President Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s founding Prime Minister and President Jomo Kenyatta, received a wet but warm welcome when he arrived at the official residence of President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday morning.
When the weather is inclement, welcome ceremonies of this kind are usually held indoors. This one was both inside and outside with a military honor guard and band and a reception line of religious, diplomatic and political dignitaries waiting outside.
Less than five minutes before Kenyatta’s arrival, there was a sudden, heavy downpour of rain, which was not surprising since the sky had already been overcast. The reception line moved off the red carpet under the pergola where it was somewhat dryer, but the honor guard and the military band did not have that luxury and were soaked. To their credit, they did not flinch.
Photographers were frustrated because rain drops had settled on the lenses of their cameras, and they made a frantic dash to protect them from further harm from the downpour.
Rivlin was also caught in the rain. He had gone to the unprotected end of the pergola to greet Kenyatta as he exited his car, but the exit was not immediate.
The two presidents then walked along a center red carper which was protected from the rain, bowed before the honor guard, but did not follow the tradition of inspecting it.
The Kenyan president arrived in Israel exactly a year after his son Jomo, a very successful farmer, who had come to Israel to study different methods of developing and growing agricultural produce.
Israel has had its ups and downs in its relationship with Kenya.
Golda Meir, as Foreign Minister went to Nairobi in 1960 and again in 1963, where as Foreign Minister she joined Jomo Kenyatta Senior in laying the cornerstone for the Israel Embassy. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were established in the same year.
Kenyans benefited from Israel’s MASHAV program of extending aid to developing countries, but relations between Israel and Kenya were severed in 1973 in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War.
Nonetheless, in 1976, Kenya was instrumental in the success of Operation Entebbe, and allowed the Israeli Air Force to use one of its airports. There is a strong possibility that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit Kenya this summer to mark the 40th anniversary of that noble gesture.
Relations were resumed in 1988.
In greeting President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose first name means freedom, Rivlin said that when he heard of the terror attack in Somalia where many Kenyan soldiers were killed, and was reminded of the terror attack in 2002 at the Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, where three Israeli citizens were killed. “In Israel today we face the ongoing threat of terror and hatred,” said Rivlin. “We feel the pain together with you.”
Rivlin also assured Kenyatta that Israel stands together with Kenya “against those who pretend to speak in the name of Islam, as they murder innocent men, women, and children from all religions and nations.”
Rivlin commended Kenyatta for his leading role in peace talks across Africa, which Rivlin perceived as “a sign of your responsibility to your region, and your commitment to peace.” Rivlin said that he saluted Kenyatta and all the Kenyan people for this strong leadership.
He voiced the hope that cooperation between the two countries will continue to grow and that the close ties between the people of both countries will become stronger. Kenyatta’s visit, he said, “is an important step in building this friendship.”
Kenyatta in thanking the people and government of Israel for the warm welcome and hospitality which he and his delegation had received, referred to Israel as “a beautiful nation,” adding that he hoped the visit would cement the bonds that are already strong. “We hold Israel as a dear and very special friend,” he said..
Kenyatta listed areas in which there is “real and corporate cooperation between the two countries.” These include defense, water resources, fisheries, education, technology and science.
Kenyatta also referred to the Kenyan students who had benefited from MASHAV studies in areas of agriculture, irrigation, health, water sanitation and management, disaster management and security..
He praised Israel for the ‘excellent support” that it has given to Kenya on security matters such as training of personnel and supply of defense equipment.
Kenya faces numerous security challenges and has suffered a number of attacks, he said.
He was hopeful that the shared war with Israel against terrorism would produce the desired result.
Inasmuch as he wants to enhance security cooperation, Kenyatta is no less interested in attracting Israeli investments in Kenyan infrastructure, energy, railways, technology and tourism..
As far as Middle East regional security is concerned, Kenyatta looked forward to a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In the presidential guest book he wrote: God bless the two great nations KENYA and ISRAEL, with the names of the two countries written in block capitals, while the rest of the inscription was in cursive script.