Israel-Iran war: What it means for Kenya and Nairobi’s dilemma

Irani - Israel: remains of a rocket booster

The remains of a rocket booster that, according to Israeli authorities, critically injured a seven-year-old girl after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, near Arad, Israel, April 14. 

Photo credit: Reuters

What you need to know:

  • Iran on Saturday night launched a wave of missiles and drones toward Israel as regional tensions continued to mount.
  • Iranian state media said the attack was in retaliation to an Israeli strike on an Iranian diplomatic compound in Syria.

The Iranian strikes on Israel on Saturday night could pose both a diplomatic and trade challenge to Kenya and her neighbours who are keen to avoid taking sides in the escalating hostilities in the Middle East.

Kenya’s President William Ruto and his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa took a reconciliatory tone as they cautioned that the latest skirmishes in the gulf are a threat to security and peace globally as the act could escalate to a full war if not checked.

Kenya’s importation of oil, cereals and mechanical equipment could be affected adversely following the latest incursions in the Middle East as Kenya’s Trade Minister warned of challenges in trade logistics.

Iran on Saturday night launched a wave of missiles and drones toward Israel as regional tensions continued to mount over the war in Gaza.

“Kenya is deeply concerned by Iran's attack on the State of Israel. This disturbing development only serves to aggravate an already delicate situation in the Middle East,” President Ruto said on X.

“The attack represents a real and present threat to international peace and security, contravenes the Charter of the United Nations and should be condemned by all peace loving countries,” he added.

Iranian state media said the attack was in retaliation to an Israeli strike on an Iranian diplomatic compound in Syria on April 1.

Israel has carried out strikes in Syria against Iran and its allies for years and throughout its six-month military campaign against Hamas in Gaza.

But the April 1 attack stood out both because of its location — in a diplomatic compound, traditionally exempted from hostilities — and because of the seniority of the apparent targets

Iranian media said the attack on the Iranian consular building in Damascus, Syria, killed members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including senior commander Mohammad Reza Zahedi and Brigadier General Mohammad Hadi Haj Rahimi.

“In responding to this act of aggression, Kenya urges Israel to show utmost restraint taking into account the urgent need for all parties to walk away from the brink beyond which recovery will be enormously difficult,” said President Ruto.

Reacting to the attacks on Israel by Iran, South Africa said it was gravely concerned at the developments.

“As the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres has stated, there is a very real danger of a devastating region-wide escalation’,” a statement from the South government said.

“In this context, South Africa emphasises that all parties must exercise the utmost restraint and avoid any act that would escalate tensions in a particularly fragile region.”

East Africa, the Horn of Africa and Southern Africa face a challenge in logistics in the exports and imports due to the possibility of a full scale war in the Middle East.

Kenya’s Trade Minister Rebecca Miano cautioned that the skirmishes in the Middle East could interrupt the free movement of goods and services in Africa, thereby affecting Kenya’s exports and imports from Europe and the Gulf region.

“Most of the effect is the interruption of the supply chain. It is likely to affect the whole of Africa,” said Ms Miano.

Kenya’s top imports, which include refined petroleum, palm oil, wheat, packaged medicaments and cars imported mostly from China, United Arab Emirates, India, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia are likely to be affected logistically.

She cautioned that should matters escalate, then Kenya and her neighbours must start looking for home grown solutions.

“It is a wake-up call and an opportunity for countries to be self-sufficient as much as possible in terms of manufacturing. We must start looking at the strategic commodities that are absolutely necessary the same way we learnt during Covid when we started manufacturing things that we used to import,” said Ms Miano.

Due to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the cost of sea freight immediately went up by $500 on average per container as global trade volumes decreased by 42 per cent, according to a situational report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) released in March.

Along the Northern corridor, which serves Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda and the DR Congo, coffee and tea from Uganda and Kenya was in March stuck in warehouses as exporters experienced high cost of sea freight due to increasing demand for vessels.

Apart from the war in the gulf, closer home, the war in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has affected the flow of goods and services within the East African region.

“War is not going to stop so there is a need for both diplomatic and political solutions. Under the international law on how to resolve conflicts when they arise, the UN charters have a way of dealing with that,” said Prof Ben Sihanya, an international democracy and constitutional lawyer.

US President Biden condemned the attacks and spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reiterate the United States’ commitment to Israeli security.