Why William Ruto's dalliance with Iran might not impress Israel and America

President William Ruto with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at State House, Nairobi. [PCS]

A few countries, despite their territorial size or youthfulness as geopolitical entities, exercise global power that is the envy of many. Two of them, Israel and Kenya, have a few things in common that influence their regions and the globe.

Both are relatively young as geopolitical entities, are creations of British imperialism, and are also products of post-World War II anti-colonial drive. They at times appear to be isolated by their neighbours and are attracted to each partly because of similarities in colonial experience, but more importantly because of geopolitical necessities. Of the two, Israel, took advantage of its Biblical territorial linkage to the spiritual past that colonised Kenyans identified with.

In contrast, Kenyans acquired emotional and inspirational attachment to Israel because of its colonial experience. Forced to change ‘religion’ and become Christians as part of colonial conquest, ‘natives’ noticed discrepancies between the preaching and cultural practices of the colonisers and what the Bible actually said. As part of the growing resistance to colonialism, they preferred the patriarchs of the Old Testament over European cultural baggage masquerading as Christianity. Old Testament names such as Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Esther, Jacob, Moses, and David reflected hope in colonial adversity. Subsequently, emerging anti-colonial champions like Jomo Kenyatta seemed, like ‘Moses’, to be leading Kenyans to the ‘promised land’ of independence. Jomo, the equivalent of David Ben-Gurion in Israel as founder of a real earthly post World War II state, was fond of referring to the Old Testament to drive home his messages.

The founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, believed that the suffering of Jews and blacks was similar and that they needed liberation. On acquiring statehood in 1948 against British wishes in Palestine, Herzl’s followers identified with anti-colonialism in Africa for two reasons. First was to build on the success of its anti-imperialist experience to make it hard for imperialism. Second was to build geopolitical capital to counter Gamal Abdel Nassir’s Arab/Muslim anti-Israel influence in Africa. Foreign Minister Golda Meir, with her ‘Africa Adventure,’ led Israeli effort to be one with the Africans. Kenya, for its geopolitical value, was a target.

England, after being chased from the Middle East, had expected to entrench itself in Kenya because that colony was seemingly safe from anti-colonial rumblings. It even built Kahawa Barracks as empire military supply centre only for the Mau Mau War to shatter imperial dreams in that presumed ‘white man’s country’. Israel, like the US, noticed and sought to take advantage of anti-colonial reputations. With its advantage as home of the Bible and acquired expertise on nation creation, Israel sent Asher Naim to Kenya in 1961 to establish geopolitical presence. He did it by befriending Kenyatta at Gatundu and by directing all Israeli assistance through the ‘Kenyatta channel’. Kenyatta and Golda Meir laid the foundation stone for the Israeli Embassy in Nairobi before independence. It was the first for any country and the bond tightened.  

In post-colonial times, Kenya and Israel supported each other. Kenya helped Israel in the Entebbe raid and suffered terrorist attacks due to its closeness to Israel. Israel was quick to respond to the 1998 bomb blast. Kenyan presidents toured Biblical Israel where Daniel arap Moi imbibed something ‘holy’, Uhuru listened to Naim’s encounters with Jomo and William Ruto went to the ‘Wailing Wall of Jerusalem.’ Ruto’s invitation of Iran’s President Raisi, therefore, was surprising, given the Iran-Israeli hostility. 

Since Israel, like the US, wants to isolate Iran which struggles to escape isolation, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen rushed to Nairobi to show concern. Raisi’s escapades in Africa and Latin America threaten Israeli-American geopolitical interests. By embracing Raisi, Ruto might appear to threaten those interests; not a good idea.