A planned summit between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the leaders of the 15 African states that make up the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Nigeria by the end of the year is in jeopardy because the president of Nigeria has not signed off on the deal, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Marcel Alain de Souza, the commissioner of ECOWAS, was in Israel last month and invited Netanyahu to take part in the summit.
The two men signed a joint declaration of intent for greater cooperation between Israel and the organization, which represents countries that have a combined population of some 320 million people. The declaration stated that both parties “positively view the participation of the prime minister of the State of Israel in the ECOWAS summit in the near future.”
However, one source close to ECOWAS said that de Souza needs the approval of all member states, including Nigeria, to extend an invitation to Netanyahu, and that this is proving problematic.
Nigeria hosts ECOWAS in its capital of Abuja, and the organization’s annual summit is to be held there by the end of the year.
Israel’s relations with Nigeria, which blossomed under the presidency of its Christian president Goodluck Jonathan, took a turn for the worse when Jonathan lost the election there in 2015 to Muhammadu Buhari, who is Muslim. Nigeria’s voting pattern on Israel in international forums, for instance, has changed for the worse since the election.
Considering that one of the driving forces behind the current surge in Israeli-African ties is the concern many African countries have about Islamic terrorism, and their interest in wanting to learn from Israel’s experience about how to protect their borders and ports of entry, it is ironic that Nigeria – a country plagued by the terrorism of Islamic State-affiliated Boko Haram – is posing an obstacle to Netanyahu taking part in the summit.
ECOWAS also includes two Muslim countries with whom Israel does not have diplomatic ties, Mali and Niger. In addition to those two countries and Nigeria, ECOWAS also includes the following states: Bénin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.
Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold, who met Sunday in Guinea with President Alpha Conde, stopped on his way back from West Africa to Israel in a Muslim country in the region where Israel does not have diplomatic relations.
In July, shortly after Netanyahu went to East Africa, Israel re-established ties with Muslim- majority Guinea. A few days later, Gold went to Chad, another African-Muslim state without diplomatic relations with Israel, and met President Idriss Deby Itno.
The other predominantly Muslim states with whom Israel does not have diplomatic relations in Sub-Saharan Africa are: Mali, Niger, Sudan, Mauritania, Somalia, Djibouti and Comoros.
In lieu of the ECOWAS summit, however, Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbé is planning to convene an Israeli-African summit on “security and development” in the capital of his African country in the spring that would include leaders from throughout the continent.
Netanyahu has made improving relations with Africa one of Israel’s major foreign policy goals, and is very keen on holding a summit in West Africa, similar to the one he held last month in East Africa with leaders from Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Sudan and Zambia.
Togo’s Foreign Minister Robert Dussey said in an interview that appeared on the ministry’s web site last month that the planned summit will bring Israeli leaders together with African leaders from ECOWAS countries, “among others,” to “create a sustainable network of cooperation and development. Centered around political, diplomatic and business matters, the summit also aims to foster an invaluable platform for trade and business between our continent and the State of Israel.”
Dussey called the planned summit a “bold and daring initiative” that “will express the dynamism of Togolese diplomacy.” He said the summit “will be a unique and historic occasion to consolidate the rapprochement between the continent and the Jewish state and to accelerate the development of our nation thanks to Israeli technology and expertise.”
The summit, expected to convene in March or April, will also mark 60 years since the establishment of Israel’s ties with Ghana, the first African country with whom Israel establishment formal ties in 1957.
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