countries to officially recognize Israel’s sovereignty in 2021. Despite this recognition, Sudan maintains its stance in support of Palestine’s right to self-defense.
Jihad Mashamoun, a Sudanese researcher and political analyst specializing in Sudanese and Horn of Africa Affairs, suggested that the public sentiments in Khartoum may not significantly affect its diplomatic relations with Israel.
“I highly doubt it will ruin diplomatic relations. The relationship is based on Sudan closing both Hamas and Hezbollah offices and operations in Sudan,” said Mr Mashamoun, an honorary research fellow at Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies of University of Exeter, UK.
“(Sudanese military leader Abdel Fattah) Burhan focused on that aspect including (his opponent Mohamed Hamdani) Hemedti in the past so that Israel could lobby on his behalf in Washington. The intention: Burhan wants Washington to support the stability in Sahel and Horn and to Middle East too.”
The conflict, however, could divert attention on Sudan, worsening the crisis.
Africa director at the International Crisis Group, Murithi Mutiga, said that could be a potential economic whip on countries that are mainly net importers.
“A lacklustre diplomatic response to the war in Sudan, which has spawned the worst internal displacement crisis in the world, illustrates the degree to which global actors have been distracted by events elsewhere,” Mr Mutiga said.
“Developments in Gaza and Israel will worsen this trend particularly considering that parties such as Saudi Arabia and the US, which have been trying to steer diplomatic efforts on Sudan are indirectly implicated in the latest hostilities as are Egypt and the UAE.”
Furthermore, he contended that Africa is in a precarious position, as it cannot handle another global shock on top of the challenges posed by COVID-19, environmental stresses, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These existing factors have already led to increased import costs and food shortages.
“Rising energy costs in particular will be a hammer blow to economies already struggling to recover from multiple setbacks in recent years,” he argued.
East Africa, which has been tipped by the African Development Bank to be the fastest growing region on the continent, with a growth rate of 5.1 percent this year may closely follow the developments in the Gaza conflict owing to its bilateral relations with both the Western and Arab countries.
A cross-section of sampled economists expressed fears over the possible impact of the conflict on the East African nations.
Dr Samuel Nyandemo, a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi’s School of Economics, said one possible effect is the US reducing its dollar flows to the Arab world, indirectly affecting countries in the Horn of Africa, which rely on these countries for economic support.
Besides an imminent increase in production costs, from higher prices, African countries are likely to feel friction from their geopolitical alliances around supporting Israel, he argued.
African leaders are united in condemning violence in the current Israel-Palestine conflict, but remain deeply divided on who to blame.
A number of African leaders have issued statements in response to an unprecedented attack on Israel by the Hamas militant group. However, there is a lack of consensus among these leaders on whether to categorize it as terrorism or war, signaling a disagreement.
Kenya and Rwanda condemned the attack as an act of terror targeting innocent civilians and called for de-escalation. DR Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi also condemned the terrorist attacks but received criticism from local activists.
The African Union (AU) labeled the conflict as “hostilities” and laid blame on Israel, emphasizing the denial of fundamental rights of the Palestinian people as the main cause of tension.
The AU called for an end to military hostilities, a return to negotiations, and the implementation of the principle of two states living side by side. Tanzania condemned the violence and called for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
The AU has struggled to find a balance in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as Israel expands its influence on the continent. While Israel is recognized by 46 out of the 55 AU member states and maintains diplomatic missions in Africa, the AU has not confirmed Israel’s observer status since its application to rejoin in 2021.
The conflict between Israel and Palestine has potential economic implications for the region, such as inflation and high interest rates due to price hikes on energy products. It also has the potential to create tensions between different faith communities, given the religious significance of the war scene to these groups. The actual impact on each country will depend on its ability to navigate these challenges.
In the Gaza Strip, civilians are fleeing the area after an Israeli warning to move south. The UN has called on Israel to withdraw the order to prevent humanitarian consequences.
Hamas has been accused of kidnapping people and bringing them into Gaza, while Israel continues retaliatory air strikes. The blockade of Gaza has resulted in shortages of fuel, food, and water. Israel has stated that it will only lift restrictions if all hostages held by Hamas are released.
In a departure from its usual policy, Israel broke a 40-year tradition of not flying on the Jewish Shabbat to bring reservists back home from around the world to serve in the army.