Why Africa Needs Israel

There are numerous reasons why nations need each other to survive in today’s world. The rapid advancement of science and technology coupled with other development trends including globalization, have made nations more interconnected and transformed the way in which international matters are being conducted.

Africa and Israel share similar aspirations in respect to peace and stability, development and prosperity. They enjoy historical relations that in some cases predate the independence of the countries. In fact, Jewish settlement in Kenya started at the beginning of the 20th Century. The Nairobi Hebrew Congregation was established in 1904, well before Kenya’s independence in 1963.

Africa as a member of the international community needs dependable allies to participate effectively in international affairs. Maintaining close relationship with Israel is a sure way of, mutually cultivating and solidifying beneficial cooperation in political, economic, scientific and technological, academic and cultural fields among others.

Bilateral relations between African countries and Israel have expanded considerably. More than three quarters of African countries maintain diplomatic relations with Israel. However, the ties need strengthening to make them mutually productive. Political engagement has picked but exchange visits at the higher levels remains lackluster or lopsided and needs revamping.

Africa’s focus is not to dwell on the past, since more is in the present and the future. We believe the two have a lot to gain and learn from each other if the relations can move to the next level.

Africa is the largest developing continent. It is endowed with immense natural resources but at the same time, it is lesser integrated into the global system. Half a century ago, African countries were at the same level of development with Singapore, and Malaysia.

Israel was also a young nation. The current standing of most African countries pales in comparison to Israel and other countries. They have been unable to move with the changing tide and either have remained stagnant or only made marginal improvements in their lives.

Development is a shared responsibility between those who have succeeded and those who have not. Globalization has created profound changes in the world; shrunk distances in both time and space and entrenched interdependence of nations as the fulcrum of international relations. Issues that were local problems are now global and require a global approach.

Israel’s development has surpassed many obstacles, diversified its economy and managed to put up a fast growing high tech sector leading to its becoming a developed, economically advanced and industrialized country.

Moreover, Israel is an influential member of the international community and is in a position to help influence decisions made on African countries as they look for endorsement and recognition by the international community. Hence, Africa desires to coordinate positions with Israel at bilateral and multilateral levels to benefit from the process of Globalization.

The intricate and enormous challenges in Africa entail solutions from both within and outside the continent. Regional and internal political conflicts, some of them fuelled by the exploitation of natural resources, are destroying countries, and tearing whole societies apart. The result is disruption to universal peace, security and stability.

As much as it is Africa’s responsibility to deal with these issues, the causes are at times complex, demanding collaboration others. In some cases, the continent lacks the means or technology to confront the problems. On counter terrorism, Africa needs to work with the international community, as it is a global responsibility.

African countries also lack basic, scientific and technical means to address diverse challenges of environment, water and information, health, and agriculture technologies.

Israel is a pioneer in scientific and technological innovations and its highly skilled human capital of engineers, scientists and doctors is a hallmark of the country. Sharing the innovative solutions and expertise will enable African countries to acquire the relevant skills they need to forge ahead on the path of development.

A number of countries benefit from cooperation under MASHAV and others institutions. However, there is need to expand it to accommodate more people.

Africa remains optimistic. According to World Bank Kenya Country Director Collin Bruce, Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria have the potential to become the key economic empires in the continent similar to the Asian tigers. African countries are undergoing political and socio-economic renewal in order to reduce poverty and join the ranks of those that have achieved sustainable development.

Trade barriers and agricultural subsidies in industrialized countries are a main handicap to Africa. The African countries want to see Israel increase investment in Africa, and to buy more from Africa. They also want Israel’s help to access third country markets for their commodities, minerals and oil.

Israel has advanced technology, which we hope to use to achieve value addition in manufacturing. Opportunities also exist in joint venture partnerships in tourism, infrastructure development, and agriculture and water technologies.

It is further our expectation that closer cooperation will help balance the two-way trade that is largely in favour of Israel. In addition, Israel being equidistant between Africa, Europe and Asia can act as a bridge for international trade between African and the rest of the world.

Culturally, Africans have special affinity for this country and regularly undertake pilgrimages to Jerusalem and other Holy Sites in Israel. It is also an exciting place to visit for tourism or business. We hope that Israel can find Africa as exciting in spite of the negative travel advisories on Africa.

Finally, Africa’s economic development depends upon forging and fostering close cooperation with the international community. We shall continue to play our part to strengthen mutually beneficial bilateral and regional cooperation with Israel and others.

(Excerpts from remarks by Ambassador Feslistas V. Khayumbi at the launch of the ‘Africa Initiative’ at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev on May 9th.)