PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma in Jerusalem yesterday. .
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Saying that he is “heartened” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to rebuild relations with Africa, Sierra Leone’s visiting President Ernest Bai Koroma said on Wednesday he hopes to “rekindle” his country’s long-standing “fraternal relationship” with Israel.
Koroma’s comments came before a meeting with Netanyahu on the second day of his visit here, the first-ever visit to Israel by a Sierra Leonean president.
Koroma said he hopes to “reposition” the Sierra Leone-Israel relationship to what it was around the time of his country’s independence in 1961. He noted that both before and immediately after independence, Israel provided support for his country that resulted in the construction of numerous public buildings in the capital of Freetown.
Sierra Leone joined the bulk of other African countries in breaking off formal diplomatic ties with Israel following the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
“Clearly, Sierra Leone-Israel relations predate independence of both countries, and like many long-standing relationships we have experienced some turbulence,” Koroma said. “But history has taught us that while we may remember, we would do well not to dwell on the dull moments, especially when the lights of the bright moments continue to sparkle.”
Koroma, who invited Netanyahu to visit his country when he is scheduled to visit West Africa at least once, and maybe twice this year, thanked Israel for its assistance in helping to fight the Ebola virus epidemic which claimed some 4,000 lives in his country. Israel provided Sierra Leone with a field hospital, and also contributed $10 million to the Ebola aid fund, the sixth-largest contribution in the world.
He said Sierra Leone is interested in enhancing cooperation with Israel in a variety of fields, including agriculture, water management, information technology, defense and security.
Netanyahu, who visited East Africa over the summer, the first sitting Israeli prime minister to do so since 1987, said that Israel wants to be part of helping Sierra Leone – which emerged from an 11-year civil war in 2002, and recently faced the Ebola epidemic – build a “brighter, better future.”
“Israel is coming back to Africa in a big way, and Africa is coming back to Israel,” he said, repeating a mantra that he coined – and used repeatedly – ever since his visit to Africa in July.