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African Bloggers React To UNESCO's Admission Of Palestine

[All links lead to French language pages except when otherwise noted]

The admission of Palestine as a full member of UNESCO on 31 October 2011 has prompted an intense debate, with people taking very different stands.  Africans from the continent as well as the diaspora have also taken an active part in the debate online.  However, whether they agreed or disagreed with Palestine's admission to UNESCO, the different sides have often projected the debate onto the internal problems of their own countries.

 

UNESCO admits Palestine. Photo by Salaam Shalom on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The site ouestaf.com reveals which African countries abstained from voting:

Trois pays ouest africains figurent dans le lot des abstentionnistes : Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Togo. Ils constituent avec le Cameroun, l’Ouganda, la Zambie et le Rwanda les seuls pays africains à n’avoir pas voté en faveur de la résolution faisant de Palestine un Etat membre à part entière de l’Unesco.

Three West African countries figure among the non-voters:  Ivory Coast, Liberia and Togo.  With Cameroon, Uganda, Zambia and Rwanda, these three are the only African countries to have voted against the resolution to make Palestine a full member state of UNESCO.

Each of the countries that chose to abstain gave its official reasons, which bloggers then quickly tore apart. The site amaizo.info published an article giving valid reasons for most of the countries:

En réalité, ces pays ont en commun d’assurer une partie de leur sécurité rapprochée jusqu’au niveau des gardes présidentielles avec Israël sans compter les aides économiques.

Ces « neutralistes » se cachent derrière l’obligation de réserve au lieu d’expliquer qu’ils sont tous directement ou indirectement tributaires du soutien des pays qui ne veulent pas entendre parler d’un Etat Palestinien pour le moment. Nommons Israël, les Etats-Unis, le Canada et la Colombie, etc. La France a voté en faveur de l’adhésion de la Palestine à l’UNESCO, mais annonce qu’elle s’abstiendra au Conseil de Sécurité.

In reality, these countries have a common purpose in ensuring part of their security, up to the level of presidential guards, with Israel, not counting economic aid. 

The ‘neutral ones’ hide behind the duty to preserve secrecy, instead of explaining that they are all directly or indirectly dependent on the support of countries that, for the moment, don't want to hear about a Palestinian state.  Just to name some:  Israel, the United States, Canada, Colombia etc.  France voted in favour of Palestine joining UNESCO, but announced that it would abstain from the Security Council.

Explaining the position of Ivory Coast, the only African country run by a Muslim president to have opted for abstention, S. Débailly writes in an article entitled “Palestine in UNESCO / Ivory Coast abstains from voting – Why Alassane Ouattara didn't say yes to Nicolas Sarkozy”, published by abidjan.net:

Une source au ministère d’Etat, ministère des Affaires étrangères reconnaît que la pression a été forte. Mais, ajoute-t-elle, elle est restée fidèle à sa nouvelle ligne de conduite dictée par la recherche de la paix par la négociation et la volonté de préserver les amitiés avec tous les Etats du monde. Un peu comme la philosophie diplomatique du père fondateur [Félix Houphouët-Boigny], à savoir : ‘’la Côte d’Ivoire, amie de tous, ennemie de personne’’.

A source in the state ministry, the Foreign Affairs ministry, acknowledges that the pressure has been strong.  But, she adds, Ivory Coast has remained faithful to her new line of conduct dictated by the search for peace through negotiation and the desire to preserve friendships with all the world's governments.  A bit like the diplomatic philosophy of the founding father (Félix Houphouët-Boigny), that is, “Ivory Coast,  friend of all, enemy of no one”.

But Roch Tieh, a resident of Sétif in Morocco, commenting on that article, has quite a different explanation, more personal, for President Abdourahmane Dramane Ouattara (ADO):

Loin de partager l'avis de la plupart des frères qui sont intervenus sur ce sujet, j'ai une autre vision de la chose. Je risque de choquer certains, mais pour ceux qui me voient souvent prendre position pour ADO, je dirai ici (Sans en avoir la preuve) que le vote de notre Pays a été influencé, par la Première Dame (Que je respecte beaucoup). Elle serait d'origine Juive et donc comme le dit l'Agade: Ce qui Femme veut, DIEU le veut aussi. Notre Président a demandé que notre Pays s'abstienne, si on ne peut pas voter pour l'adhésion de la Palestine à l'Unesco, il faut rester neutre. C'est sage de sa part et il n'y a pas de Palabres inutiles à la maison.

Far from sharing the advice of most of the brothers who intervened on this subject, I have a different view of things.  I risk shocking some people, but for those who see me often taking a stand for ADO, I will say here (without having any proof) that our country's vote was influenced by the First Lady (for whom I have a lot of respect).  She would be of Jewish origin, thus as Agade says:  What Woman wants, GOD also wants.  Our president asked that our country abstain;  if we cannot vote for Palestine to become a member of UNESCO, we must remain neutral.  For his part, it's wise;  there'll be no endless, useless discussions at home.

A story written by Alain Noah Awana of the journal Le Messager (The Messenger) on cameroon-info.net agrees with the  previous analysis on why Cameroon also abstained:

Joint sur son téléphone portable alors qu'il se trouvait à Paris, le Pr. Messanga Nyamding donne les trois raisons qui, selon lui, ont poussé le Cameroun sur la voie de l'abstention….En filigrane, on peut comprendre que le pays a choisi la neutralité pour ne pas attirer les foudres de la communauté internationale, notamment celles des Etats-Unis. Deuxièmement, il se pourrait que le Cameroun ait voulu éviter de «frustrer» un pays ami. Là, le professeur parle d'Israël, qui était formellement opposé à l'admission de la Palestine à l'Unesco. «Le Cameroun a de très bonnes relations avec Israël, sur les plans économique et militaire. C'est un partenaire privilégié que nous n'avons pas voulu frustrer», argue-t-il. Enfin, et c'est la troisième raison, la position du Cameroun tient lieu du fait que c'est un pays très attaché aux groupes du tiers monde et des non alignés. «Nous avons donc choisi la voie du milieu, en attendant qu'il y ait visibilité. Et c'est d'ailleurs ce que le chef de l'Etat a toujours prôné», appuie-t-il.

Calling from his mobile phone while he was in Paris, Professor Messanga Nyamding gave three reasons which, according to him, drove Cameroon along the abstention path … It is implicit that we understand that this country chose neutrality in order not to attract angry responses from the international community, particularly the United States.  Secondly, it might be that Cameroon wanted to avoid ‘frustrating’ a friendly country.  Here, the professor is talking about Israel, which was formally opposed to admitting Palestine to UNESCO.  “Cameroon has very good relations with Israel, on economic and military levels.  It's a special relationship that we don't want to trample on,” he argues.  Finally, the third reason is that Cameroon's position is a substitute for the fact that it's a country that's very attached to third world and non-aligned groups.  “So we have chosen the middle road, while waiting for things to become clearer.  And this is, may I add, what the head of state has always advocated,” he insists.

These explanations don't seem to convince Massaknowall, who makes the following remarks in the comment section:

La garde rapprochée de Biya est formée par les israëliens ceci explique peut-être cela tout simplement

Biya's bodyguard is composed of Israelis; perhaps this might be a simpler explanation.

In a comment on a story by Justin Daboné, entitled “Palestine in UNESCO:  Those American anti-democrats”, which appeared on the online site for L'Observateur Paalga in Burkina Faso, a reader named Osiris wrote, addressing President Obama:

vous devez user de votre influence pour amener les durs d’ Israel à mettre un peu d'eau dans leurs vins§ beaucoup d'Israeliens ont payé de leur vie et idem pour les palestiniens ! Il est temps de donner un état à ce peuple.

You have to use your influence to bring the tough guys from Israel to put a little water in their wine.  A lot of Israelis have paid with their life and ditto for the Palestinians!  It's time to give this people a state.

Clive Chanda finds another reason for Zambia's abstention [en]:

… in 1991, several Jewish Rabbis, came to Zambia, and held a press conference at one of the top hotels in Lusaka, I forget which one. At this conference, they said that God Almighty had told them that there was a lost tribe of Jews in northern Zambia.

Another comment by Yambayamba published on zambianwatchdog.com draws conclusions [en] which sum up the point of view of many Africans:

Palestinians have suffered long enough. Telling Israel this truth does not mean, or should it ever be interpreted as being ANTI JEWISH. Good friends tell friends the truth. Sometimes truth is hard to hear, but it is the truth nonetheless. Because for how long are the Israelis going to sustain the current existing “status quo” between them and their neighbors, the Palestinians? The earlier they deal with this issue, the less physical and psychological damage it is going to cause to future generations in that part of the world.

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