By Dr. David Oginde,
Being the first by an Israeli premier, the recent visit to Kenya by Benjamin Netanyahu was historic. It certainly elicited excitement among many Kenyans especially because of the friendly role Israel has often played in times of crisis in Kenya. Yet it seems to have caused unease in some quarters. In fact, a group of Muslim clerics and political leaders termed the visit a danger to the nation.
In their view, it would only exacerbate the already deplorable security situation in the country. They went as far as claiming that Israel is a violator of human rights, with whom we should associate, owing to its conduct in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Accordingly, the Muslim leaders asked Kenya to steer clear of Israel until a lasting solution is found to the conflict.
The truth is that Israel has been in constant battles with many of its Arab neighbors since its rebirth in 1948. These battles have been fought within and outside boarders of Israel, sometimes targeting their interests in other nations, including Kenya. At the center of these fights is the dispute over Israel’s legitimacy as a bonafide member of the community of nations. This legitimacy is something that some have refused to acknowledge, and especially its immediate neighbors, but which is an undeniable fact of history.
Thus the call by Muslim leaders raises fundamental issues with regard to Kenya’s diplomatic relations with the Middle Eastern nations. In recent times, the Arab nations have almost totally dominated Kenya’s diplomatic space with their leaders visiting Kenya one after another. In what has been regarded as trade and development ties, these nations have been assiduously aggressive in cementing ties with Kenya. Hence, their business interests are expansive and well entrenched.
Whereas there is absolutely nothing untoward about being astute in business, eyebrows were recently raised when Kenya was invited to join the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Announcing the move, Henry Rotich, the Finance Cabinet Secretary, declared that Kenya was set to become a member of the OIC, ostensibly to access cheap loans from the Islamic Development Bank, extended on interest free terms as per Islamic banking practice. Though this seemed like a noble venture, there were concerns with the fact that OIC declares unequivocally that it is “the collective voice of the Muslim world” and works to “safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world.” Kenya was thus being invited to join a primarily religious outfit.
As previously argued in this space, such an eventuality was bound to throw Kenya into a diplomatic quagmire with Israel. Kenya has always considered itself a friend of Israel, though taking a neutral stand in the conflict between Israel and its neighbors.
Therefore, for Kenya to become a member of an organization that appears, at least covertly, to be unfriendly to Israel was most likely going to compromise that stand. This is particularly because the OIC position on Israel is clear. It has previously declared “the possibility of cutting ties with any (member) state that recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or that moves it embassy to its environs” Certainly a veiled threat to members of the organization not to entertain Israel.
Therefore, with Israel stepping out of the woodworks to also find allies in Africa, Kenya may find itself at the center of a love triangle battle whose impact could be devastating if not carefully managed. It is curious that the Muslim leaders considered the visit by Netanyahu a danger to the nation and one that could undermine national security. This could be a loaded statement considering that Netanyahu had just pledged to share intelligence with Kenya to pre-empt terrorist attacks.
Whatever the case, it appears unfortunate that the Kenya Muslim community would come out strongly to oppose diplomatic relations with Israel, on the basis of the Palestinian conflict.
Bearing in mind that there are many Kenyans who strongly consider Israel to have legitimate legal and historic rights to the land they occupy, we run the danger of importing the Middle Eastern conflict to our own land-a situation that would certainly not to be happy.
It therefore behooves us to allow the government to cultivate mutually beneficial relationships with all friendly nations but stay clear of their internal affairs. In this case, it is perhaps the only way to keep both friends. Otherwise Kenya should also cut ties with any perceived “enemies” of Israel in order to be truly neutral.