Soft power of the state of Israel as a resource for development aid and public diplomacy

Subchapter 1: Development needs of Sub-Saharan Africa countries

SSA is a very diverse region in every respect: its natural environment— climatic and geographic conditions, flora and fauna as well as populace— is diversified in terms of ethnicity, languages and religions. Importantly, this diversity expresses itself within states themselves, as many of the borders were drawn without taking into account natural conditions and local peoples. Development level of SSA countries at the brink of independence (1960s) was usually poor, and majority of the region still suffers from manifold development challenges. In fact, many development-related problems became a specific African characteristic, as they are no longer observed on a large scale on other continents. These include low primary school attendance, high malnutrition and child mortality, diseases such as HIV/AIDS (reducing life expectancy, causing large-scale orphanhood, disrupting social and economical structures) and malaria. Although key indicators (on infant mortality, access to clean water, literacy and school enrolment) improved significantly since the 1960s. there is an alarming distance to other continents and huge discrepancies between particular SSA countries.1

This analysis of the developmental needs of SSA countries is limited to the essential observations and does not aspire to be a thorough examination of SSA developmental history or the donors’ development discourse.

Post-independence until the 1990s

The emerging independent SSA states faced many developmental problems inherited from centuries of internal warfare, slave-trade, mismanagement and exploitation by colonial rulers. This is a very generalised view, since particular conditions varied greatly, depending on precolonial history, policies and the length of the given colonial power. Sub-Saharan countries used to be overspecialised in limited number of crops, with very small industrial base. Yields were weak and natives resistant to adopt new techniques; connections with global capitalistic economy and modernisation trends superficial, with traditional lifestyles prevailing and preferred, and poor state of modern education and communication infrastructure. The essential feature of a colonial African state was that it functioned on the surface only; even active locals were agents, not actors. Planning for the development of industrial base and introduction of democratic practices started only around 1945. Post-independence leaders were motivated by nationalistic convictions but usually depended on clan loyalties.2

In many SSA countries, ethnic diversity was a major obstacle to state-building. Many countries lack a clear majority group at all; the region houses 20 most ethnically diversified countries. This implies also linguistic diversity and splits between nomad and settled populations. Within colonial borders, various tribes were gathered under a centralised external authority, perpetuating lack of unity and causing violent conflicts after independence. Most of African civil and international wars have more or less direct ethnic dimension. Moreover, the alienation of the centralised state impeded development efforts and led to overexploitation of natural resources. Ethnic diversity and ensuing power struggle elevated inequalities between privileged and underprivileged tribes, corruption and tendency towards autocratic or military rule, quickly after the common banner of struggle for independence turned into multiparty politics based on ethnic conflict. The civil service politicised.3

Moreover, effective governance was impeded by the natural conditions, such as poor soils, unpredictable rain, wide diversity of difficult climates, including warm semi-arid, tropical savannas, warm desert, humid subtropical climate; high distances to coastline and poor rail and road infrastructure, leading to high costs of transport and losses in transported food; small size of most states, hampering scales of trade; low population density and—with few exceptions—lack of significant (known at the time) natural resources. Around one-third of the region’s population lives in countries which are both landlocked and resource-poor. To this adds quick demographic growth, with fertility rates not subduing despite lowering death rates, apparently for culture-related reasons. Africa’s population grew threefold between 1950 and 1995. Coupled with low density and high urbanisation rates, this impeded adequate and equal provision of services by states.4

The prevailing economic doctrines of the time also contributed. Ghana, which at independence had good development prospects (though depended on export of crops and import of industrial products), within 10 years headed towards crises, caused by a vast industrialisation scheme implemented through multiannual, centrally prescribed development plans. Investments were poorly designed, without resolve for conditions on the ground (like availability of necessary raw materials), constructions were delayed and more costly than assumed, while weak tax base and collection impeded financing. Such industries’ products were eventually costlier than they could be with the use of pre-industrial methods; machines,

Soft power of the state of Israel 55 unadjusted to local conditions, run by untrained staff, would quickly break. Government reacted by granting monopolies to such companies, banning imports and pre-industrial forms of production. Thus, the poorest farmers bore the costs, already suffering from monopolies on agricultural market—and industries remained ineffective. Efforts to reform agriculture in a centrally planned way were equally unsuccessful. No capitalistic market economy would be allowed under Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah; plans remained on paper, while the debt rose. As development plans failed, Nkrumah started to call for pan-African economic planning. When political opposition grew, he responded with authoritarianism.5

Nevertheless, until 1973 there was steady progress in some spheres (school enrolment, infrastructure), though the development of agriculture lagged behind, as the sector was neglected in many countries. Growth benefit-ted only fractions of societies, marginalising rural populations and was divorced from increased productivity. Needs justified centralisation, state intervention and bureaucracy, yet belief in a “big push” theory of huge investments bringing growth proved false. Overall optimism that independence itself will bring wealth and ensuing economic isolationism quickly led to dependence on foreign creditors: with agriculture development held back, countries needed more and more imports. The oil crises hit SSA hard, first in 1973, then in 1979; this coupled with growing prices of credit, increasingly taken from private sources, and downturn in foreign investments, as well as periodical draught (not abnormal, but hitting already fragile countries), resulting in a full-blown crises. The year 1973 is treated as marking the moment when African politics started to be governed by predominantly authoritarian rulers, with the mid-1970s to the 1990s described as a period of military and dictatorial regimes and depression.6

Overall, despite periods of fast growth locally, the African average real income per capita rose minimally between 1960 and 2000, while income inequalities rose sharply. Economies did not diversify. The capital, which could otherwise be accumulated and reinvested, was dispersed by failed governance, inefficiency of public sector investments, tax avoidance, rent-seeking and corruption. This long-term failure had much to do with the lack of democracy (in the case of Africa, fall into autocracy and stumbling growth were closely related) as well as manifold armed conflicts, including civil wars, and their huge economic and social costs.7

The 1980s were marked by liberalisation efforts, led by international institutions. This brought mixed results at best, to many—devastation. Radical reforms met with resistance or were incomplete. Liberalisation primarily included freeing of markets for agricultural produce and fertilisers. Since the 1970s Africa has become a net importer (15% of consumption) of agricultural commodities and staple foods. Crises in agriculture furthered rural poverty. Due to policy barriers often still in place, market reaction was muted, while diminished state support even worsened conditions in agriculture economy, limiting services to farmers. Regional trade liberalisation programmes, meant to reduce barriers for regional market exchange, were introduced. Yet reforms reproduced existing patronage bonds, in some cases petrified pathological regimes, in others—catalysed violent conflicts.8

Following the end of Cold War

The end of Cold War opened a new chapter in world affairs, with market economy reforms and démocratisation wave reaching SSA. The initial period of démocratisation was marked by rapid increase in internal violent conflicts and ensuing lowering of growth. Only later the steady move away from conflicts, forward to democracy and development, took place. With debt crises eventually behind and generation of new leaders in place, in the 2000s-10s SSA entered the pace of growth, with several countries among the world’s fastest growing, and managed to attract increasing flow of foreign investments. Among the most successful are Botswana (five decades of growth), Angola, Ethiopia and Nigeria, and also Ivory Coast, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Still, some lag far behind the leaders.9 Furthermore, according to the 2014 Human Development Index (HDI) by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), most of the SSA countries were in the group of low HDI countries, with only four in the medium group (Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Ghana). Still, the 2018 HDI update shows that the medium category already broadened to include also Equatorial Guinea, Congo. Kenya and Angola. Botswana and Gabon advanced to the level of high human development.

The 2000 report by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) listed development needs and chances of African countries at the beginning of the 2000s. providing an apt reference point for analyses of the content of (Israeli) development aid during the last decades. The report mentions processes triggering new development opportunities: increased political participation leading to greater demands for accountability; the end of Cold War, which dissolved the paradigm of political patronage and allowed adoption of more market-oriented, open attitudes; changes emerging out of globalisation, information accessibility and communication revolution. It points out the untapped potential of African women, constituting the majority of workforce, but whose productivity is constrained by barriers to education and labour market; more gender equality could reduce poverty. Enhanced regional cooperation and long-term commitment of donors could bring rapid results. It is also recommended that more funds are directed to rural areas, that agricultural research and public-private partnerships are promoted, that development is more beneficiary-driven and that Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries open up their food markets to imports from African countries. The spheres where progress is needed to break the cycle of underdevelopment and poverty are governance and conflict-resolution, economic competitiveness and diversity, aid dependence.10

Investing in people is underlined, as sources of growth shift away from natural resources, gradually depleted and loosing value; and also because investment in people accelerates turn towards knowledge-based economy, propensity to save and invest—and limits demographic growth. Investment in people means enhancing range and quality of education, also tertiary education, which should include new technology-related skills; and investment in health of the current and future workforce. This includes reproductive health, tackling HIV/AIDS pandemic, action on tuberculosis, malaria, cholera or river blindness, requiring money and carefully tailored strategies for wise spending. This translates also into a need for increased donor interest in supporting research on diseases plaguing the SSA nations, currently under-financed despite dangers of transmission of endemic African diseases to other continents. Moreover, health disorders related to lifestyle: heart diseases, diabetes and cancer are a new challenge. Brain drain needs to be tackled, possibly through circular migration which enhances gains from mobility (flow of remittances, new competences). All these need to be undertaken with demographic growth in mind. It slows down, but not dramatically and at varied speeds, with most of the countries’ fertility above four children per women and many between five and seven. Only wise policies can turn the surplus into demographic dividend of large labour force while further reducing fertility through better healthcare and women empowerment.11

As regards infrastructure, the needs include design of weather-resistant systems of roads and railways, in particular, in the rural areas—housing majority of populations—to serve their market integration, access to services and jobs. Reliable water and irrigation systems are of dire need for human consumption and agriculture, as large share of SSA territory cannot sustain agriculture relying only on rainwater, and danger of drought is huge. Such investments are said to be particularly beneficial to the lot and productivity of women. Investment in sanitation facilities and wastewater treatment is also key to improve hygiene, thus reducing costly illnesses. Provision of sources of non- and renewable electricity is another challenge and opportunity. Amending low-productive and low-profit agriculture demands investments in farmers’ education and in agricultural research. Of the most important sub-Saharan crops, only maize has been substantially researched and harvests improved, while other kinds (sorghum, millet, cassava, oilseeds, pulse beans, bananas, plantains) are classified as “orphan crops” for the lack of sufficient research in them; true effort is needed to improve their resistance to pest, disease and environmental stresses (drought, flood), growing due to climate change. Methods introduced through research and demonstration facilities are often not adopted on a larger scale. Aside from increasing yields through upgraded crops, improvement in services for agriculture is also needed. All these efforts are essential not only to provide food security but also to increase returns from agriculture and related industries which are seen as main sources of budgetary income that could, in turn, boost further investments. These investments would also support diversification of economies, through the development of industry, services and exports. Beyond national means, financial (non-project) aid and debt relief are still vastly needed. Overall, investment in agriculture “contributes 4.25 times more towards reducing poverty than comparable investments in any other sector” and “agriculturally driven growth generates a larger welfare effect than non-agriculturally driven growth, especially for the poorest 20% of the population” in SSA.12 Still, many deplorable investment-related practices common in the 1960s, 70s and 80s are alive. Ethiopia forcibly relocated people both in the 1980s and in the 2010s. Overinvestment in agriculture had also dire environmental consequences.

African urbanisation, the fastest worldwide, is dangerous as it does not go together with rise in incomes or changes in food market. Cities (increasingly classified as megalopolis) are unable to guarantee the newcomers jobs and minimal range of services, such as running water and sanitation. Among the actions needed, loss-reduction, rainwater collection, increasing recycling of water, fixing and extending of infrastructure, introduction of effective water and wastewater management and finding solutions adaptable to the changing climate are mentioned.13

One method used to reduce the increasing hazards of life in major cities is population dispersal through design of satellite cities. They happen to replicate the wealthy centre plus slum periphery/informal settlement scheme, especially in Eastern Africa. Urban(ised) poverty is a huge problem. Challenges include also poor industrial, educational and healthcare base, high costs of fuels, need for the development of local renewable energy sources, low competitiveness, increasing environmental (pollution, traffic congestion, un-recycled waste) and climate change threats. Large cohorts of young people could drive development, but only if they get opportunities to gain education and jobs (preferably, in advanced economy) and to become included and engaged in communal life. Moreover, high levels of urban violence caused by social, ethnic and religious conflicts or armed groups’ attacks on urban centres emerged once international and civil wars receded.14

Good governance is a challenge of turning from corrupt and malfunctioning to just, effective and accountable. This requires difficult combination of stable polity, capable state and reasonable growth; however, in SSA, improved governance, as defined by Western institutions, does not necessarily translate into better growth. Decentralisation and démocratisation could allow for better use of available resources (including people’s time). Reforms shall be further supported to reinforce national institutions, democratic processes and rule of law. In some countries, peace-building and reconstruction aid is needed to overcome impacts of protracted violent conflicts on individuals, society and economy. Responsible leadership needs to be trained and promoted and culture of good governance and resistance to corruption supported. Closely related to democracy and

Soft power of the state of Israel 59 accountability of growth is the development of genuine civil society and free media. While they should in principle rise from below, external aid can help local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and media outlets to advance and professionalise. Prosperity gospel preached by Evangelical (mostly Pentecostal) churches works often as a new popular ideology of growth.15

It also needs to be underlined that SSA is particularly vulnerable to and suffering from various impacts of climate change: anomalies in precipitation, extreme weather phenomena, desertification—in particular, in the North, bordering the Sahara desert. In Western Africa, some territories are affected by the expansion of semi-arid Sahel climate; the coastal areas in West, Centre, South and East alike are endangered by floods, storms and rising sea level, causing salination of water resources and soil erosion. Overall increase in rainfall in most Eastern Africa might result in increase in diseases such as malaria where so far it has not been common (Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda). Changes in temperatures and rain occurrence (rains coming later, rarer, but massively, causing flooding) threaten food security of the Central and Western subregions. In the East, prolonged periods of draught affect also hydroelectric power generation and in the in-land South—water security levels. Effective urban management is seen as key to climate change mitigation and adaptation.16 Developmental planning needs to be enhanced, with the help of experts, to make sure that current investments take into account the future climate.

SSA environment suffered greatly throughout the decades of poor management, overexploitation, demographic growth, unregulated hunting and armed conflicts. Erosion, combined with chemical and physical damage, led to the degradation of more than half of Africa’s farming land, endangering productivity of agriculture and poverty eradication. There is a need for taming the overexploitation by international concerns and empowering local farmers through new technologies to maximise crop while limiting ecological burden of production.17 Deforestation is a particular problem, especially in Central Africa, with ensuing the loss of biodiversity and soils. Typically, when large trees are cut out, charcoal producers destroy the remaining vegetation; then farmers arrive and abandon the land in few years at the stage of complete degradation. Around 9% of forest cover was lost in the region in the 1995- 2005 decade alone. On the rule it is not replanted, agriculture expands to new areas, while local population still depends on forest-related resources, furthering deforestation even more. Additional results are loss of water resources and increased propensity to malaria. While there is a need for systematic cut in dependence on forests for everyday fuel and on non-renewable energy sources for the production of electricity, the region has a big untapped potential to benefit from solar and hydroelectric power.18 This requires knowledge-sharing and investment by developed countries experienced in such technologies.

Examples of specific cases

The countries chosen for case studies present three differing sets of conditions and paths for development, in terms of. inter alia, size, geographic location, access to natural resources.


Nigeria, at independence (1960). was a promising West-African country. Large in terms of territory and population (55 million in 1970, 151 million in 2008), it adopted a federal system in which strongest ethnic groups dominated its 12 (later 19) states. By the 1970s, political corruption, military coups, suffocating of opposition and free press, lagging development and the 1967-70 civil war tarnished its image and prospects. There was no national identity to unite Nigerian peoples. The country became dependent on food imports as progress led farmers to invest in children’s education (rather than in farms) and educated children did not come back to farm the land. Already the year 1965 saw instances of political violence over elections. Secession of Biafra and ensuing civil war led to local starvation and high military spending. The increasing revenue from oil production in the early 1970s was distributed unevenly, between those with access to state power. Rent-seeking, mismanagement and fraud were common. Corrupted politicians, middlemen and businessmen steered policies, while academics and civil servants were uninfluential. Oil dependence resulted in increased import of other commodities and in rising debt, especially when oil prices decreased. In the 1980s, civil society organisations emerged, either representing opposition to authorities, or providing services independently of it. On the other hand, inflation and rising unemployment led to empowerment and politicisation of religious divisions, to urban crime, riots and clashes, violently dispersed. Authoritarian regime, food rationing, widespread surveillance and other measures introduced as a part of the “War Against Indiscipline” did not solve country’s economic problems, foremost among them—debt, exceeding one-third of revenue. Structural adjustment programme following from the 1986 deal with the World Bank Group not only led to some positive macroeconomic results but also caused suffering, outmigration of educated cadres and further downgrading of living standards and access to services. Privatisation demanded by creditors was unsuccessful due to low interest of foreign investors. While the 1990s brought some development in large cities, the overall poor economic situation combined with autocratic rule was still furthering ethnic tensions. Démocratisation gained upper hand in the late 1990s, yet political corruption and election fraud were still common19 largely until the 2015 elections. While economy showed the highest growth rates in the world, poverty and unemployment rates were high. Moreover,

Soft power of the state of Israel 61 the rise of Boko Haram, representing violent Islamic radicalism terrorising North-East of Nigeria, exposed the weakness of state’s structures and the army and endangered freedoms and the development of wide civil populations.


Zambia is a small (15.5 million), landlocked nation. At independence (1964), its society was strongly stratified, with foreigners at the top. With advice of United Nations (UN) agencies, Zambia designed multi-year development plans reflecting what was called “Zambian humanism”. The first plan, 1966-70, aimed at increasing state’s influence on economy, its diversification beyond copper mining, reduction of the share of imports in consumption and the development of infrastructure. Although reduction of imports was resisted by industries and consumers, there were significant investments in roads, rail, electricity and communication as well as in agriculture, education, health and welfare. The second (1970-76) plan aimed at food self-sufficiency, comprehensive regional development, further diversification of industry and import substitution. Implementation was based on solid data, though sometimes lacked proper coordination and follow-up. Agriculture was slowly mechanised due to people’s preference to be unemployed in the city rather than work the land. Large corporations were created in various sectors to realise state’s policy aims and usually successful, although they suffered from inadequately trained managerial cadres. Some cooperative solutions were introduced, but their aims were rather ideological (to sustain traditional ways of living) than economic and had to be heavily subsidised. Overall, Zambia succeeded in developing indigenous industry, including processed products (refined sugar, refined copper) and in achieving high annual growth rates. On the other hand, since 1972 until 1990 Zambia was a one-party state under President Kenneth Kaunda. Poverty has not been eliminated at the times of prosperity and until today. Since mid-1975, the USSR produced large amounts of copper, which was still Zambia’s main source of revenue, leading to sharp decline of the country’s economy and debt crises. The 1980s World Bank-led restructuring efforts largely failed. This was coupled with rising dissention, food shortages and ever growing poverty rates, political instability, and coups of the 1990s. Privatisation of state assets drew attention of foreign investors, yet also caused rise in unemployment. Rising copper prices brought more affluence in the period of 2009-14; their later downturn hit the economy again. In the meantime, some diversification has been achieved, thanks to support for local private entrepreneurship, with agriculture and tourism sectors growing.20


Tanzania, in East Africa, population of which grew from 12 million (1967) to 45 million in 2012, is an example of a country ruled through multi-year programmes, where planning descended to the level of an individual citizen. The plans were adopted in 1961—concentrated on agriculture and individual’s duty to commit to development; 1964—on rising life expectancy, literacy and income; 1969—on mechanisation of agriculture and industrialisation. Plans were realised within the context of Tanzanian socialism called ujamaa. Power was heavily concentrated, with one political party and all means of production nationalised, effectively discouraging foreign investors. Agriculture was declared the foundation of economy. Peasants were to join new, large, poorly planned villages, run as cooperatives irrespective of economic feasibility. Their income went to bureaucracy. Since the mid-1970s relocation started to be compulsory. The villages, originally seen as a way of individual voluntary advancement within the community of equal, under guidance of a teacher, started to be forcibly filled up by people whose property was destroyed by state forces, thus unwilling to create community and ruled by an enforcer. Following heavy crises, exacerbated by costs of war with Uganda, the 1980s saw plans on Structural Adjustment (1982-85) and Economic Recovery for Stabilization and Liberalisation (1986-89), followed by further reforms in the 1990s. Though they eventually led to growth, the immediate impact was negative for state employees, who suffered from dramatic cuts in state’s functions and benefits for peasants, devoid of subsidies. Wealth went to politicians, corruption emerged; civil society organised itself for self-help. Contemporarily, planning is concentrated on alleviating poverty. However, the Development Vision 2025 is said to be poor in operational details, not well implemented and progress is not sufficiently evaluated.21

Development needs according to public opinion polls

According to a range of the Pew Global Research Centre polls carried out in 2002 and 2007, people were mostly concerned with lack of resources for food, health and cloth in Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. More than 80% of respondents from Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Senegal and Tanzania pointed to finances as their most important problem. Kenyans and Ugandans found it most difficult to cater for education. In Mali and Senegal, food was perceived as harder to get than education. Still, Africans appeared to be the most optimistic in the world, believing in the improvement of their and their children’s lives. Polls from 2012, 2014 and 2015 also document the extent to which the African nations are concerned about public health. AIDS and other diseases are often seen as the greatest danger. The top three health-related needs in the countries surveyed combined are hospital infrastructure, fight against AIDS and access to drinking

Soft power of the state of Israel 63 water. The inhabitants of Ghana perceive water access as the greatest one, Senegalese—fight with hunger, Kenyans and Ugandans—building and improving infrastructure. In another survey, climate change proved more important to African nations polled (especially in Burkina Faso, Ghana and Uganda) in comparison to threats constituted by Iran, ISIS, Russia, China and economic instability. Concern for inequality was also on the rise.


As much as it is rational to generalise, the SSA countries’ overall development since independence was in the majority of cases non-linear. An initial period of growth based on socialist-isolationist economic theories was followed by visible worsening of performance caused in part by the 1973 oil crises; this downturn lasted at least until the mid-1980s. Later on most countries went back on the development track and—in many cases, successfully—adopted new philosophy of development based on free market and good governance. At the time of writing, majority of the fastest growing economies was situated in SSA, the conditions for business were improving and more and more attention was devoted to the rapidly growing markets of the major cities (megalopolis).22

Manifold development needs apparent at their independence are in existence until today, although their contexts have obviously changed. A broad list of categories of such needs includes the following:

  • • economic needs: enhanced tax-base and tax collection; better quality and diversity of crops; soil, forest and biodiversity conservation; improved water management; industrial development; foreign investment in infrastructure; research in those aspects;
  • • social needs: elimination of endemic diseases; improved water access and sanitation; nation-building beyond ethnic and religious divisions; use of demographic dividend while reducing fertility rates; empowerment of women; overcoming consequences of warfare;
  • • political needs: reliability of civil service; empowerment of local government; combating corruption and cronyism;
  • • new challenges: preparing for and overcoming consequences of global warming; management of urban sprawl and megalopolis.
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