Large delegation of African agricultural ministers visit Israel, sign of flowering ties

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December 5, 2016 19:37

Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Eitan Weiss said this is the largest African delegation to arrive in Israel for years, “which is why this is a big deal.”

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with seven east African leaders

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with seven east African leaders. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

In yet another sign of Israel’s blossoming ties with Africa, the 15-nation Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS) chose Israel as the site for its first-ever seminar outside of Africa. The three-day agricultural summit, attended by representatives from 13 West African states, began Monday in Jerusalem.

The seminar, “Enhancing Sustainable Agricultural Productivity in Arid and Semi-Arid Regions,” includes the agricultural ministers from seven states: Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Togo.

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In addition, senior officials also arrived from Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal. The two ECOWAS countries who do not have diplomatic relations with Israel – Mali and Niger – did not send representatives.

ECOWAS represents countries that have a combined population of some 320 million.

Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Eitan Weiss said this is the largest African delegation to arrive in Israel for years, “which is why this is a big deal.”

The seminar, which will introduce the African delegates to Israel agricultural developments, is under the auspices of MASHAV – Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, and the Ministry of Agriculture.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited four countries in East Africa in July – Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and Ethiopia – the first prime minister to visit the continent since 1987. During the trip, he met with the leaders of seven West African states at a summit in Uganda.

Initial plans for Netanyahu to participate in ECOWAS’ annual summit this year in Nigeria were scuttled when Nigeria, which houses the headquarters of the organization, did not sign off on the idea. Nevertheless, the prime minister is expected to participate in a summit in Togo in the spring with a number of West African leaders.

At last month’s Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, Netanyahu said, “In a few months I’ll be going to West Africa to meet another 15 [African leaders]. And all these countries are also coming to Israel.”

Israel’s ties with ECOWAS received a significant boost late July when the organization’s commissioner, Marcel Alain de Souza, visited Israel. Netanyahu and de Souza signed a joint declaration of intent for greater cooperation between Israel and the organization, and the two discussed deepening their cooperation, particularly in the fields of agriculture, desertification, water, education and health.


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