In a further sign of Israel’s growing ties with Africa, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in Nairobi on Tuesday that Jerusalem will open an embassy in Rwanda, its 11th embassy on the continent.
Netanyahu made the announcement – long expected since he floated the idea during a visit to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, in July 2016 – during a meeting with Rwandan President Paul Kagame on the sidelines of events marking the swearing-in ceremony of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
The prime minister called the move a "historic step" on Twitter.
Rwanda has emerged as one of Israel’s central allies in Africa.
It is also reportedly one of the third-party countries where Israel is deporting African migrants.
Netanyahu left for Kenyatta’s inauguration ceremony – his second visit to Kenya in 18 months – early in the morning and flew back to Israel in the evening. Because of security concerns, he did not take part in the actual swearing-in ceremony at a 60,000 seat stadium in Nairobi.
The prime minister did, however, join a lunch for visiting dignitaries, where Kenyatta sat Netanyahu next to himself and Kagame.
“We would like to work with you and with every one of your countries to electrify Africa. We believe in Africa,” Netanyahu told the gathering. “So for every one of your initiatives, there will be an initiative on our part to seize the future, to make life better and safer for your people.
It’s good for you, it’s good for us, it’s good for Africa.”
Netanyahu stressed the security challenges facing Africa, from Boko Haram in Nigeria to Al-Shabab in Somalia, and “the awful jihadists in the Sinai.”
“This is a threat to all of us, and I believe that we can cooperate with other countries between us and with others,” he said. “And if we work together, we will defeat the barbarians.
Our people deserve better; we can provide it for them.”
Netanyahu, who pointed out that this was his third trip to Africa in 18 months, said Israel wants to cooperate not only with individual African countries but also with the African Union.
“I hope that we will all find a way to have Israel become an observer status in the African Union because we can help,” he said. “We can not only observe, we can help build together a better future for Africa.”
Israel has long been trying to regain observer status in the pan-African organization, but these efforts have so far been torpedoed largely by the North African Arab states and South Africa.
Kagame – whom Netanyahu has met three times since July, when Kagame came to Israel – is scheduled to take over the helm of the African Union in January. In addition to Kagame, Netanyahu also met the presidents of Gabon, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, South Sudan, Botswana, Namibia and the prime minister of Ethiopia.
Before setting off in the morning, Netanyahu said he also intended to deepen cooperation with Africa through ties with countries there with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations. However, no announcements of resumed relations with any African country was forthcoming during the day.
Israel does not have diplomatic relations with the following sub-Saharan African states: Mali, Chad, Niger, Sudan, Mauritania, Somalia, Djibouti and Comoros.Avraham Gold contributed to this report.