A new dawn in Africa-Israel relations
KELVIN KACHINGWE, Entebbe
A NEW dawn has heralded Africa- Israel relations following an agreement in Kampala between the Jewish state and seven other countries that include Zambia to co-operate not only on security matters but also other areas that extend into the larger economic sectors.
It is ironic that the latest deal, agreed at the end of a regional mini-summit also involving host country Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia, should be signed here; and against the background of the 40th anniversary of the Operation Entebbe.
Even more ironic is the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be in attendance.
When the Raid on Entebbe happened, in which over 100 Israelis were rescued after the Air France plane on which they were travelling was hijacked by Palestinian and East German terrorists on its way from Athens in Greece to Paris in France, one of the main figures involved in the operation was Yonatan Netanyahu, the older brother of the current Israeli Prime Minister.
Yoni, as he was known, was the newly installed head of Israel’s elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit and planned and took part in the raid. He died together with three hostages, 45 Ugandan soldiers and all the hijackers during the rescue.
“This is a deeply moving day for me. Forty years ago, they landed in the dead of night in a country led by a brutal dictator who gave refuge to terrorists. Today, we landed in broad daylight in a friendly country led by a president who fights terrorists,” Mr Netanyahu said.
“I am touched to stand in this place, this very place, where my brother, Yoni, fell. Entebbe is always with me, in my thoughts, in my consciousness, deep in my heart.”
Mr Netanyahu was in town not only to commemorate the occasion, but to also work with African countries on matters of security, particularly countering international terrorism. But other than enhancing cooperation in the fight against terror by sharing intelligence and utilising new technologies, including in the sphere of cyber-security, the mini-summit also focused on expanding and deepening regional and bilateral cooperation in fields such as water management, agriculture, medicine, renewable energy and sustainable development.
The summit was attended by host President Yoweri Museveni, President Lungu, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, South Sudan’s President Salva Kirr, Ethiopia Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Tanzania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Augustine Mahiga,
Mr Netanyahu is the first Israeli leader to visit Africa after the late Yitzhak Rabin in 1994 when he visited Casablanca, Morocco, which is no longer a member of the African Union (AU).
“After many years, I can equivocally say [that] Israel is coming back to Africa and Africa is coming to Israel and I believe this is a turning point in Israel’s efforts to work with Africa. We are eager to work with you by learning from capacities we have strongly built in different sectors,” Mr Netanyahu said.
“We are glad that we shall work with you to fight forces that want to send us back to a dark past.”
Mr Netanyahu’s visit to Uganda was part of a rare four-nation tour of sub-Saharan Africa, seeking new trade partners. He also visited Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia, which has a rich Jewish heritage.
“I believe in Africa, I believe in your people. We want a better future for you,” Mr Netanyahu said as he expanded on his theme of sharing Israelis’ expertise in taming arid conditions to creating breadbaskets as well as in fighting terrorism.
For Zambia, which has borne the burden of sheltering refugees running away from conflict in the Great Lakes region, the engagement is beneficial.
Special assistant to the President for press and public relation Amos Chanda says with President Lungu wanting to make agriculture the main focus for the country’s economy, the offer by Israel to assist with its innovative technology is welcome.
Last year, Zambia opened an embassy in Israel and President Lungu has an outstanding State visit to that country which Mr Chanda says will be taken at an appropriate time.
It is certainly a new dawn for Israel-Africa relations.
A communique released after the mini-summit shared the view that the meeting marked the importance of the friendly relations between Africa and Israel, and presented an opportunity to send a positive message on North-South cooperation.
“The summit observed that terrorism continues to be a major threat to international peace and security and to the very survival of human civilisation. The leaders emphasised the need for increased regional and international cooperation in all fields, including cyber-security and information gathering, to confront this scourge,” the communique partly read.
The leaders also noted the importance of encouraging new avenues of cooperation, based on human capacity building, and utilisation of new and innovative technologies.
Further, the leaders said they look forward to more cooperation between their countries and Israel, both bilaterally and multilaterally.
“We have had a thorough engagement with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The regional leaders here represent 300 million people and we are all looking forward to a strong relationship with Israel,” President Museveni said.
Israel used to be big in Africa, particularly in the 1960s and early 1970s when it opened a number of embassies in newly independent countries on the continent. It was only in the mid-70s, after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, that many countries on the continent cut ties with Israel.
But at the summit, the African leaders also spoke about upgrading Israel’s standing in the AU by re-granting it the observer status. Israel was an observer member of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the forerunner to the AU, until 2002.
It was prevented from assuming the same status in the AU after protests from Arab leaders. However, it still has diplomatic relations with about 40 African countries and has embassies in about 10 of them.
Granting Israel the observer status will be beneficial for many African countries.
Mr Netanyahu highlighted this.
“Israel has fought terrorism and has developed certain capacities which I think are important for the defence of the world against this global onslaught of terrorism,” he said.
“But equally, we have tremendous opportunities. We’ve solved our water problem, even though we’re a very dry land. We’ve solved our agriculture problem. We produce, with great productivity, vegetables, dairy… I’m always boasting which cow produces more milk per cow? You would think it’s a French cow or a Dutch cow. It’s an Israeli cow.”
Let the agreement produce results!