Africa and Israel: An intertwined destiny

Africa is a continent of immeasurable mineral wealth, an unparalleled abundance of wildlife gracing majestic natural landscapes and populated by a proud, diverse and passionate people.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta a gift upon the birth of a granddaughter. (Credit: GPO)
THE AFRICA of the 21st century is a continent of great but unrealized potential. Admittedly, we live with the daily reminders of the scars of colonialism that have etched their mark on both the landscape and our people, but we can and must rise to assume our rightful place among the nations of the world, not as perpetual beggars for donor aid but as an economically thriving and modern continent.
Many nations have come and continue to knock at our doors offering assistance but, in truth, only to satisfy their own selfish needs while accelerating our downward spiral into poverty. Yet, we are a continent of immeasurable mineral wealth, an unparalleled abundance of wildlife gracing majestic natural landscapes and populated by a proud, diverse and passionate people.
The spark for our renaissance must come from us, for we must seize new opportunities to shape our future. Those opportunities will come from rekindling perhaps one of our oldest friendships. Was it not an African Queen of Sheba who in the 10th century BCE journeyed to visit King Solomon in Israel and an Ethiopian treasury official who embraced our Christian faith during his return from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the 1st century CE? All this, while Europe was still content to chase pagan idols of various names.
Lest we be content to bask in our former glory, allow me to paint a gloomy picture of our current reality with the hope that it will galvanize us into action. Permit me to point to just three pressing issues, by way of illustration, that commonly afflict our existence and stifle our progress and, ironically, there are means to overcome them.
Hunger: It is commonly accepted that the principal causes of hunger are poverty, conflict, drought, low agricultural productivity, malnutrition and disease.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 233 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were hungry/undernourished in 2016.
In 2012, 501 million people, or 47 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa, lived on $1.90 a day or less.
In January 2016, the World Bank stated that “Africa needs electricity to achieve growth.”
The International Energy Agency reported that 1.2 billion people worldwide are without electricity and a staggering 600 million of those are from sub-Saharan Africa.
Electrification in the world stands at 84%, while we in Africa still sit in darkness at 45%.
One of our leaders, the president of Guinea, addressing the World Economic Forum, stated that “across 36 African countries, it’s estimated that just two in five people have a reliable supply of energy throughout the day. In some countries less than 10% of people have access to electricity at all.”
The Water Project organization concluded that “one of the greatest causes of poverty in Africa is also the most overlooked... the lack of access to clean drinking water.”
The Water Project released statistics indicating that 319 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are without access to improved reliable drinking water sources.
Nearly 1 out of every 5 deaths under the age of 5 worldwide is due to a water-related disease.
The United Nations estimates that “Sub-Saharan Africa alone loses 40 billion hours per year collecting water… that’s the same as a whole year’s worth of labor by France’s entire workforce!”
The World Health Organization has translated this into economic terms, which state that “for every $1 invested in water and sanitation, there is an economic return of between $3 and $34!”
The real tragedy is not the poverty and deaths that often accompany these challenges but rather the fact that they can be eradicated. These aren’t luxuries but three challenges that form part of any government’s core responsibilities to our people and yet providence has ensured that the most viable solutions are available to us through a more engaged relationship between African and Israel.
Only Israel offers us the most high-tech and innovative solutions to herald our bright future. So where lies the problem? As Africa, we have allowed ourselves to be lobbied by a few nations who desire our solidarity support against Israel more than they care for our people.
Misplaced solidarity and boycotts will not feed our people or develop Africa but achieve the opposite. Yet these same nations place the welfare of their citizens as a priority but ask us to bear the brunt of their ill-founded hatred for one nation – Israel.
Testimony to this is the fact that only 10 out of 54 African countries have fullfledged Israeli embassies on their soil. It is suicidal of us to continue to spurn the instrument of our salvation when Israel, through its development agency, Mashav, has trained more than a quarter of a million students, predominantly African, from the developing world in education, health, science and agriculture. It is a known fact that billions of dollars are donated to Africa but these donor funds have been ineffective in providing practical solutions, so let us examine just two interventions from Israel in Africa and realize what is possible.
The assistance of Mashav has ensured that Ethiopia is now one of the top 20 producers of avocado in the world yet the avocado tree is not indigenous to Ethiopia.
Kenya lies 4th and Ethiopia 6th in the top 10 countries that export the most cut flowers in the world. This is a $20 billion per annum global industry! Kenya is the lead exporter of rose cut flowers to the European Union with a market share of 38%. It is estimated that in Kenya, over 500,000 people, including over 100,000 flower farm employees, depend on the floriculture industry impacting over 2 million livelihoods. Floriculture brings to the Kenyan economy around $600 million annually.
This is but one of many examples, and with sustained effort and a coherent strategy that puts Africa as a priority, we can change the fortunes of our continent. That strategy must include Israel because in Israel, Africa has a partner that is capable, willing and trustworthy.
So fellow Africans, are you willing to move out of your comfort zone and be that activist and ambassador for a vibrant Africa- Israel relationship that challenges our leaders to do the right thing? These endeavors require, passion, energy, knowledge and, above all, sacrifice. This is not just about Israel, but our very future is at stake if our great continent of Africa is to rise from the cauldron of poverty and challenges in health, energy, education and water. We owe it to ourselves and children to act and act now! 
The writer is vice chairman of the South African Zionist Federation and co-chairman of the South African Friends of Israel