Netanyahu's Uganda visit represents Israel's growing ties with Africa

frica is a burgeoning continent that is growing at a rapid pace, although it faces many struggles

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara boarding the plane to Uganda (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara boarding the plane to Uganda
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Uganda on Monday was an important trip and represents the growing Israeli relationship with African states. This is a historic area where Israel has – in the past – had many friends. In the 1950s and 1960s Israel opened its doors to Africa, helping the newly independent states there and seeking to share knowledge with them.
However, the relationships soured in the 1970s due to pressure from Arab and Islamic states. Now a new era seems to be arriving. The prime minister says that Israelis are “returning to Africa in a big way. Africa already returned to Israel. These are very important ties for diplomacy, for the economy, for security – and more will be revealed.”
Africa is a burgeoning continent that is growing at a rapid pace, although it faces many struggles. Many countries there can benefit from Israeli technology and know-how. They benefit because Israel is not just a “start-up nation” but it is also a state that grew from the desert and had to become self-sufficient without major resources like oil. Like many sub-Saharan African states, Israel was a victim of the colonial era and foreign attempts to draw arbitrary borders that have saddled it with conflicts.
How might Israeli relations with African countries benefit both? First of all, African states are increasingly becoming linked to other economies such as China, Russia, Turkey and India. This rise of the global south is important because it is essentially in these places that Israeli technology and security expertise can help. In the Sahel in Africa, rising Islamist insurgencies are killing hundreds every month. From Somalia to Mali there are threats. States such as Niger, Burkina Faso, Kenya and even Uganda are threatened. Israel knows these threats well, having suffered from terrorism for more than 70 years. Much more can be done – not just through defense sales, which are only 2% of the total compared to other continents due to controversy as to whether countries commit human rights abuses, but through civil trade and hands-on training.
Netanyahu and his governments have set a priority on Africa relations. This goes back to 2009 with then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman’s 2009 and 2014 trips. This has seen increased trips and a number of firsts.
The first visit of Liberia’s president, a visit from Chad, the first ambassadors from Guinea and Senegal, the first visit by an Israeli head of state to Ethiopia. There are growing relations with Rwanda and other states.
That is a positive outcome of Netanyahu’s ten-year role as prime minister. Now that Israel is facing new elections, it is important for all parties to take into account African-Israeli ties and to emphasize how we can all work together towards a bright future. In some cases, relations have temporarily soured. For instance, Senegal is an important diplomatic post for Israel, but its vote on a United Nations resolution against Israel in 2016 caused tensions with the government in Jerusalem. Things were only recently patched up.
Uganda is a strategic lynchpin for Africa. It was once a hostile country under Idi Amin. It was symbolic to see Netanyahu land in Entebbe, where his brother Yoni was killed in 1976 helping free hostages in one of Israel’s most daring raids. Netanyahu made a journey to Uganda in 2016 as part of an Africa tour to commemorate the raid on its 40th anniversary. It is a symbol of how far we have come from those dark days. Now Israel and Uganda can embrace each other with a view towards the 21st century and the promise ahead.
It is important, no matter who eventually becomes prime minister in Israel, that its ties with Africa remain strong. There is a historic window of opportunity to establish a clear strategy in Israel’s Africa policy and for the Jewish people to become a superpower of goodness – through water, energy, agriculture and medicine – across the continent.