Kenya, Israel, and the Gaza genocide

Israel’s strategy of economic partnership and development support to Kenya is a bid to legitimize its ailing international reputation.

Regional Summit on Counter Terrorism, Kampala, 2016. Image credit Paul Kagame via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Deed.

Over the last 20 years, Kenya-Israel diplomatic relations have intensified and expanded in scope. Kenya, always a poster child for imperialism, has embraced Israel’s support in several sectors of the country—from agriculture to medicine and, of course, security. A closer consideration of Israel’s objectives in forming and maintaining relations with Kenya and other African countries, reveals the apartheid state’s forethought in manufacturing consent across the continent for the ongoing genocide of Palestinians. 

Indeed, Israel has never been shy about the role it sees African countries playing in legitimizing the incremental genocide of Palestinians. In a 2017 meeting with Israel’s ambassadors to Africa, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defined Israel’s foreign policy regarding Africa. Netanyahu stated that Israel’s goal was to use “trade, technology and investments” to entice African states to vote in favor of Israel at the United Nations and other international organizations. This tactic has worked in Kenya, with the country often being criticized for sitting on the fence or being pro-Israel.

Kenya’s president William Ruto chose to stand with Israel at the beginning of what is now the second Nakba. Kenya has since voted for an immediate ceasefire at the UN General Assembly, but the country’s statement at the assembly, given by Ambassador Martin Mbugua Kimani, shows that Kenya still does not recognize the colonization of Palestine. 

Yet, Israel’s interest in Kenya is not limited to securing the country’s support in the political arena. In Kenya and other African countries, Israel sees both an opportunity for resource extraction and market creation for Israeli products. When Netanyahu visited Kenya in 2016, journalist Jeffery Gettleman observed that: 

Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, cruised around the capital of Kenya with an entourage of dozens of Israeli executives, hoping to sell Africa everything from Israeli-made plastic wrap, sprinklers and irrigation pipes to software, CCTV cameras and military equipment. Even cantaloupe seeds.

Israel’s strategy of economic partnership and development support to Kenya is reminiscent of the West’s use of NGOs and technical support to further entrench their ideologies in the country. However, without a battery of Israeli NGOs and development organizations in Kenya, the work of “civilizing” Kenya is largely taken up by Israel’s ambassadors to the country. 

For this article, I chart Israel’s interests in Kenya for the year 2023, using Israel’s ambassador to Kenya Michael Lotem’s publicized events and meetings. I focus on government institutions and parastatals who have problematically granted Israel unfettered access to important resources in Kenya. Israel, a custodian of nothing but colonialism, should not have an embassy in Kenya nor have the kind of access it has to Kenyan resources. 

To start, below is a list of sectors that Ambassador Lotem proposed collaborations in 2023: 

  • Health
  • Medical Research
  • Tourism 
  • Agriculture
  • Infrastructure
  • Water waste management and sanitation 
  • ICT
  • Cybersecurity
  • Security
  • Policing
  • Weapons and military technology
  • Environment and Climate change
  • Space science and technology
  • International trade
  • Business

There are projects currently ongoing in most of these sectors. In 2023 alone, Ambassador Lotem visited at least five counties, including Taita Taveta, Nakuru, Uasin Gishu and Narok. In Narok, he opened a museum that had received Israel’s support. At this event, Lotem expanded on Israel’s plan to deepen tourism partnerships with Kenya, declaring Israel’s competitive advantage in tourism, which is based on the country’s claim to the land that it illegally occupies.  

In March, Lotem visited the Chief Conservator of Forests Alex Lemarkoko, whose statement on the visit is worth sharing verbatim:

…we take note that the Israel Embassy in Kenya has taken up five hectares, a section of Uplands forest, Kiambu County, for rehabilitation. The area which is already transformed with 2,800 tree seedlings grown and benches placed strategically to allow recreational activities for forest users. The site is a historical ground where Kenya’s freedom fighters, the Mau Mau, were massacred in 1954. The Service will scale up the site to an arboretum status, in line with preserving our Kenyan culture and heritage. Under the umbrella of the Ministry of Foreign and Diaspora Affairs, of which the Israel Embassy in Kenya is a party, an additional 25 Ha have been taken up for rehabilitation in the same forest. These sites are critical and contribute to sustainable water yield for the people of Kiambu and Nairobi Counties because, the streams and rivers coming from the forest feed into Ruiru dam which is one of the water sources for the city.

We let Israel, a state that is guilty of stealing water in Palestine, and other acts of ecocide, purchase not only sacred Mau Mau land but also land critical to water access for two counties in Kenya. 

In May, when Israel’s president Isaac Herzog visited Kenya, Ruto signed eight memorandums of understanding with Israel on matters to do with health, food production, the blue economy, and border control among others. In the same month, Lotem took several Kenyan civil servants on a trip to Israel to visit the Granot avocado plant. In September, he opened an Israel-owned avocado plant in Nakuru. Lotem has met with the Kenya Defence Forces at least four times in 2023, discussing collaboration in police training, enhancements in security technology and even aerospace. He has also met with Mary Muriuki, the Principal Secretary for Health, to discuss collaborations in health care. And on December 6, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection announced its plan to send 1,500 Kenyan casual workers to Israel to help make up for the acute labor shortfall due to the ongoing military assault on Gaza.

At issue here is the normalization of Israel’s relationship with Kenya even as Israel’s reputation is suffering on the world stage. The results of this are terrifying: Kenya not only did not endorse South Africa’s case at the ICJ, but Ambassador Lotem was offered ample space to make a national appeal for support for Israel’s case. 

While our government continues to perform its preferential role as an imperial puppet, widespread condemnation by everyday Kenyans shows that this time around, citizen’s consent cannot be manufactured.

Further Reading