Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon landed on Monday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he met senior officials. He continued to Kenya and Uganda, where he was expected to inaugurate two Israeli-cooperation projects in the fields of agriculture and health.
An outstanding number of state and professional visits by African heads of state and ministers were recorded in Jerusalem this year. Foreign Minister Lieberman visited Africa in 2009. The visit of Ayalon this week constitutes yet another signal of the growing strategic and economic ties between Israel and the African continent.
On Thursday Deputy Minister Ayalon will launch a trilateral fishing project, in cooperation with Kenyan partners and the German economic and development ministry, near Lake Victoria, aiming to rehabilitate fishing water and agricultural polluted land patches in the region. Kenyan PM Raila Udinga is expected to take part in the ceremony, as will the German development minister, Dirk Niebel.
Ayalon will then continue to Uganda, where he will inaugurate an Israeli-built trauma center, at the Mulago referral hospital, in the capital Kampala. Israel has already offered to donate ambulances to health centers countrywide, as a contribution towards improving the health sector in Uganda. According to Gil Haskel, Israel's ambassador to Uganda, Israel is willing to strengthen cooperation with Uganda in several areas of health and agriculture modernization.
Deputy director general of the African Division at the Foreign Ministry, Avi Granot, told Ynet that Ayalon's visit this week is guided by two main axes: on the political level - strengthening Israel's bilateral relations with Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, and its relations with African regional organization, and on the another level – enhancing the regional development dimension of Israeli-African cooperation.
Granot explains that the democratization and stabilization of the African political structure over the last decade has contributed immensely to the spectacular economic growth of countries like Botswana, Namibia, Rwanda, Ghana and Ivory Coast: '"The new generation of African leaders feel responsible, not only to the destiny of their own people, but also regionally. We are now in an era where regional conflicts in Africa are resolved by African institutions, as was the case in Ivory Coast and in Malawi. This contributes to a welcoming economical and trade climate, which is bound to fulfill the enormous African potential."
Granot says that thousands of Israeli companies benefit from this recent global African growth, offering expertise in diverse fields, such as communication infrastructure, hi-tech products, agriculture, health and more. Israeli companies also offer formation and education programs. The Foreign Ministry operates often these days in partnership with public and private sector elements, working together on development projects. Many Israeli companies are involved in such projects throughout Africa.
When explaining the recent change in relations between Israel and Africa, Granot points to yet another reason: a change in Africa's own historical perception of these relations: '"Many of the African visitors in Israel this last year expressed disappointment at the promises made by Arab nations in the 70s and 80s, when African countries were pressured to cut off diplomatic ties with Israel in exchange for development aid. They look back to the 'golden era' of our relations and wish to bring them back to life."
Deputy Minister Ayalon will discuss with his hosts Israel's request to reinstate its status of observer with the African Union – having been disbarred from participating at AU meetings since the summit meeting of AU leaders in 2002, when Libya's Gaddafi literally kicked Israel out. Granot says that with the PA and the Arab Leagues being full members of the AU, many African leaders agree that the Israeli point of view is nonexistent at these meetings.
Another topic on the agenda is the ''Arab Spring'' and the upheaval in Libya. The fall of Gaddafi led to an enormous 'leakage' of weapons to the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, but also to Mali, Niger, Mauritania and other sub-Saharan countries, where these weapons fell into the hands of Muslim extremists.
The Foreign Ministry held last week an extensive meeting to discuss these developments in Mali, where the north of the country has all fallen under the control of Ansar Dine – a Muslim terror group with ties to al-Qaeda. As in Israel, African leaders are also deeply concerned. In Kenya, two Iranians are now on trial for planning attacks against Israeli and American targets.
Granot says Minister Lieberman views Israeli-African relations as extremely important and plans to visit Africa again in the coming months. The visit of PM Netanyahu, cancelled three months ago, is rescheduled now for the coming summer. Israel has recently opened a new mission in Ghana. The minister is also considering the possibility of reopening the embassy in RDC Congo.
Rina bassist is Kol Israel's correspondent in Africa
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