International behaviours of sub-Saharan beneficiaries

Subchapter 1: Bilateral relations

The golden era—overview

Literature identifies manifold reasons for the 1960s positive predispositions of sub-Saharan countries towards Israel and for reluctance towards the Arab states. Since the early 20th century. African nationalists had been modelling their movements on Zionism, seeing similarities in the Jewish and African history of persecution, discrimination, eradication from the homeland (“Black Zionism” of African Americans hoping to return to their fatherlands in Africa) and struggle against a Western colonising power. These analogies were well grounded in the African liberation movement and influenced perceptions of Israel of many early African leaders (Ivory Coast, Ghana. Kenya, Liberia and Madagascar). Memory of slave trade by Arabs (and Swahilis) and of economic exploitation by wealthy Arab minorities (particularly in Kenya, Tanganyika, Uganda, Southern Sudan and Zanzibar) weakened impact of Arab lobbying against ties with Israel. Moreover, Chad. Guinea. Ethiopia. Ghana, the Ivory Coast. Kenya, Niger, Nigeria. Liberia, Tanzania and Uganda were weary of the expansionist plans of Egypt and its patronising attitudes. Egypt was treated with suspicion, seen as over-focused on own interests, at the expense of African unity; moreover, it hosted radical anti-government organisations. Egyptian aspirations towards Ethiopian territory created commonality of interest with Israel on access to the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. Arab-Israeli conflict was not a point of interest for sub-Saharan Africa (SSA); instances of Arab politics polarising sub-Saharans were treated as undermining African unity. On the other hand, small size of Israel reassured African countries that no threat of dependency will come from cooperation; thus, it promised support in reducing dependence on the former colonial powers without making them dependent upon itself. Israeli non-alliance was also viewed positively: Israel was seen as a neutral source of aid, focused on recipients’ needs. Israeli socialism was perceived as a “third way”, apt solution for a developing country, which avoided the undemocratic hazards of the Soviet model. Furthermore, Christianity of many sub-Saharan nations, based on careful reading of the Bible, created a strong connection and attraction to the Land of Israel.1

Upon these reasons for affinity, warm relations had been built up. A period of geopolitical respite for Israel which followed from the 1956 campaign and securing of the border with Egypt by United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) coincided with a wave of African decolonisation, to which Israel reacted in a competent and friendly way, establishing personal relationships even before independence, inviting leaders, granting recognition and offering assistance. Overall, six African heads of state visited Israel in the course of 2 years only, 1960 61. and more visits followed. Sharma shows that throughout the 1960s relations with Congo, Dahomey (Benin), Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Malagasy (Madagascar), Sierra Leone and Upper Volta (Burkina Faso) were cordial, based on development aid and understanding of Israel’s security needs.2

An over-cited quote from the 1962 Manchester Guardian article refers to how the Israeli motivations were seen: “not just part of its defence line against the Arab world, but also of a genuine desire to help. Africans respond because they recognize this”. Levey points out that African authors analysing Israeli aid during the 1960s were uncritical of the Israeli messianic approach to aid programme and regretted that such an approach faded with time. President Joseph Kasa-Vubu of the Republic of the Congo joined the 1960 (Israeli) Department of International Cooperation (MASHAV) Rehovot conference on development 5 days after Congo’s independence, testifying to enthusiasm, based on conviction that Israel is a model to follow.3 Felix Houphouet Boigny of Ivory Coast said in The Israel Digest of August 03, 1962:

“This dispersed people which suffered so much throughout the ages has foregathered once again in its ancient land which it found devastated, neglected, infested with mosquitoes and (...) every conceivable disease. Without losing heart in the face of implacable nature and more than hostile neighbours. Israel took up its task courageously and after less than ten years, it can be considered a modern state. We also must follow this path.”4

Julius Nyerere of Tanzania spoke of great contribution by Israel as possible due to its similar conditions and challenges: of building the nation and of changing the physical and economic landscape. Tom Mboya of the Kenyan labour movement claimed to be impressed by Israeli accomplishments in a short time and difficult circumstances and eager to apply these experiences in Africa. President Kaunda highlighted cooperative nature of Israeli development and appreciated Israeli successful projects in Zambia. Israeli experts were praised as physically working, engaged on-the-spot in the agriculture, cooperating with the trainees and treating them as equal.

Moreover, the scale of Israel and the kind of innovations it was using was seen as appropriate; Liberian Ambassador observed that Western experts get frustrated with African conditions, while Israelis know how to adapt to them even without advanced equipment. Ghanaian Ambassador to Israel, in turn, spoke of the similarity of geographic conditions between Israel and Ghana, responsible for productivity of Israeli experts. Courses were praised for high quality, well designed for practitioners without much education, motivating them to work and proposing apt solutions.5

In the field of nation building, Yomo Kenyatta (Jeune Afrique, April 10, 1966) referred to Israeli example of building the country out of world Jewry as to be emulated in the case of Kenya’s tribes. Similarly, Kenyan Minister of Defence in 1969 attested to his admiration for the way Israel integrated people of so many different backgrounds, giving Kenya hope that it too will succeed in nation-building out of different ethnic and religious groups. Prominent Kenyan leader Tom Mboya praised Israeli programmes engaging youth in state-building. The units formed on the basis of the Israeli Nahal model remained loyal to the central government during the 1964 Tanganyika rebellion, for which they won appreciation in surrounding countries. The International Union for Child Welfare organised a seminar for its African and Asian members in Israel in 1961, recognising that—in the words of Mullock Hower, Secretary of the Union—Israel successfully merged theory with practice, Eastern culture with modern techniques, being an example for Africa how young can start using Western invention while still honouring the patriarchs.6

On operational mechanisms, a Senegalese Foreign Ministry official is quoted as saying in 1972:

“Israeli aid is the cheapest and least conditional (...). Saudi Arabia offered us aid with so many strings that we had to do without it (...) the possibilities of the Arab countries are too limited for them to be able to give us any aid’’.7

The programmes were well received for lack of heavy bureaucracy, quick response and efficiency of small projects. Israel was seen as a “living laboratory” for finding solutions in natural and social conditions very close to African ones. This was a mobilising factor: Israel’s accomplishments looked as achievable in Africa. Israeli middle way between Western capitalism and Eastern communism responded well to their development visions. Israeli cooperatives represented ideologies close to African “humanism” of equality between the people. Israel was also respected for not engaging in large-scale “prestige projects”, which often resulted in a costly failure. As Sharma observed,

“rapid Africanisation was welcome (...) and increased the demand for assistance. This assistance, even though sometimes limited in results, had a feeling of sincerity. (...) the Israelis seem to start from the basic assumption that all the races have the same potential.”8

In the similar vein, modes of cooperation within joint companies, including rapid phase-off, were seen as transferring skills while almost disinterested. Moreover, African trainees are said to, in the vast majority, felt welcomed in Israel and praising hospitality, although there were some unpleasant incidents too.9

While the authenticity of manifold quotes of praise cannot be questioned, it is hard to evaluate to what extent they present entire picture. On the other hand, towards the 1970s there was a growing awareness of the limits to the Israeli aid impacts on development. Spill-over of the demonstration projects was too weak and cultural differences too large. The initial overenthusiastic coverage of aid in the Israeli press, blowing its size out of proportion, annoyed and offended the SSA recipients, who did not want to look as dependants. Still in the hour of scaling-down of Israeli engagement, Kenyan Sunday Nation (quoted by Jerusalem Post. October 29, 1973) wrote of great contribution by Israel to the continent and effectiveness of Israeli programmes in comparison to other donors’. A matter of perception which somewhat benefitted Israel was that it was seen—due to its many embassies, activism and personal character of relations—as a much bigger and powerful state than in reality.10

Sub-Saharan states towards Israel until 1973

Most of the SSA countries built their foreign policies around certain precepts including independence in decision-making, non-alignment and support for decolonisation. The respect for the postcolonial borders was adopted as an international law norm already in 1964 at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Cairo summit. SSA foreign policies were to serve internal socio-economic development without falling in the trap of dependency. Thus, Israel was attractive as a donor, a mixed economy model, a country striving to maintain non-alliance and supportive of independence movements. Many SSA leaders spoke firmly for non-alliance and against divisions into blocks. Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta (in power 1963-78) promoted “African socialism” as a third way between capitalism and communism, a line taken also by Julius Nyerere of Tanzania (1960-85) and subsequent leaders of Uganda (except for Idi Amin). The 1960s cases of anti-Israeli blackmail by Arab countries were met with disdain by African leaders (anecdotally, Ivorian diplomat replied to a Saudi speech in the United Nations (UN) through referencing back to Arab trade in Black slaves, declaring these times over); yet they did not react collectively against them, except maybe for the short period of existence of the Brazzaville group."

However, the foreign policy towards Israel was sometimes double-faced or at least inconsistent, endeavouring to keep good relations both with

Israel and the Arabs. President of Mali signed a joint declaration with president el-Nasser in 1961 stating that Israel is a bridge for imperialism and a threat to security, while in 1964 he called Israel an “object of study for African peoples who seek inspiration (...) a human approach to building a new society”.12 Zambian President Kaunda, at first, resisted Arab pressures and deepened relations with Israel through aid. He requested Israel to make emerging Zambian communal agriculture profitable, which Israelis achieved through introduction of small-holders’ cooperative models. However, while Kaunda bilaterally lauded Israel’s contribution, internationally, especially since 1967, he had condemned Israel’s role in the Middle Eastern (ME) conflict. Zambia’s international environment contributed—Kaunda feared that the White regimes would claim legitimacy by the virtue of their longevity— but it also served him as a vehicle to garner more influence in Africa and to cement alliance with Tanzania. Zambians voted against Israel and initiated anti-Israeli resolutions, in meetings with Israeli counterparts spoke against occupation of Arab lands, but also praised and requested more of agricultural aid, chose an Israeli as a Bank of Zambia’s Deputy Governor, and used Israeli-run cooperative villages as a showcase of Zambian development.1-’

In 1970, ten sub-Saharan countries had diplomatic missions in Israel; of seven embassies, six were located in Jerusalem: Central African Republic (CAR), Ivory Coast, Gabon. Liberia, Upper Volta and Zaire. The choice of location testifies to the natural identification made between the Jewish nation and its holiest city and to the recognition of Israel’s decision on where to locate a capital. The only embassy in Tel Aviv was the Ghanaian one. Moreover, there was an Ethiopian consulate and charge d’affaires of Congo and Madagascar in Jerusalem.14

The overall trade was not substantial, yet in the late 1960s, Israeli companies started to more actively pursue purely commercial interests, which was not received well by radicalising local policymakers. The image of Israel started to change, due to its increasingly capitalistic and less socialistic character.15

Impacts of internal and geopolitical factors, 1958-73

Decalo lists the following factors that led to diminishing presence of Israel in SSA in the late 1960s: growing awareness of difficulties with applying Israeli development solutions; more aid coming from new donors; growing opposition of French and British to what they saw as Israeli competition; end to Israeli alliance with France; end of rule of some of the friendly leaders (CAR, Congo-Brazzaville, Republic of Biafra); Egyptian expansionism; growing unwillingness of the governments to be identified with either side of the ME conflict; and revision of pro-Israeli stances taken by Dahomey, Togo and Upper Volta around 1972, changing the balance within the OAU. These events affected Israeli trust even before the 1973 war and contributed to Israel’s rising interest in other regions.16

As regards impact of the change of governments, it was initially not obvious. Levin gives an example of Ghana, where regime had changed three times until 1973. Ghana’s distancing from Israel resulted from a power game Nkrumah played with Egypt. For Ghanaian leader, pan-African unity was the major issue. He saw himself as a pan-African leader and in this regard competed with el-Nasser, yet also tried to build bridges with Egypt, which led him to weakening ties with Israel. As a result, Ghana shocked Israel with its participation in the Casablanca group; relations normalised quickly after Nkrumah was overthrown in 1966 coup. Israel also managed to have good relations with various Ghanaian ethnic groups, which cemented relationship. though there were also (1959) instances of anti-Semitism in Ghanaian parliament.17

Later on, however, the impacts of internal issues became clear and mostly negative. One radical example is Uganda under Idi Amin: adopting anti-Israeli positions, openly declaring that nothing can be expected in return for military and civilian aid. then suddenly breaking relations despite overall population’s positive view of Israel. Also Congo under Mobutu Sese Seko (1965-97) demanded military aid. while its interest in development, trade and diplomacy sharply declined; it joined anti-Israeli voting. In the case of Nigeria, Israeli aid was not accepted in the Northern, Muslim-dominated region, which also had blocked opening of an embassy in Israel until 1966. In 1967, relations again deteriorated due to supposed Israeli aid to Biafra.18

The geopolitical impacts were mainly felt at the multilateral level and linked to policies of particular countries. Since 1969. Palestinian cause has been gaining attention, first championed by radical states, then picked up also by more moderate ones, concerned with Palestinian fate after the 1967 territorial gains by Israel. Sharma grasps the possible essence of the appeal of the Palestinian narrative to the SSA—the Palestinian quest for a (one) “multi-racial, multi-religious, democratic, secular State”. Most profoundly, the acquisition of territory by force was anathema to sub-Saharan countries due to their strong interest in maintaining own territorial integrity despite challenges. Fear of invasion by a neighbouring state was also strong and so was attachment to the rule of inadmissibility of occupation. Moreover, many sub-Saharan countries shifted to anti-US positions, identifying themselves as disadvantaged, while Israel was perceived as pro-West since its cooperation with the United States (US) in the Congo in the early 1960s and as a strongman following the 1967 war. Otherwise good ties with Eastern Africa were strained by the fact that occupation of Sinai blocked hopes for the resumption of shipping through the Suez Canal.19

As for the Islamic factor, until 1969 its influence had been limited. Muslim-majority countries of Gambia, Guinea, Niger, Mali and Senegal maintained good relations with Israel. Where there were Muslim minorities, there was a common interest in cooperation: for Israel, to prevent addition of religious undertones to the conflict; for sub-Saharans, to prevent politicisation of African Islam, which was generally separated from the state, liberal and incorporated many elements of indigenous custom; and to prevent addition of another, religious layer to the already existing ethnic divisions within the societies. In many cases, the Islamic factor actually steered tensions between sub-Saharan and Arab countries (particularly Libya and Saudi Arabia). Yet, there was no religious reasoning behind decisions to break relations. In Kenya, the 1973 call by Muslim minority leaders to pray for defeat of Israel was met with condemnation by the country’s press and the president. Many authors, however, see correlation between the countries’ religious make-up, or the shifts in the confessions of subsequent presidents, and relationships with Israel.20

Lastly, it is pointed out that Israel did not vote with Afro-Asian bloc in support of the independence movements in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia and that it had abstained from condemnation of South Africa until 1961, thus was disloyal to the African interests.21 Yet, the argument that Israel’s relations with France and South Africa were factors in worsening of relations with SSA does not stand the test. It was actually when Israel still had good relations with France and only started to distance itself from South Africa, when its relations with sub-Saharan countries were at their best. When relations with sub-Saharans started to deteriorate, Israel’s alliance with France was bygone while its anti-apartheid stance—at its highest.

Reasoning behind breaking of relations

As a result of manifold economic and political factors, Israel could not compete with the influence of Arab states in SSA already before the 1973 war. Guinea followed the Soviet bloc in breaking off relations with Israel in the aftermath of the 1967 war. Six most radical states—Burundi, Chad, Congo, Niger. Mali and Uganda—broke before the 1973 war. Niger and Chad explained the step through Libyan military pressure on their internal affairs. Libya promised to stop support of the rebels for Chad’s break with Israel; similar proposal was extended to Niger, and refusal followed by border clashes, until it also broke. The break-up coincided with a visit by the Saudi King to these countries. Chad, Niger, Senegal and Uganda were all offered large loans by either Libya or Saudi Arabia. In the case of Uganda, which broke in 1972 (and resorted to staggering anti-Semitic language, praising Hitler and 1972 Munich terrorists), it was the result of Idi Amin’s personality coupled with al-Qaddafi’s skilful bargaining, although its voting pattern turned anti-Israeli already following the 1967 war. Congo’s (Zaire) surprising decision was meant to strengthen its role in pan-African affairs and influenced the others due to the role it already had. Levey explains in detail diplomatic manoeuvring initiated by Dahomey, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Rwanda and Togo between May and September 1973, which is telling of their feeling of increasing pressure and nervous weighing of the benefits and liabilities flowing from relations with Israel against those that came with Arab overtures. They were unhappy with the process, followed by Arab attack on Israel, above all because they had no control over it, losing grip of their own foreign policies.22

All the other states except Malawi, Mauritius (until 1976), Lesotho and Swaziland (dependent on South Africa) broke relations after the 1973 war, citing solidarity with Egypt. The fact that Israel violated the UN ceasefire during the war was raised by Nigeria and Senegal. Those that did not break so far, did after OPEC’s announcement of rise of oil prices. Liberia mentioned its small size which did not allow going for isolation against the majority; fear of oil supplies; and assassination attempts against the president and his brother. Nigerian leader’s room of manoeuvre was limited as he served as President of the OAU. Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya for long excluded the possibility of breaking with Israel (Sunday Nation, October 21, 1973: “Our only enemy is the one who might dare to play about with our hard-won independence (...) following one side today and the other side tomorrow will be tantamount to prostitution”) and eventually did break on the grounds of the continuation of occupation (same reason as Ethiopia). Behind the scenes, Libyan and Saudi “bribes” might have played a role in the case of Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Zambia, and broadly understood Muslim pressure—in Ethiopia, Gambia and Nigeria. Foreign minister of Dahomey assured the Israeli side that majority of Africans meant no harm but were tied by pledges to Arab states and had to adhere to a cumulative result of international resolutions, backed by SSA. Upper Volta’s foreign minister reportedly complained on Arab “pressure and humiliation” behind this “distasteful” decision. Succumbing. African states were aware that the move ends their quest for a role in bringing peace in the ME and allows radical Islamic and communist influences to gain ground. Having met the ultimate demand, they also lost their leverage in relations with the Arab states. Simultaneously, Israel’s image changed into that of a powerful state, while Arab media branded it as guilty of war due to its non-implementation of resolution 242, and highlighted that the US planes, which came with aid, refuelled at a (colonialist) Portuguese island. Israeli media additionally harmed their country’s image by printing a picture of own soldiers on the Sinai under the banner of “going back to Africa”. Widely distributed, it caused uproar.23

The unprecedented massiveness of break of relations seems under-explained to many, despite trace of Israel’s losing its position and image since 1967, particularly due to the occupation of Egyptian territories. Levey poses a vital question: why wasn’t it preceded by a gradual process of demands, sanctions, increasing isolation? Still in 1972, sub-Saharan states were concerned with peace-making and in their majority had no intention of limiting ties with Israel, though their increasing displeasure with occupation countering UN resolutions and an effective international order transpires from accounts of bilateral diplomatic meetings. While many observers—mostly those concentrating on the Israeli perspective— explore reasons related to SSA relations with Israel and the ME conflict (as seen from Tanzanian note on break of relations, citing Israeli stubbornness in refusal to withdraw, interpreted as a “continuous aggression”), Akinsanya looks towards a wider geopolitical consideration: disappointment with the West seen as not championing African independence.24

There is no apparent correlation between the amount of Israeli aid and the timing of breaking of relations. In fact, among those countries which had the largest number of programmes in 1972 (Ethiopia—7, Cameroon—5, Dahomey, Ivory Coast, Malawi and Togo—4 each and Liberia and Upper Volta—3 each25), there is one which broke already before the October war (Togo) and one which did not break at all (Malawi). The rest broke at various points between October and November 1973. Among the countries with the largest absolute numbers of participants of trainings, Congo broke relations before the war, CAR early in October, Sierra Leone later in October, while Ivory Coast and Ethiopia in November. It is in the case of the last two that there can be some talk of causality, yet there is no proof that their reasoning was determined by civilian aid factor.

In 1976, Israel still maintained several buildings that used to serve as its embassies, reportedly advised by (unspecified) host governments not to sell them, as they argued that the situation was temporary and they were doing all they could to quickly bring relations back. Yet, some of these buildings were allocated to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Until the late 1980s, majority of sub-Saharan states recognised PLO as the representative of the Palestinians and backed their right to establish a state in West Bank and Gaza, supporting also the idea of an international conference on the Israeli-Arab issue with PLO's participation. They also vastly recognised the Palestinian statehood declared in 1988. In 1989, PLO had resident ambassadors in Angola, Benin, Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria Senegal, Sierra Leone. Tanzania. Zaire. Zambia and Zimbabwe and non-resident ones in Burkina Faso, Burundi, Rwanda and Togo. Decrease in Arab aid, conflicts between the PLO and Arab governments and fear of Palestinian terrorism weakened these influences on the other hand. Importantly, sub-Saharan states, acting alone or in group, never challenged Israel’s right to exist. They also refused to join Arab boycott of Egypt introduced after the 1979 peace treaty, although they saw the treaty as insufficiently dealing with the Palestinian issue. The 1970s arms deals with African regimes strongly harmed Israel’s image. Israel’s growing cooperation with South Africa was increasingly an issue as well. Yet despite rhetoric, Angola, CAR, Gabon, Ghana, Ivory Coast. Liberia, the Malagasy Republic, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Zambia and Zaire all maintained significant trade and business ties with

South Africa.26

The way towards restoration: motives and geopolitical impacts

Already on May 06, 1976, Times of Zambia ran the headline Bring Back the Israeli Experts—MPs, citing calls made during a parliamentary debate, such as this one by MP Valentine Cafoya:

“for lack of guidance, flourishing farms and gardens have been reduced to arid wilderness and poor villagers, formerly self-sufficient, are now cutting down timber and destroying (...) natural resources in order to eke out a livelihood (...) why should we waste vulnerable funds enlisting expatriates? Egypt is not a land of food growers. How can they teach us farming when they import most of their own fresh food. (...) They don’t go out to the fields (...) as the Israelis did. (...) Arabs and Asians (...) for three years on good contracts have profited and prospered, while our villagers have learned nothing and are starving”.27

By the mid-1980s, press in other countries also called for re-establish-ment of relations. Dissatisfaction with Arab aid in the face of the oil crises (Akinsanya estimated SSA oil net-importers bill in 1974 as 2.5 times larger than in 1973) has been laud. Its scale was far too small to compensate for oil prices, and recipients had no say in its administration. Sub-Saharans felt they are treated as unequal: “idea of being a beggar to the Arabs is not acceptable to the Africans”, Senegalese foreign minister reportedly said. The dominance of Muslim states among recipients was visible and resented. In Muslim environments, the kinds of projects funded (such as mosques and Islamic centres) were also often criticised. Carol cites numerous voices from East Africa, calling severance of ties with Israel harmful and regretting the related OAU decision, even challenging its right to issue resolutions on such matters. Reportedly, in 1974, Joseph Nyerere, influential brother of Tanzanian leader, even suggested that Nile basin countries divert tributaries or charge Egypt for using the water in response to oil prices—a proposal that testifies to the desperation.28

Around the mid-1980s, many alumni of Israeli courses reached positions of influence, increasing calls for restoration of ties. Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)’s demise, changes in South Africa and fear of Libyan extremism (especially in Cameroon, Chad, Ivory Coast, Liberia and Togo) contributed to the moves towards resumption, yet official justifications referred mostly to another issue: the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement and Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. It was cited by the first country to renew relations (in 1982), DR. Congo (Zaire) and those that followed, Liberia in 1983 and Ivory Coast in 1986. Zaire’s decision and undertaking military, economic and agricultural cooperation casted it temporary break in relations with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, revocation of Arab aid and condemnations by Arab countries. Zaire responded by pointing out that there is no Israeli occupation of African land anymore and protested Arab interference in its foreign policy: claiming that it will not be led by an oil barrel, comparing those African states that did to slaves being led by Arabs and calling Afro-Arab solidarity a trap for fools. At the same time, Zaire didn’t diminish its support for the Palestinians. Liberia’s move towards renewal was motivated by willingness to anchor itself more solidly in the Western camp while distancing from Libya and the Soviets.29

In Kenya, which openly voiced disappointment with the treatment by the Arab side, news of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty triggered immediate declarations on the need for renewal, based on all Israel had to offer, though the actual process took time. Similarly in Ghana and Nigeria, the discussion started right after the treaty, as the justification for the state of non-relations disappeared. Babatunde cites numerous examples of Nigerian press, both pro-government and pro-opposition, calling for cooperation with Israel focused on transfer of successful Israeli agricultural solutions. In press and parliamentary discussions in manifold countries, as highlighted by Oded, past Israeli aid was praised and expertise called upon as needed to help with agriculture, desertification and health. Countries which received Israeli technical aid in the period preceding the renewal were mostly among those which renewed relations early, testifying to correlation between aid and good relations in the long-term, yet with no indication of causality. Tanzania was a reverse case: it received aid already in the early 1980s, after a request by a vocal critic of Israel, President Nyerere, for Israelis to contribute to medical training and rural development. Fighting fundamentalism and hoping for Israeli assistance against malaria, Tanzania resumed relations only in 1995.'°

The pattern of reactions to the Israeli-Egyptian treaty widely followed the Cold War divide, with countries seeking relations with the US welcoming the deal and those in the Soviet orbit—condemning it. Polarisation within the SSA grew in the early 1980s, with economic malaise leading to hunger crises in many countries, lack of unity over issues of Chad and Western Sahara and growing great powers’ rivalry on the continent. In its efforts towards resumption, Israel sought support from the US and France. In the late 1980s, Israel’s relations with South Africa turned into a major obstacle towards resumption of relations (cited by Ghana and particularly strongly by Nigeria). There were some voices calling for thinking in terms of national interest and pointing out that SSA countries did not cut relations with entire Western and Arab world maintaining contacts with South Africa. Still, there was huge level of honest contempt with the scale of Israeli involvement, its military aid seen as sustaining the regime. To some extent Israel was a scapegoat; condemning and punishing the powers that broke arms embargo since the 1960s (France most prominently, but also Great Britain, the US, Italy and the Eastern bloc to a lesser extent as well) and Arabs who traded extensively in oil would have been much more difficult.-’1

Other reasons slowing down the process were the fear of loss of Arab aid and the Palestinian issue. Arabs promised more aid to Niger, Sierra Leone, Zambia and others in order to dissuade them from renewal. Fear of losing Arab aid or markets was voiced by Kenya and Ghana. As for the Palestinian factor, some states (Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Mozambique) declared in 1986-89, after being approached by the PLO, that they do not intend to resume relations with Israel. The PLO was very active also in Niger, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. On another end of the spectrum, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Liberia and Zaire did not openly recognise the PLO as a sole representative of the Palestinians (though in a way all did, through OAU recognition). In Uganda, which until 1979 had remained the most ardent supporter of Palestinian terrorism, PLO offices were closed after demise of Idi Amin and remained so until 1986. In Kenya, PLO office was opened only in 1980 and closely monitored, especially after a Palestinian terrorist attack in the same year on a Jewish-owned hotel in Nairobi, which killed 16 Kenyans. In Nigeria, such office was opened only in 1984. Ethiopia protested the fact that the Palestinian movement supported Eritrean irredentism. Malawi, which never broke with Israel, was treated by PLO as hostile and PLO supported and trained Malawian anti-government forces. African recognition of Palestinian state went to a state to be created alongside Israel, not instead of it. This aspect was strongly underlined by Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo. At the end of the decade, countries most hostile to Israel were Tanzania, Senegal, Zambia and Zimbabwe.32

The fact that many countries had restored relations already before the Madrid process testifies to the indecisive nature of the Palestinian issue, although 1988 restoration by Kenya was officially justified by the Palestinian acceptance of the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions 242, 338 and of the principle of direct negotiations. For those which restored in the years 1990-92, the main factor could be the fall of the USSR, cementing the trend that started already in the 1980s: to approach the US in hope for more aid, with Israel seen as an enabler. Adding to dissatisfaction with Arab aid, other factors worked against continued alliance with the Arabs: awareness of strong conflicts within the Arab camp and between various Palestinian factions (most visible during the civil war in Lebanon), displeasure with the fact that Arabs required more OAU time to be devoted to their issue with Israel than to genuinely African issues, plus an increasing fear of subversive acts (especially in Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria). The peace process between Israel and the PLO and the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty were another triggers, adding to the momentum. Eritrea, whose independence movement used to be fought by Ethiopia with Israeli support, had demanded Israeli development aid in agriculture, health and education already before independence and afterwards entered into relations. This is inter alia ascribed to the personal experience of its leader, Isaias Afewerki, treated in Jerusalem for malaria.33

Crucially, development aid again can be treated as the major field of Israeli overt cooperation with the majority of sub-Saharan nations. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said in 2016 that Liberia “has gained a lot of experience from Israel in regards to our development goals”, praised the “extraordinary developments” in the fields of agriculture and water and thanked for help with Ebola outbreak. This 2005 statement by the Ghanaian tourism minister looks as if uttered in the 1960s: “Taking Israel as a model, Ghana hopes to persuade the descendant of enslaved Africans to think of Africa as their homeland—to visit, invest, send their children to be educated and even retire”.-’4

Sub-Saharan leaders were aware of cooperation in various fields, including security, which Israel has with Egypt and Jordan and of growing, although not publicised ties with other Sunni Arab countries. Moreover, the 2011 fall of al-Qaddafi removed a strong anti-Israel actor, while the civil war in Libya impacted negatively on stability of Mali and Chad, mobilising their neighbours to seek precautions. Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda already struggled with Islamist extremists, an issue Rwanda was afraid of as well. Kenya and Uganda have cooperated with Israel on tackling extremism since years, as confirmed during 2009 and 2014 trips by the Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and visits by African leaders in Israel. In 2013, Mali’s president confronted Arab members of the OAU (citing feeling of betrayal) for their refusal to condemn Islamist terror groups which destabilised his country. Domestic affairs sometimes intertwined with Islamic factor: relations with Nigeria warmed when a Christian president. Goodluck Jonathan, was in power; after 2015 elections, with a Muslim president, Muhammadu Buhari, elected, relations took a negative turn. Relations with Tanzania improved after the 2015 presidential election was won by a Christian to replace a Muslim predecessor.-’5

As for Arab aid, due to its nature and large investments by China, it presumably loses importance. Regarding SSA relations with Iran, there are certain benefits that the African leaders are willing to draw, yet they are cautious due to their internal and external policy concerns. Eastern Africa countries allied with Saudi Arabia—Comoros. Djibouti, Sudan and Somalia—cut relations with Iran in 2016 while relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia warmed. Sudan and Somalia (confidentially) entered into relations with Israel.

Before the 2016 African tour of Prime Minister Netanyahu, many sub-Saharan leaders actually expressed dissatisfaction with lack of high-level visits and overall low responsiveness to their signals of readiness to intensify ties with Israel—a series of visits since 2009 was apparently not sufficient. The 2016 Netanyahu’s trip to East Africa showed a trend towards active pursuit of relations in issues related to development and security. An unprecedented joint meeting with leaders of Uganda, Kenya. Rwanda. Ethiopia, Zambia,

South Sudan and Tanzania took place. Rwandan President attended in spite of commemorations related to the 1994 genocide being held on that same day. According to Keinon, “That meeting sent a message that those who attended were no longer afraid of bringing ties with Israel into the sunlight, no longer afraid of the reaction of Arab states, the North African states or South Africa”. Keinon quotes an Israeli diplomat as saying that the African priorities in the meetings were “how to grow more crops, how to more efficiently use more water, and how to use Israeli technology to fight terrorism” rather than the Palestinian issue, addressed by East Africans in a way which is in line with the Israeli stance—that there should be negotiations.36

The list of countries whose highest officials have visited Israel on the newest wave is long and includes Uganda—2003, 2011, Kenya—2011, 2016, Liberia—2007, 2016, Togo—2016, Rwanda—2008, 2013, 2016 and Ghana— 2016. In the first half of 2017, Israel was visited by heads of state of CAR, Sierra Leone and Zambia. A total of 15 SSA states maintain embassies in Israel (including South Africa; all in Tel Aviv). The number rose from 11 in 3 years (2013-16), during which Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia opened outposts. This is a significant sign of interest in developing relations. In the case of South Sudan, enthusiasm was demonstrated by the country’s politicians and media; the perspective of establishment of relations with Israel was framed in terms of independence from Arab political dictate and pursuit of religious freedom, there was even some talk of opening an embassy in Jerusalem. Israel was perceived as a source of solutions in security, economy, technology, education and agriculture.37

In the recent years, there are also cases of African politicians joining events organised by an Evangelical organisation the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. It views Israel as a Holy Land to Christians, the younger brothers of Jews and runs annual pilgrimages. It speaks for intensification of ties between Israel and West Africa, which it sees as tired of Arab domination and export of jihad. The organisation’s webpage reacts to events such as adoption of the UNESCO resolution seen as denying Jewish and Christian heritage of Jerusalem.

Case studies


Haile Sellasie found refuge in Jerusalem, fleeing from Mussolini, in 1936— at the time of Arab revolt against the Jews. During the Second World War, Orde Wingate’s brigade including Jewish soldiers fought in Ethiopia against Italians. At Israeli rebirth. Ethiopia was one of the two independent SSA countries. Ethiopian attitude towards Israel was a mixture of trust resulting from unique religious (Ethiopia is largely Christian) and cultural bonds traced back to the times of the King Solomon and Queen of Sheba, and fear of an Arab attack or retaliation for ties with Israel. Ethiopia abstained from the 1947 vote and had been cautious with pro-Israeli standing until 1950, when it achieved international confirmation of its federation with Eritrea (during the key vote on 1950 UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution 390, Israel backed Ethiopian interests). Diplomatic missions were established only in 1957. Relations warmed up later, including cooperation against Eritrean secessionists. Before the 1963 pan-African conference, Egyptians demanded expulsion of all Israelis from Addis Ababa for the time of the summit and ban on Israeli press and diplomats from entering the meeting. Ethiopia rejected these requests, yet Egyptian president attended nevertheless. Until 1967, development had been the main field of cooperation, encompassing possibly all fields and operational mechanisms, including cooperation between universities, support for tourism sectors and infrastructure contracts. Israeli experts were appreciated and trusted. During the 1967 war, Ethiopia was a member of the UNSC, where it struggled to maintain position which would not isolate it neither from Arabs nor from Israelis, although some of its delegates’ speeches were rather pro-Arab. In UNGA, it projected an image of a neutral state.38

After the Six-Day War, Ethiopian interest in military cooperation with Israel rose; yet, to the displeasure of Israelis, Ethiopians, in a constant fear of Arabs, wanted to keep the works on alliance secret. Another important issue was Ethiopian competition with Egyptian Copts regarding access to the Deir al-Sultan monastery in Jerusalem; Israeli intervention secured Ethiopian interests. At the beginning of the 1970s, Ethiopia started to be critical towards Israel on international forums (explained to Israelis as a “cover up”) in a quest to dissuade the Arabs from supporting Eritreans; Algerian president reportedly promised Ethiopia to talk to other Arab leaders on toning down this support, but requested break with Israel first. Ethiopia’s position in the OAU was challenged by Libya, which threatened to move the seat of OAU from Ethiopia and to launch jihad against it. Another vital issue was Somalia’s territorial claim to Ethiopian Ogaden, backed by Algeria, Libya, Tunisia and radical African states. Israeli support didn’t help Ethiopia to get sufficient American backing to fend off such threats.39

A note by the Ethiopian ambassador announcing break of relations (during the 1973 war) backed Israeli just effort wishing it victory, yet referred to Ethiopian interests under stress from radical Arab states; it expressed hope for a quick restoration of relations. Simultaneously, the official note cited Israeli failure to withdraw from the occupied territories and conditioned restoration on eventual withdrawal. The news of a break-up shocked Ethiopians, reportedly undermining backing for the Emperor. Subsequent Mengistu Haile Mariam dictatorship broke with the tradition of informing Ethiopian policy by its Christian identity. Unofficial relations were however established, triggered by Israeli efforts to save Ethiopian Jews, persecuted by the new regime, from war and hunger. Ethiopian authorities allowed for their rescue in exchange for humanitarian and military assistance sustaining the regime while Israel was still willing, in its quest for safeguarding access to the Red Sea, to aid Ethiopia against pro-Arab Eritrean rebels. Mariam reportedly regretted lack of relations and perceived actions by Arabs as designed to destroy Ethiopia. Ethiopia abstained from the "Zionism is racism” resolution. Since 1977 Djibouti’s independence, Ethiopia’s had been the only ports available to Israeli shipping in the area.40

The 1989 renewal of relations seems to have followed largely from the Ethiopian search for Western allies during the fall of the communist bloc (the Israeli side was reportedly reluctant, unwilling to deal with Mengistu). Following Mariam’s fall (1991), Israeli aid was extended and positive relations slowly built, up to the level of intensive and warm cooperation. In 2018, Ethiopia was the first sub-Saharan country to be visited by President Reuven Rivlin; the visit highlighted the dynamics of Israeli growing engagement, including new patterns of cooperation between political echelons, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and Jewish communities in Diaspora. In spite of good bilateral relations, due to its geopolitical fragility, Ethiopia at large did not change its voting behaviours, waiting for progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front.41


Rwanda, unimportant to Israel in the past, is currently among the closest friends of Israel and encourages others to follow suit. A special relationship from the Israeli side is based on joint experience of being a victim of genocide: Israeli leaders remind of the dangers of denial of genocides, of the media incitement that proceeded the Rwandan massacre and of uselessness of the UN troops stationed in the country when it started. Rwanda views Israel as country which, alongside commemorating horrors of the past, developed a modern economy. Rwandan Foreign Minister visited Israel during the 2014 war with Hamas to demonstrate solidarity—and in line with Rwanda’s own standing on the right of self-defence in the face of indiscriminate mortar attacks by the DRC-based Hutu rebels (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda). Rwanda held a seat in the UNSC at the time and usually abstained on Israel-related matters. President Paul Kagame sees Israel as a model for Rwanda’s development as a “start-up nation” of Africa; Israelis play significant role in the Rwandan boom for start-ups and pro-development innovations and advice Rwanda in the context of its aspirations to join the OECD.42

In March 2017, Kagame became the first African Head of State to address the annual conference of AIPAC—the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the biggest pro-Israeli organisations in the US. During his speech, he referred to friendship to Israel and the joint experience of genocide—and underlined that no place is truly safe for anyone until genocidal ideologies exist. He called for renewed solidarity against those who deny genocide or trivialise its victims. He underlined Israel’s right to exist and to be a full member of international community, and that this right does not infringe on the rights of any other people. He explained Rwanda’s abstention in the 2014 vote on the UNSC draft resolution, imposing 12-month deadline for establishment of Palestinian state, by saying that it was prejudicial in setting up the solutions without letting the parties talk; contrary to Rwanda’s experience that things cannot be imposed from above. Kagame uttered words of appreciation for Israeli achievements gained, despite hostile environment, thanks to continuous investment in people. He said that Israeli experiences on agriculture, energy, telecommunications could be shared while African businessmen could engage in cooperation projects.43

Cooperation is concrete and realistic: for example, Rwandan communiqué after a 2012 visit by Israeli Ministry of Agriculture, with little diplomatic talk, focused on cooperation agreement to be signed for further aid particularly in irrigation, postharvest, horticulture, animal diseases and feeds, agriculture research and the expected launch of the Center of Excellence.44

The relations were put to test in 2018 during the crises related to African asylum-seekers in Israel. Rwanda was referred to by the Israeli authorities as one of the countries which agreed to accept in persons deported from Israel, but it denied readiness to accept anyone travelling involuntarily. Despite relatively low number of people in question, the issue burdened relations exactly when Rwanda chaired the African Union (AU), limiting probability that Kagame would push for changes in the AU’s stance towards Israel during his chairmanship.


Senegal is often described as a bridge between Black Africa and the Muslim world (Sufism, not immune to, but struggling against extremism, being the dominant strand), moderate, stable and democratic. Its first president, Leopold Senghor, was a Catholic. He attached great importance to the politics of colour, excluding “White” Arabs from the Black African community and opposed Arabisation and islamisation, while highlighting Judaeo-Christian roots of Senegalese culture. Senegal was and is secular, though there are thousands of Quranic schools financed by Arab states. Despite close bilateral relations, on multilateral forums, Senegal was from the beginning critical of Israel; while at first this was explained as a matter of policy vis-a-vis Arabs, after the 1967 war it became very outspoken. Oded elucidates this by internal and external Islamic pressures, French positions, along with multilateral policies of OAU and the UN. After severance of ties, Senegal carried out quite radical policies and was among the last ones to renew relations. Second president of Senegal. Abdou Diouf, ruling at the time, was a Muslim, but upheld secularism, tried to contain radical Islam, had a dose of restraint towards Muslim and Arab worlds and a Catholic wife. Straight after renewal, ministerial visits and agricultural MASHAV projects were launched. Senegalese stance on the multilateral level did not change, however. Since 2000, the third president, Abdoulaye Wade, tried to modernise Senegalese society, including through promotion of women’s rights. This was met with resistance of religious leaders. Senegalese protested during the 2008 Israeli operation in Gaza. According to Oded, these internal dynamics were behind strictly pro-Palestinian stances Senegal took in international affairs (though still in 2001, Wade proposed to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians). Moreover, Senegal received large—larger than other states—aid from Muslim countries, including Iran. Nevertheless, it welcomed growth of Israeli incoming tourism.45

The contemporary relation with Israel is often described as a model one, in a large part due to the successful drip irrigation programme for smallholder farmers (TIPA). Shared fears of radical Islam made inter-religious dialogue a particular feature of cooperation between Israel and Senegal, with Senegalese imams visiting Israel. However, in December 2016, Senegal (at the time seating on the UNSC and chairing the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People) took upon itself (notably, after Egypt withdrawn) the role of co-sponsor of the UNSC 2334 resolution declaring Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories illegal. This triggered a decisive reaction from Israel. Israeli ambassador to Senegal was called off, planned visit by the Senegalese Foreign Minister in Israel cancelled, as were all Israeli development programmes in the country (similar decision was made with regard to Angola, which backed the resolution—here however the extent of development aid was much less significant). The behaviour of Senegal was in line with its long-held positions and active engagement in the Palestinian issues, although promoting the resolution displayed a new level of activism. Senegal probably did not expect such a definite Israeli response. Another explanation is the power dynamics within the AU. Senegalese and Egyptian memberships of the UNSC were proposed by the AU and thus they were considered its representatives. When Egypt dropped, Senegal might have felt obliged to take over. While Senegal might have been under external pressure (the Arab League and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation could have played a role) to propose the resolution, subsequent prolonged freezing of relations was also interpreted as damaging and actually serving anti-Israeli powers.46 Ties were restored after a meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Senegalese President on the sidelines of the June 2017 ECOWAS summit.

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