In recent years, Israel has launched a charm offensive in several African countries to revive diplomatic, economic, and security ties. Israel has concentrated much of its effort in East African countries of Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda. President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya has visited Israel before and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited East Africa in July 2016. The visit coincided with the fortieth anniversary of the Entebbe Raid where the brother of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jonathan died. After the raid, there was a break in relations between Uganda and Israel lasting a full 22 years. Ties were renewed in July 1994 by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. At this time, he signed an agreement to resume diplomatic relations between the two countries.
In the wake of the Entebbe Raid—and even after the end of Amin’s rule in 1979—Israel-Ugandan relations remained low and struggled to improve. In recent years, however, relations have warmed as both countries have worked to resuscitate political and diplomatic ties. Israel has been involved in development projects with the community of Abayudaya in Mbale in eastern Uganda, where the population has rebounded to roughly 2,000. There has also been a trickle of Israeli business tours in Uganda, with the intention of exploring investment opportunities.
During the visit of Israeli Ambassador to East Africa Gil Haskel, the Ugandan Minister of State for Industry Dr. James Mutende encouraged Israeli businessmen to invest in industry, agricultural processing, and tourism. Israeli companies are also active in Uganda’s infrastructural development and the services industry. And bilateral cooperation currently encompasses agriculture, postharvest technologies, animal husbandry, water management, health, and homeland security. However, most of these business deals, charities and investments, have hidden motives behind them.
Since 1994, political and economic relations between the two countries have grown. Although for many years it seemed that one man’s terrible influence and horrible actions may have spoiled the relationship, Israel and Uganda have worked to re-establish ties. Today, Uganda is just one of many African nations with which Israel enjoys a friendly relationship and where Israeli companies operate in the fields of construction, infrastructure, Hi-tech, communications and IT, agriculture, water management and other sectors. There are joint efforts by the Governments of the two countries that aim to ensure the ongoing expansion of these mutually beneficial economic relations.
Israel has long faced an uphill battle to win friends in Africa. However, its concerted outreach efforts in recent years seems to be yielding results as Israel now boasts strong relationships with several countries in East Africa. Despite a large Muslim population in East Africa that has long been hostile toward Israel, there seems to be a general easing of attitudes by the governments in the region. In addition to the economic and political ties, the spike in East African terrorism—combined with Israeli security support—is contributing to a new acceptance of Israel as a partner. In what would have been a highly unlikely initiative twenty years ago, a group of ten African ambassadors to the US recently attended a presentation in Washington by an Israeli counter-terrorism expert.
Countries like Kenya and Uganda have recently discovered oil. There is also an abundance of diamonds in many East African countries such as the DRC. These are the most sort after minerals and commodities by the Zionists/imperialist axis internationally. In countries where these resources are mostly found, Islamic terrorism suddenly appears.
Gaining official status with the African Union would represent an important milestone, yet Israel is still struggling to make inroads into Africa’s most powerful political body. Strong pro-Palestine sympathies—particularly with the AU’s most influential member, South Africa—have hampered the improvement of Israel’s relations with Africa. Many Africans continue to see unmistakable parallels between Israel’s occupation of Palestine and South African apartheid. Growing support for boycotts against Israel is reminiscent of the anti-apartheid boycotts that gained momentum in the second half of the 20th century.
Israel enjoyed observer status at the OAU, the predecessor organization to the AU, until it was dissolved in 2002. Following the AU’s initial rejection of Israel—led by the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi—Israel has been lobbying tirelessly to gain a seat at the AU. Official observer status at the AU is important to Israel as it will enhance the country’s legitimacy on the continent and open doors for further engagement. One can argue that the type of aid provided to most African countries is meant to keep dictators who serve imperialist and Zionist agendas in power. Those of our leaders in Africa and from elsewhere who refused to serve Zionist/imperialist agendas have all been killed. The likes of Patrice Lumumba, Muammer Gaddafi, Dag Hammarskjold, Chris Hani, Steve Biko, John Kennedy and Samora Machel.
In this regard, one is tempted to ask this question: name one country on our continent that has come out of the spiral of abject poverty as a result of western aid? The answer is none! In the same vain has any imperialist country ever spoken out against the looting and pillaging of the wealthiest continent (Africa) on our planet? The answer again is a simple “no”.
However, as Israel expands its influence in Africa, the Palestinian struggle remains the single largest loser. It seems that many African countries are willing to sacrifice Palestine in exchange of arms that keeps them in power longer and clamp on their opposition in their backyards.
Dr Mustafa Mheta is a Researcher and Head of the Africa Desk at the Media Review Network based in Johannesburg, South Africa.