The African Union, like other regional and continental organizations, has not been free of internal division due to attempts to dominate countries or regions and impose a specific position and other issues.

But the latest crisis within the African continental bloc came after a decision taken by the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, “Moussa Faki Mohamed,” in July 2021, to grant Israel observer status in the African Union (1);

Which called for fierce resistance and opposition from a group of countries that demanded a vote on the resolution at the last African Union conference held in February 2022, in the hope that the general vote by member states would cancel this resolution (2).

However, last February 6 (2022), the African Union decided during its summit to postpone the discussion and vote on the issue of Israel’s status as an observer in the bloc, due to the presence of other existing and extremely important issues such as the Corona crisis and its repercussions on the continent and the return of military coups in some African countries.

Thus, the suspension of debate and voting on the issue means another victory for Israeli diplomacy, and also means that the topic will be re-discussed again at the next African Union Summit in 2023(3).

After the last summit, Macky Sall, President of Senegal and the current session of the African Union, announced "the formation of a special committee that will consist of eight heads of state and government that will present its proposals at the next summit", in order to reach an agreement on the issue.

This committee will include South Africa and Algeria, which opposed the "jaw" resolution to adopt Israel, as well as Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which supported the resolution.

In addition to Cameroon, which requested to be a member of the Committee, and Nigeria, which requested South Africa to be part of the Committee (4).

Israel's Relations with Sub-Saharan Africa

African Union Heads of State at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa

Israel's relations with sub-Saharan Africa can be traced back to the late 1950s when, in 1957, Israel recognized Ghana's independence.

And in 1958, when the Israeli Agency for International Development Cooperation "Mashav" was established to support the emerging independent African states.

In 1963, the first Israeli embassy was established in Nairobi, Kenya.

Ethiopia is its main ally due to political and religious interests, despite the break in relations between the two sides in 1973 and 1989 (5).

at the level of the African Union;

The Organization of African Unity, which preceded the African Union, granted Israel observer status.

But Israel lost this status and prestige when the continental organization was dissolved in 2002 to be replaced by the new organization in the mantle of the African Union.

Since that time, Israel has been trying to restore that status with opposition led by South Africa and Libya under the leadership of leader "Muammar Gaddafi," who threatened to stop Libyan financial support if Israel was granted that status.

In both 2003 and 2016, Israel applied without success to obtain this status (6).

Tracing the record of visits and exchanges between Israel and African countries leads to saying that the strongest relations of Israel in the continent are with countries in West, Central and East Africa;

Israel currently has diplomatic relations with 46 of the 55 member states of the African Union.

And the recent decision by the African Union to grant Israel observer status was nothing but a new step to polish Israel's image and an attempt to strengthen its relations with the continent once again.

Recent developments were also not immune from the previous efforts of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu;

As Israel intensified its campaigns in Africa under his leadership;

In July 2016, Netanyahu visited countries in sub-Saharan Africa, becoming the first Israeli head of state to visit the region since Levi Eshkol in 1966 (7).

The aim of the visit was to win the support of African leaders to obtain observer status in the African Union and to develop political and commercial relations between the countries of the region.

Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda were among the countries he visited, the same countries that are accused today of facilitating procedures and supporting Israel's ambition in the African Union, especially since Ethiopia and Kenya enjoyed, at one time, strong relations with Israel and worked with it on security issues of "fighting terrorism") 8).

It is worth noting that some African countries have developed their relations with Israel in complete secrecy, while other countries have openly conducted their dealings with them according to their needs, especially in the field of reliance on Israeli technologies.

Rather, in 2016 when Israel's relationship with Uganda was in the development stage;

Rwandan President Paul Kagame showed his interest in Israel, betting on his country's history of genocide (9).

In 2017, Netanyahu delivered a political speech in Liberia to 15 members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), becoming the first non-African head of state to do so;

At the time, he pledged to provide economic and technological "help" in areas such as agriculture, water resources, energy and health.

Through these moves, he once again expressed his interest in obtaining observer status in the African Union and invited African presidents and parliamentary delegations to visit Israel (10).

Jaws, Chinkidi, and the engineering of Israel's return to the African Union

Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission (left), and Felix Tshisekedi, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (right) (Reuters)

It was widely believed that Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who served as president of the African Union from January 2018 to February 10, 2019, laid the foundations for Israel's recent success in penetrating the African Union;

Netanyahu himself previously emphasized that rapprochement with Rwanda is part of his broader policy to rebuild relations with Africa.

In 2013, Kagame visited Israel on the occasion of the Fifth Presidential Conference of Israel and the ninetieth anniversary of the birth of Shimon Peres, in his first personal participation in bilateral relations.

In 2014, then-Foreign Minister Lieberman visited Rwanda, and during his visit, the two sides signed a joint declaration aimed at strengthening bilateral relations and setting a framework for joint agricultural initiatives.

Lieberman, together with the Rwandan Minister of Agriculture, Agnes Kalibata, launched the Rwanda-Israel Center of Excellence for Horticultural Development (11).

In addition, in 2017, an Israeli specialist was appointed to the Rwandan Research and Analysis Center for a two-year assignment.

In 2017, Netanyahu announced his intention to establish an Israeli embassy in Kigali. In return, Kagame maintained the presence of a Rwandan ambassador in Tel Aviv (12), although Rwandan embassies in the Middle East are located only in Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

In addition to the Rwandan role, Israel has exploited the progress it has made in North Africa in recent years as a gateway for the entry of African countries with strategic weight in the African Sahel in general and the African Union in particular.

In 2019, Israel resumed its relationship with Chad, which had been severed in 1972 due to Israel's continued occupation of the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula since the 1967 war. There are reports that Moussa Faki Mohamed, the Chadian citizen and current chairperson of the African Union Commission, who granted Israel observer status in July / July 2021, he was in contact in recent months with several African countries regarding granting Israel observer status, and that he took the decision after ascertaining the support of many African countries for Israel.

If Moussa Faki's move found fertile ground for Felix Tshisekedi, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and President of the current session of the African Union, who blessed the decision of Moussa Faki(13);

The normalization of Israel's relations with Morocco and Sudan through the "Abraham Accords" affected African public opinion (14).

Thus, obtaining Israel's observer status in the African Union may give a semi-official status to countries that deal with Israel secretly in order to do so in public.

It is worth noting that one of the biggest challenges that Israel faced in its previous efforts to gain observer status in the African Union;

The African countries supporting Palestine in the African Union rejected the attempts of Israel and its allies, as South Sudan and Ethiopia had previously tried to help Israel achieve this, but the former chairperson of the African Union Commission, “Dlamini Zuma” (from South Africa), refused the attempt after pro-Palestinian pressure and to avoid division which may be missed (15).

It can be understood Dlamini Zuma's fears that Moussa Faki's decision upset 21 of the 55 African Union countries and entities, most of which are members of the Arab League and the Southern African Development Community, and that it forced Faki himself to deliver a long speech before leaders. The Africans, on February 6, 2022, justified his decision, saying that it stemmed from the fact that “44 members of our organization recognize Israel and have established diplomatic relations with it; 17 embassies have been opened in Tel Aviv. 12 consulates general have opened there, in addition to a large number of African countries have opened their markets and economic spaces to Israeli companies and signed cooperation agreements in various and sensitive fields, such as: education and training, defense and security, intelligence, nuclear energy, cooperation, agriculture, technological innovations, health, economy, finance and others” (16).

Faki also responded to the concerns of the African Union member states protesting against his decision and saying that he had no executive authority to make such a decision;

Where he stressed that the step is within his full authority and does not require any preparatory action, and that it is based on the reality of the "majority" of the member states of the African Union that asked him to take the decision, stressing that the African Union supports the basic rights of the Palestinian people and expects that Israel's accreditation as an observer will contribute to a campaign The African Union to achieve a "two-state solution" and restore peace between Israel and Palestine (17).

Why is Israel looking for observer status in the African Union?

The observer states in the African Union include: Palestine, China, the United Kingdom, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, Kuwait and Greece.

While countries with this status do not have the ability to vote or propose decisions in the AU, the granting of status also means that the granted country will join the more than 90 external partners of the AU, will have restricted access to the AU papers and will sit as an observer in the AU. Meetings when called enabling them to establish closer contact with African policy makers and to address those present at African Union meetings, and to work with the African Union in accordance with its Fundamental Principles.

Therefore, it is possible to understand the motives behind Israel's pursuit of observer status in the African Union;

The African Union granted Palestine that status in 2013, which gave Palestine greater opportunities than Israel in the African arena.

Israel has also recently realized that African countries represent a large bloc in the United Nations and other international organizations, and the majority of these African countries take a unified position on several issues and vote with one voice in most cases.

Thus, gaining the support of the African Union for Israel means easy pressure for its position on the Palestinian issue and gaining the support of African countries on issues of political interest in the United Nations and the international forum, especially in light of the fragmentation of the old Cold War alliances and the dwindling of Israel’s allies within the United Nations.

On the other hand, Israel is trying to promote its products in African markets, and seeks to promote the activities of entrepreneurs and its manufacturers who have been active in the continent since the fifties of the last century.

Israeli companies have also noticed the African excitement surrounding the new technology and the urgent need to embrace it, the lack of competition, the ease of obtaining licenses, and the potential to circumvent the law compared to markets in Europe and the United States.

In addition to the rise of China, Russia, Turkey and others in Africa, and the gains they reap in African markets.

In addition to the above, military trade in Africa is an important area for Israel, given that some African governments are seeking Israeli military equipment, surveillance technologies, data collection, and electronic warfare.

This confirms what the Israeli Defense Ministry (18) revealed that in 2016 Israeli military exports to Africa amounted to $275 million.

Like other international ambitions in Africa, Israel presents itself as having solutions to the continent's challenges.

In its announcement after being granted observer status, it stated that it would use its new role to help "fight" the emerging Corona crisis and the development of extremist terrorism across the continent.

By reviewing the rule of the Israeli Prime Minister “Netanyahu” it is noted that he announced an agreement with the United States of America to enhance access to energy and reduce the electricity deficit in Africa through innovative solutions.

One of its strategies in Muslim-majority African countries that support the Palestinian cause is to exploit religious occasions and living conditions to get closer to local communities, such as distributing sacrifices to Muslims and Ramadan gifts, creating job opportunities and training youth cadres.

Division in search of advantages

Discussions are still ongoing about the audacity of "Moussa Faki" in taking the decision to grant Israel an observer status in the African Union, and whether he expected the responses and the division caused by the decision, especially since among the African countries that objected to him were countries such as South Africa, Algeria, Botswana, Namibia and Algeria.

There are reports that Algeria, Egypt, Comoros, Tunisia, Djibouti, Mauritania and Libya submitted a verbal note of protest to "Moussa Faki" at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa (19).

South Africa, along with Algeria and others, is leading the campaign of resistance against "Moussa Faki", due to its traditional position on Israel;

The South African government supports the Palestinian cause inside and outside Africa and establishes official relations with Palestine.

Public opinion in South Africa likens the situation in Palestine in light of the Israeli violations of the apartheid system that South Africa witnessed from 1948 to the early nineties of the last century.

South Africa responded to Israel's activities in Gaza in 2018 by reducing its presence in Israel from an embassy to a liaison office in 2019 (20).

It is noted that some African countries have remained silent about the crisis of granting Israel an observer status, and this silence may be for “religious” reasons or an economic interest;

Where Christian-majority countries sympathize with Israel by adopting Messianic Judaism, others do so because of Western pressure and fears of cutting European "grants".

In the same vein, a campaign has recently emerged calling for African countries to separate the Palestinian issue from economic cooperation with Israel, and that they can vote against Israel on political concerns in international forums such as the United Nations, while still benefiting from Israeli technological advances.

The campaign owners inferred that the Arab countries themselves, near and adjacent to Palestine, began to normalize their relations with Israel, and that the fast-growing economies of Africa need technologies and technologies, whether from Israel or others, to develop their various fields.

However, allegations and arguments about the possibility of Africa benefiting from Israeli “innovations” are facing criticism and negative reactions in various African circles due to reports that revealed that Israeli programs such as Elbit Systems are being used in an espionage campaign in Africa, as in the case of targeting Ethiopian dissidents living abroad. (21).

There are other reports that some African governments that rely on Israeli surveillance technologies have been using them to spy on their populations and to impede civilian rule(22), and that they help some African governments and their leaders spy on other African governments(23).


Based on the above, it can be said that after more than two decades of waiting and trying, granting observer status by the African Union will be a victory for Israel’s foreign policy, and that by combining its political stakes and its financial and economic interests, this development may have an impact on the positions and support of many African countries for the Palestinian cause;

Where many of them may resort to a "neutral position" to develop their relations with Israel, while African countries that are reluctant to normalize their relations with it because of the Palestinian issue may review their position or reduce the intensity of their criticism.

Despite the current state of uncertainty in the African Union as a result of the “Moussa Faki” decision, questions are ongoing about whether opponents of the decision and those resisting the Israeli move within the African Union - such as South Africa and Algeria - will be able to influence the cancellation of the decision and abort the efforts of Israel’s allies within continental mass in the coming months and years.

and over all;

The crisis resulting from the case should be considered as an opportunity for the AU Executive Council to reconsider the regulations for granting non-African entities and organizations observer status in the AU, and to review the reality of this status and how it contributes to the objectives of the continental bloc.


This article is taken from: Al Jazeera Center for Studies.