Israel looks to bolster ties with Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa, with its growing economies and immense need for development in diverse sectors, represents a huge market.

Israel-Africa relations [DO NOT REPUBLIH]_521 (photo credit: Pierre Marals/ICEJ)
Israel-Africa relations [DO NOT REPUBLIH]_521
(photo credit: Pierre Marals/ICEJ)
Theodor Herzl, the father of the Zionist movement, revealed in his book Altneuland (Old New Land) that he not only carried a burden for founding a Jewish state, but that he also had a heart for Africa.
“There is still one question arising out of the disaster of the nations which remained unresolved to this day, and whose profound tragedy only a Jew can comprehend. This is the African question,” wrote Herzl. “Once I have witnessed the redemption of the Jews, my own people, I wish also to assist in the redemption of the Africans.”
Once Israel won its independence in 1948, Herzl’s vision of working to better the lot of Africa was carried out to some extent by some of the nation’s early leaders. Foremost among them was Golda Meir, who led the drive to establish close bonds with sub-Saharan Africa in the 1950s and ’60s.
But in the wake of the 1967 Six Day War, Arab rulers sought to exact revenge for their defeat on the battlefield by forcing African countries to sever diplomatic ties with Israel. At the behest of Egypt, the Organization of African Unity (today the African Union) adopted a resolution condemning Israel for occupying the Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza Strip. In order to garner African support for this resolution, the Arab states promised the newly independent nations of Africa to provide them with cheap oil and financial aid – promises which never materialized.
In the years since, Israel has slowly sought to repair the rupture in relations with African countries, but many on both sides of the equation sense it is now time for Africa to fully reconnect with Israel.
“In the coming years, Africa will be a big player on the international arena. We need to develop the continent. We need a new kind of partnership [with Israel] based on mutual benefit, a win-win partnership,” said Bruno Itoua, Congo’s minister of energy and hydraulics, at a special meeting last month between Israeli diplomats and a group of African ambassadors stationed in Tel Aviv.
Itoua was in Israel to pursue an Israeli-Congolese cooperation agreement to help solve Congo’s water problems. Like many African countries, Congo has experienced difficulties in building the infrastructure necessary to supply its growing population with fresh water in a sustainable manner.
During his visit, Itoua also attended the annual WATEC conference, a yearly exhibition of Israeli water technologies.
The gathering was attended by over 30 heads of state and government ministers from around the world and served as a showcase for Israel’s many cutting-edge advances in the fields of water purification, conservation and recycling methods.
Since its modern rebirth in 1948, Israel has emerged as one of the world’s most technologically advanced nations. Through its inventiveness, brain power and hard work, Israel has even managed to cause the desert to blossom, as foretold in Scripture (Isaiah 35:1). In fact, Israel’s vanguard drip irrigation systems and desalination plants can be found across the globe.
Thus, Israel could have an important role to play in Africa’s development, through the sharing of its experiences in crucial areas such as water, agriculture, medicine and security.
In his opening address to the WATEC conference, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, assured that “Israel is among the leading states in the world in water technologies and is willing to share its knowledge and experience with other countries, so that together we can provide for the increasing needs of the world’s evergrowing population.”
The African delegations attending the conference included Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who took the opportunity to sign an agreement that commits Israel to helping Kenya fully develop its water resources. Earlier this year, Israel sealed a similar deal with the Ugandan government to develop the country’s water infrastructure and eventually build 11 dams and reservoirs supplying two million Ugandans with water.
Itoua added that he hopes his efforts to jump-start cooperation between Israel and Congo in the area of water and electricity will set an example for fellow government agencies to follow suit. From Israel’s standpoint, the potential for expanding business and trade with Africa is enormous.
In the beginning of December, The Economist reported that sub-Saharan Africa in the last eight years has been growing faster than the countries of East Asia. Meanwhile, the World Bank recently claimed that “Africa could be on the brink of an economic take-off, much like China was 30 years ago and India 20 years ago.”
In 2010, the Republic of Congo had one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with a growth rate of over 10 percent. According to the International Monetary Fund, the continent as a whole is projected to have 6% growth during 2012, with other forecasts predicting that Africa will be home to six of the world’s 12 fastest growing economies this year.
Recognizing this vast economic potential, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently announced that Israel is looking to develop new strategic alliances around the globe, an initiative that will include a fresh outreach to Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa, with its growing economies and immense need for development in diverse sectors, represents a huge market for Israeli companies whose advanced technologies could bolster Africa in facing its many challenges.
To launch this campaign in earnest, Netanyahu recently revealed that he is planning a historic trip to a number of sub-Saharan African countries in the beginning of 2012, including Uganda, where he lost his elder brother Yonatan during the famous 1976 Entebbe raid.
Many of these potential new allies on the African continent, such as Kenya and Nigeria, also face threats from radical Muslim terror groups.
So sharing Israeli military and intelligence expertise could prove mutually beneficial as well.