September 10, 2009: London, UK
Since September 2, 2009, Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Avigdor Liberman, has been on an official visit to Africa. The countries on his itinerary have so far included Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria. Mr. Liberman wraps up his tour today in Uganda.
This is the first major visit to Africa by an Israeli delegation in 20 years. The visit is part of Israel’s desire to open up “new paths in [its] foreign policy” (1). Undoubtedly, the visit is also a response to the shifting playing field in Africa, such as Iran’s efforts to establish itself in the region (ibid).
However, the official visit is significant for other reasons as well. Firstly, like two shadows, when one speaks of Israel one cannot dismiss considerations of Israel’s largest aid donor, the US, and the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict. Any strategic calculation by African countries will have to weigh the delicate balance these two shadows cast, as African nations are not only recipients of US aid, many are also no strangers to foreign occupation and struggles for independence. Furthermore, in those African quarters where sympathies lie with the Palestine cause (and/or who are critical of Israel), the continent itself is still in the unenviable position of having countries whose own human rights violations can only be described as “egregious.”
Of course, however, there are examples where considerations of the economy and strategy trump the human rights records of both those investing, and those being invested in: China (Tibet)-Sudan (Darfur) relations are a case in point.
The second issue, from a development perspective, concerns where the added-value of an Israel-Africa partnership lies. Agriculture and technology transfer seems an obvious area. At the margins, however, how much would an additional partnership bring to an already crowded list of players in Africa? Clearly, while this is a consideration of a growing Israel-Africa partnership, it is also relevant to those donors already in Africa as well as those who wish to seek a development role on the continent.
The BBC has been hosting an online debate on the Israel visit to Africa. While the debate is now closed, the comments posted are instructive of people’s reactions. Do check it out at:
1. Israel News Agency (2009) “Israel Foreign Minister Liberman To Visit Africa” [Accessed Thursday September 10 at 1:24pm BST from: http://www.israelnewsagency.com/africaisraeltradeforeignministrylibermanvisitbusinessaiddefenseiranindustryugandaunkenyanigeriaentebbe48020909.html]