Despite a perception by many in Israel of growing international isolation, Israel is by no means isolated and has many friends in Africa, Kenya’s Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said on Wednesday.
Israel “has more friends than not on the continent,” Mohamed, accompanying Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on a three-day trip to Israel, told The Jerusalem Post.
“I was counting the countries, and maybe 40 out of 54 African countries see Israel as a very close friend.”
Asked how Israelis are to feel that friendship, when African countries generally vote against Israel in international forums, Mohamed said it was “too one dimensional” to gage friendship just by voting patterns.
“You have to be three and four dimensional,” she said, noting that another way of gaging friendship is by looking at all the Israeli companies working on the continent.
“There are a lot of things happening on the continent for Israel,” she said. “Just look at the economic activities.”
Regarding voting patterns – Kenya generally votes against Israel, though it voted for the Jewish state during a key vote in September at the International Atomic Energy Agency – Mohamed said that Africa generally votes as a bloc.
“In many cases it is very difficult to break the African bloc,” she said. “It is very rare. We actually have been quite courageous in breaking away sometime.”
Asked how Israel could change this voting pattern, the foreign minister said it was important “to engage as many Africans as possible,” adding that Israel was currently doing that.
Mohamed said that it was important to have high level visits, and that Kenya is “obviously looking forward to the visit” of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
As the Post first reported last week, Netanyahu hopes to visit Kenya and Uganda in the summer to commemorate 40 years since the Entebbe raid.
“High level visits bring their own wind with them,” she said. “They enhance their relationship, they make it clear to everybody, send a very clear signal that these two countries agree to cooperate on the highest level, speak the same language, and deal with issues in the same manner. It is an affirmation that this is a strong relationship.”
The last sitting Israeli prime minister to visit Africa was Yitzhak Shamir in 1987.
Mohamed, who visited Israel last year, said that Israel and Kenya are “friends who can rely on each other, that can depend on each other.”
She pointed to the assistance Kenya rendered during the Entebbe raid in 1976 as one example, and the immediate assistance Israel gave Kenya after the bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi in 1998 as another.
“We supported each other through a lot of challenges and difficulties, and we have cooperated in many areas, including in security and this whole process of fighting and combating terrorism in our part of the world,” she said.
Mohamed said Israel has provided Kenya help in its fight against the Somalia-based, al-Qaida-affiliate al-Shabaab.
“We have been collaborating, we have been learning from you,” she said, adding that Israel has helped with “capacity building, operational equipment, with sharing from your experience and learning from what you have done.”
Another area where the two countries face a similar challenge is with the International Criminal Court, which has an ongoing war crimes case against six Kenyans, including Kenyatta, stemming from the post-election violence that erupted there in 2008-2009.
When it was pointed out Israel, too, has concerns about the ICC, she said, “Welcome to the club, the more the merrier.”
“We can work together,” she said. “We like to help friends dealing with issues before the ICC. You are not in front of the ICC, so I think it is even premature to discuss it, you may never be in front of the ICC.
Kenya has been in front of the ICC, so Kenya has gained a lot of experience.”
If Israel is eventually brought before the court, she said, “we will be there to help you. We will be willing to share the experience that we have with you.”