Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will kick off his five-day visit to Africa on Monday with a ceremony at the airport in Uganda, marking 40 years since the Entebbe raid, followed by a summit with the leaders of seven African countries.
"All of Africa is excited for this trip and I'm excited as well," Netanyahu told the press Monday before embarking on his historic sojourner to resource rich continent.
Netanyahu continued by stating that Israel is returning to Africa, and that the Jewish state has great opportunity to strengthen economic and commercial ties with some of the Africa's most promising emerging markets.
The first sitting prime minister to visit sub-Saharan Africa since Yitzhak Shamir visited four western African countries in 1987, Netanyahu is scheduled to arrive at Entebbe in the early afternoon for the ceremony, which will include veterans of the raid that freed over 100 Israelis held in the old terminal building at the airport, as well as some of the hostages.
Netanyahu’s brother Yonatan “Yoni” was killed leading the mission, as were three hostages. A fourth hostage, Dora Bloch, 75, was killed by Idi Amin’s henchmen in a hospital in Kampala. Israel is funding the renovation of a wing in the hospital’s trauma center.
Following the airport ceremony, Netanyahu will meet with seven other African leaders: Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Zambian President Edgar Lungu and Tanzanian Foreign Minister Augustine Mahiga.
“Israel intends to return to Africa, just as Africa is returning to Israel,” Netanyahu told the cabinet on Sunday.
Relations with the 54 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, he said, “has very important implications vis-avis varying our international alliances and international relations, which are expanding to the major powers in Asia, to Russia, to Latin America and – of course – to the African continent.”
Israel’s ties with Africa have warmed up considerably in recent years as a result of a common interest between Israel and some African states to combat Islamic terrorism, as well as an interest among many of the African countries in Israeli technology, especially water and agricultural know-how.
Many African nations have over the years slowly begun changing their voting patterns regarding Israel, no longer reflexively voting against it.
For instance, at a critical vote last September in the International Atomic Energy Agency, four African countries – Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Togo – voted against a resolution, which failed 61-43, calling for international monitoring of Israel’s nuclear facilities. Another 17 African countries abstained, eight absented themselves from the vote, and only seven sub-Saharan African countries voted against Israel.
Netanyahu is scheduled to spend less than eight hours in Uganda on Monday before flying to Nairobi, where he will meet Kenyatta after laying a wreath at the grave of his father, Jomo Kenyatta, the founder of the country. He will meet there as well with Kenyan students leaving to study in Israel, pro-Israel evangelical Christians, and he will take part in a Kenya-Israel business forum.
Some 80 businessmen representing 50 Israeli companies will accompany Netanyahu on the visit, with increasing trade one of the goals of both Israel and the African countries.
Eli Groner, Director-General of the Prime Minister's Office, said that one of key goals of Africa trip is to strengthen economic ties.
Currently, only two-percent of Israel's exports go to Africa and this could increase dramatically.
Africa needs a lot of the know how that Israel has, specifically in the area of water technology, agriculture, energy and cyber-security, Groner posited.
"From commercial relations, great diplomatic relations can follow," he added.
Netanyahu will fly on Wednesday to Rwanda’s capital of Kigali, where he will visit the memorial site there to the victims of the 1994 genocide, and meet with Kagame. About eight hours later he will fly to Addis Ababa.
In Ethiopia he will meet separately with both the president and the prime minister, and address the Ethiopian parliament. He will also take part in an Ethiopian-Israeli business forum.
The prime minister is scheduled to return to Israel on Friday morning.
Following media reports that the trip would cost the taxpayers some NIS 28 million, the PMO issued a statement on Sunday saying that the true cost is NIS 12.5 million, and that the businessmen joining the trip are paying their own way.
The statement said that the cost includes the ceremony at the Entebbe airport marking 40 years since the raid, and security measures mandated for the trip by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). The statement pointed out that this was a “historic trip to Africa” that will strengthen Israel’s economic, security and diplomatic ties with a large number of African countries.