Peace among men is largely elusive concept

[Photo: Courtesy]
“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Shakespeare wrote these words for a character in the Twelfth Night. Many years later Kevin Arnold, lead character in the Wonder Years, put his own spin on it when he said: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them … while they are in the bathroom.”

See, his classmates were voting for a head prefect and he didn’t want to participate in the poll. So he went to the loo. He came back to find that he had been elected. While he was taking a dump, he had become the most powerful boy child in his class. Thankfully, the consequences of his absentia were not that displeasing.

Just recently, at the United Nations General Assembly, Kenya pulled a Kevin Arnold. The UN member states were gathered to vote on America’s unilateral decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and thereafter to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv. 

This is problematic because Jerusalem is claimed by Jews, Christians and Muslims, and has long been a sore point between Israel and Palestine, both of whom would like to claim it as their capital. So Donald Trump really put his foot in it when he announced to the world that America had decided to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. His speech sparked violent protests in Palestine and parts of the Middle East.

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Perfunctory measures

Because ‘Peace in the Middle East’ was beginning to seem more elusive than ever, the UN was forced to step in with its usual paper-tiger approach to international crises. A resolution was hurriedly drawn up, which among other things, asked all States to refrain from establishing diplomatic missions in the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Part of the resolution stated that any decisions and actions which purported to alter the character, status or demographic composition of Jerusalem had no legal effect, were null and void, and would have to be rescinded. When the matter was put to a vote, 128 countries voted for the resolution (which in essence was a vote against America), 9 countries voted against, and 35 countries abstained. Kenya had the dubious distinction of being one of the 21 countries that were not present during the vote. We did not officially abstain, rather we did not participate in the vote at all. It looks like boycotting elections is becoming a thing. Only that in this case there was no heroism attached. Only strategic wishy-washiness. 

I suppose it’s no coincidence that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended Uhuru Kenyatta’s swearing-in after-party. I would imagine that he canvassed Mr. Kenyatta for Kenya’s vote, and probably left feeling that we would follow through. After all, we do have both Israeli and American interests to protect, what with Bechtel being the latest entry into our debt-burdened, corruption-ridden infrastructure industry.But that was not to be. When push came to shove Kenya took a bathroom break. Rather than take a stand, Kenya pulled a Pontius Pilate and washed its hands. There was no greatness here, only disgrace. And we thrust it upon ourselves.

Taking a stand

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I’m pretty certain that voting in favour of the UN resolution was never on the cards for Kenya. Doing that would have been to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. While the Palestinians have a valid claim on Jerusalem, they do not have as much bargaining power as the Israelis. So to take a stand against Trump and Netanyahu would have been truly revolutionary, but hey, we don’t do revolutions in this country. Even the Ugandans, who have just voted to keep Yoweri Museveni in power until the end of time, had the balls to officially abstain. An official abstention might have been cowardly, but at least Uganda took a stand by choosing to sit on the fence, even in full view of the entire world.

It comes as no surprise that Tanzania voted on the courage of Magufuli’s convictions. Tanzania voted in favour of the resolution, choosing to maintain Jerusalem’s character, status, and demographic composition, and in so doing giving both the US and Israel the finger.

It doesn’t escape me that all this drama happened during the holiday season, when much of the world was celebrating the birth of Christ, a historical figure recognised by Christians, Muslims and Jews alike. It would have been a good time to ask, “What would Jesus do?” I’m pretty certain any self-respecting God would want peace among men. I’m also pretty certain that that’s not going to happen. Either way, Happy New Year!

Ms Masiga is Peace and Security Editor, The Conversation Africa

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