From July 4th to the 8th, 2016, Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu visited four East African States, which encompasses Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and Ethiopia. He is the first sitting Israeli PM to visit the sub-Saharan states since 1987, which was almost three decades ago. The visit is suggested as an open quest to change decades of shaky African-Israeli relations, which were hampered when African countries were influenced by Arab countries, with respect to the Palestinian question, and Israel’s dealing with of the Apartheid regime in South African. On the eve of the tour, the Israeli government had already approved 50 million shekels ($13 million) toward aiding African development, thereby advancing mutual economic and diplomatic ties.
On July 4th, the first day of his visit, Netanyahu went to Uganda, where an emotional moment was experienced due to the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Israel’s rescue operation, in which Netanyahu’s brother was killed. On July 4th, 1976, during one of the most successful Israeli rescue operations, Netanyahu’s brother, Colonel Yonatan, four hostages, seven militants, and 20 Ugandan troops were killed. Nevertheless, the operation was able to rescue 102 out of 106 Israeli hostages who were held for a week at Entebbe International Airport. While in Uganda, Netanyahu discussed with leaders of the four countries of his visit, plus Tanzania, South Sudan, and Zambia. The point of discussion circled around how Israel will assist African countries in the areas of anti-terrorism and water technology-based agriculture.
On the second day of his visit, while in Kenya, Netanyahu pledged to share intelligence services with Kenya and the continent in order to assist African countries in fighting terrorism. In fact, Kenya and Israel have had a good record of mutual assistance with respect to security issues. In 1976, when Israel undertook the rescue operation in Entebbe, Uganda, Kenya provided Nairobi airports and a military base for Mossad intelligence agents.
On Wednesday, July 6th, PM Netanyahu was warmly welcomed by President Pual Kagame at Kigali airport. Then, they paid a visit to the Kigali’s Memorial Center of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The memorial center is the mass grave of at least 250,000 genocide victims, out of more than the estimated 800,000 other Tutsi and moderate Hutus who were murdered by the extremist, Rwandan Hutus.
Netanyahu made his last tour in Ethiopia and turned back home by Friday morning (July 8, 2016). While in Ethiopia, on July 7, 2016, Israeli PM Netanyahu met separately with PM Hailmarian Desalegn and President Mulatu Teshome of Ethiopia at the National Palace. In the meetings, delegates of both countries discussed ways to increase their bilateral cooperation on issues of water, agriculture, communications, tourism, and education. In his address to the Ethiopian parliament, Netanyahu said that Ethiopia and Israel have 3,000 years old relations since King Solomon met with the Queen of Sheba. In referring to the history of the two countries relations and the largest Ethiopian native black Jewish communities, Netanyahu further said that Ethiopia has a place in the heart of Israel, and so is Israel, in the heart of Ethiopia. At a business summit conducted between the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce and Israeli Export Institute, key cooperation agreements were signed by the two countries.
To sum up, PM Netanyahu’s visit to sub-Saharan Africa is suggested to be aimed at strengthening the bilateral cooperation in areas, such as the economy and diplomatic security.
More importantly, this occasion, which Netanyahu described as Israel’s attempt to “return to Africa in a big way” may have an alternative motive, which is to gain the support of Black African countries in voting against Palestine at the United Nations, which were consistently on the side of Palestinians since the 1960s and 70s while influenced by the Arab world.