Israel has enhanced Rwanda’s security capacity to deal with terrorist threats coming from jihadist groups both from the Horn of Africa and the western part of the continent, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Jihadist fundamentalist groups like al-Shabaab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria “spread quietly, and we need these capacities to prevent that from happening and to deal with it when it happens,” he said in an interview at his suite in the King David Hotel.
Kagame told the Post that Israel’s security cooperation has been important for “developing capacities” for a number of African states, “and I am particularly talking about Rwanda.”
Kagame arrived in Jerusalem Saturday night for a two-day visit, his first since 2013. He is considered one of Israel’s strongest friends in Africa. As a sign of that friendship, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met him on three separate occasions on Monday, including taking the unusual step of greeting him at the President’s Residence along with President Reuven Rivlin.
Rwanda's Kagame meets Israel's leadership, looks to 'reinforcing cooperation' (credit: REUTERS)
Kagame said that Netanyahu’s visit to Rwanda last year at this time, as part of his tour of four East African countries, laid the foundation for enhanced cooperation across a wide range of fields, from technology to water management and security.
That visit, he said, either led to new areas of cooperation between the two countries or accelerated projects already in the pipeline.
With Netanyahu putting strong emphasis on ties with Africa – and in public statements with African leaders talking about the technological, agricultural and security assistance Israel can provide – Kagame was asked whether he believes African states were realistic in what they were expecting from Israel.
“Where I come from in Rwanda we have learned to limit expectations,” he said, adding that this is a message he also gives to his African counterparts.
“There is no need, and it does not help anyone, to have too high expectations. Because if they are not met, it results in negatives.”
Kagame said there may be “one, two or three countries” who expect that after a meeting “there will be money on the table, or that it might come soon after the meeting. My advice when we talk among ourselves is that it does not help to have too high expectations.”
Asked whether he would advise Netanyahu as well not to promise too much, he replied, “It always is good to remain balanced.”
Asked whether his taking over the presidency of the African Union next year will lead to Israel attaining its long-desired observer status on the body – a status that the Palestinian Authority already enjoys – he said, just as Africans should not have unrealistic expectations of Israel, so too Israel should not have unrealistic expectations of him.
Kagame was unwilling to say whether or not he supported such a move, saying that he did not want to endorse it and then prejudge the issue, because he would then not be seen as impartial because of his relationship with Israel.
Kagame’s relationship with Israel extends back to 1994, when he was instrumental in putting an end to the genocide there that killed an estimated one million people.
Netanyahu, in greeting Kagame at Beit Hanassi, said he was “the indispensable bridge on which we marched to make our return to Africa, step by step, with very sound advice, very, very wise counsel.”
Israel’s return to Africa stated with a conversation he had with Kagame, Netanyahu said.
Kagame, asked about this by the Post, said, “I don’t think there is a need to exaggerate anything,” adding that Israel was already in the process of reengaging with Africa, and that he contributed in helping develop relationships, a bit based on his friendship with Israel going back to 1994.
He mentioned this type of diplomatic cooperation as one of the things that Israel gained from its relationship with Rwanda. In 2014, when Rwanda was one of the 10 rotating members of the UN Security Council, the country was essential in preventing the Palestinians from passing a resolution calling for Israel to withdraw to the pre-June 1967 lines by late 2017, and the establishment of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.
Netanyahu, in his words of greeting to the Kagame, noted that Rwanda stands up for Israel in international forums. “You already expressed a simple principle that we believe in, that is that bilateral relations should be reflected in multilateral forums.” The dissonance that Israel experiences with some countries, whereby they have close bilateral ties but then vote against Jerusalem in international forums, does not exist with Rwanda, he said.
Netanyahu noted that both Israel and Rwanda have “a tragic legacy.”
“We have pledged, I think both our peoples, one simple pledge: ‘Never again,’” the premier said. “We, who witnessed the greatest holocaust in history, you who witnessed perhaps one of the most recent ones – never again. That’s another great bond between us. You have been a consistent friend to us.”
Kagame also planted an olive tree at the Keren Kayemet Le'Israel–Jewish National Fund (KKL- JNF) Grove of Nations, where presidents and prime ministers plant a tree as a sign of friendship with the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
"I'm very happy to take part, like many others before me, in this very meaningful tradition of planting a tree in Jerusalem’s grove of nations. We are honored that a tree representing Rwanda, and its people, will take root in this important place. For us this marks our shared history and our country's presence alongside Israel as we walk together to better the lives of our people," said Kagame.
In recent years, KKL-JNF established a youth village in Rwanda called “Egozo Shalom” which absorbs and protects hundreds of youths harmed by the genocide in the country.
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