Diplomatic relations are under stress between some African nations and Israel.
What is the African Union summit?
The African Union (AU) Summit is a biannual meeting of African leaders and heads of state, aimed at discussing important issues related to the continent’s development and promoting regional cooperation. The summit provides a platform for African leaders to exchange ideas, share experiences, and make decisions on matters of concern to the continent.
The African Union was established in 2002 as a successor to the Organization of African Unity (OAU), with the aim of promoting political and economic integration, peace, and security on the continent. Since its establishment, the AU has played an important role in coordinating the efforts of African countries in addressing common challenges such as poverty, disease, and conflict.
The AU summit brings together heads of state and government from all 55 African Union member states, as well as representatives from other international organisations and stakeholders. The summit typically takes place over several days and is hosted by a different African country each time.
At the summit, leaders discuss a wide range of issues affecting the continent, including economic development, regional integration, peace and security, and human rights. They also review progress made in implementing the AU’s development agenda, Agenda 2063, and make decisions on its implementation.
This year the summit is taking place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on various dates between January 16 and February 19, 2023. The theme of the summit, for the year 2023 is “The Year of AfCFTA” where AfCFTA stands for “Acceleration of the African Continent Free Trade Area Implementation”. As African leaders gathered on Saturday to discuss various topics of importance to the African nations, an Israeli diplomat was escorted out of the AU assembly.
An AU official said that the diplomat, Sharon Bar-li, the Israeli foreign minister’s deputy general for Africa, was asked to leave as she did not possess credentials to attend the summit and a non-transferrable invitation had only been issued to Israel’s ambassador to the African Union, Aleli Admasu. He added that it was regrettable that such a senior diplomat would abuse such a courtesy.
Israel condemned the expulsion of its diplomat from the summit while blaming Iran for orchestrating the move with the help of South Africa and Algeria. A spokesperson from Israel’s foreign ministry called the incident “severe” while stating that Bar-li had an entry tag and was an accredited observer. He said it was sad to see the AU taken hostage by hostile and extremist states like South Africa and Algeria, adding that they were driven by hatred and controlled by Iran.
When asked for a response, Vincent Magwenya, spokesman for South African president Cyril Ramaphosa said that Israel must substantiate their claim.
What is the controversy?
Israel gained observer status at the AU 2021 after years of diplomatic efforts, and opposition from powerful AU members like South Africa and Algeria, which argued that it was contradictory to the AU’s statements supporting the Palestinians. Palestine, which also has observer status, urged it to be withdrawn. Tensions ran high when Moussa Faki Mahamat, head of the African Union Commission, accepted Iran’s accreditation.
At last year’s summit, a debate on the issue of Israel’s status was suspended, and a committee was set up that was supposed to give its recommendations this year.
Israel previously held observer status at the OAU but was unsuccessful at attempts to gain the same at the AU since 2002. The issue of Israel’s observer status has caused a lot of stress among the 55-member bloc.
How are the relations ?
Israel’s diplomatic relations with Africa are decades old, originating in the mid-1950s, when most African countries started gaining independence. David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, considered African nations vital in his efforts to end Israel’s diplomatic isolation outside of West Asia. Currently, Israel has relations with 46 African nations and 12 embassies across the continent, while some 13 odd African nations have embassies in Tel Aviv. Most African countries have signed cooperation agreements with Israeli companies in various fields like education, defence, energy, security, health, economy, and finance.
The formalisation of relations at the continental level is important and will lead to better cooperation between countries in Africa and Israel. As Africa continues to assert its voice and influence on the global stage, it remains to be seen how this incident will impact Israel’s relations with African countries and the wider Middle East region.