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AFCON final ‘overshadowed’ AU debate on Israel

Many Africans have criticised the manner in which the issue was being handled, pointing to the ‘hypocrisy’ of those countries against Israel’s Observer Status at the AU, writes Desmond Davies

THE final of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) between Senegal and Egypt in Cameroon on February 6 ‘overshadowed’ the debate by the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa on the now contentious issue of Israel’s Observer Status at the pan-African organisation, a source has told Africa Briefing.

Under the AU’s Sirte Criteria of 2005, the powers of the Chairperson to grant Observer Status to a non-African state were established, current Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat argued when he granted such status to Israel on July 22, 2021.
But by the time the leaders gathered in Addis Ababa for their summit at the beginning this month, there were growing rumblings of discontent over the move.

It was then decided that a committee would look into the matter.

The source told Africa Briefing that the summit, in a closed meeting, decided to set up a committee that would deliberate on the question of Israel’s accreditation.

The committee consisted of the leaders of South Africa, Algeria, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic Congo, Rwanda, Cameroon and Senegal as the new AU Chair.

While the committee did its work, Faki’s decision to grant accreditation to Israel would be suspended.

‘Before the decision could be properly drafted and a resolution presented, Israel began lobbying individual member states, and putting pressure on many diplomats,’ the source said.

‘As a result, in the last session, the matter was tabled for debate.

‘The issue of the establishment of the committee was not in contention, but the issue of the suspension of the July 2021 decision was,’ the source added.

‘From the beginning, the debate, chaired by Senegal’s President Macky Sall, was overshadowed by Sall calling more than once for the debate to end quickly because he wanted to watch football,’ the source said, adding: ‘Another country’s deputy president made a similar appeal.’

South Africa began the debate by calling for Israel’s suspension, backed by Namibia, Algeria, Tunisia, Nigeria, Libya and the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic.

The source said that Sall insisted that the decision must be taken by the committee, and ‘reiterated that he wanted to stop the discussion because he wanted to watch Senegal play football’.

Cote d’Ivoire, DRC, Liberia, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Rwanda, The Gambia and Morocco supported the Chair while Uganda opposed the decision to suspend the July 2021 decision.

The source told Africa Briefing that The Gambia argued: ‘“We should not spend so much time on outside issues.

‘“We must go and [watch] the football.”’

The source said that when South Africa spoke again, it was to insist that the suspension of the July 2021 decision prevailed, urging the Chair to be ‘“logical and rational”’.

Algeria argued that 24 countries had objected to the decision to accredit Israel, while Liberia, in opposing the suspension of the July 2021 decision, pointed out that Liberia sat with Israel at the UN, the source told Africa Briefing.

In the end, according to the source, Senegal said that the committee must meet and discuss the issue of suspension, and declared that Israel remained an observer until the committee decided otherwise.

Faki’s decision to grant Israel Observer Status and the ensuing fractious debate saw the AU Chairperson take a swipe at AU leaders during the summit, condemning the double standards of his critics.

He said: ‘I have known for a long time how in Africa, in the Arab and the Muslim world, the just cause of the Palestinian people has been used, but this is another debate on which I do not want to dwell any longer.’

Many Africans have criticised the manner in which the issue was being handled, pointing to the ‘hypocrisy’ of those countries against Israel’s Observer Status at the AU.

One African academic, who dd not want to be named, told Africa Briefing: ‘In terms of calling out the hypocrisy of African states, Faki could not have put it better.

‘I am still intrigued by the double-face that both South Africa and Nigeria demonstrated. ‘These two cheerleaders for the anti-Israel camp at the AU both maintain diplomatic relations with Israel.

‘Last time I checked, their embassies were still operating in Tel Aviv.

‘And the Israeli embassies in Abuja and Pretoria are among Israel’s biggest.

‘So, where is the outrage here?

‘I think these are the countries that should be called out specifically, and am sure Faki had them in mind although diplomacy compelled him not to mention them by name,’ the academic added.


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