Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to visit Rwanda tomorrow as part of his tour of four East African countries; Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia.
Netanyahu’s visit started at Entebbe Airport, Uganda, that coincided with the 40th anniversary of his government’s raid on the same airport in 1976 to rescue hostages taken by Palestinian terrorists who had been allowed by then Ugandan President Idi Amin to land in Entebbe.
On this first leg of his historic visit to Africa, Netanyahu was to attend a summit with regional leaders in Uganda.
He is expected in Kenya today before he arrives in Kigali tomorrow and winds up his tour in Ethiopia on Thursday.
Rwanda, Israel ties
In June 2014, Rwanda signed a partnership agreement with Israel that established a forum for consultations between the two States, and boosts Rwanda’s foreign direct investments from Israeli businesses. The bilateral deal was signed in Kigali by Israeli Minister for Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman and his Rwandan counterpart Louise Mushikiwabo.
The two ministers, at the time, signed a Declaration of Intent, which aims at forging closer relations, and a memorandum of understanding on consultations between the countries.
After the signing, Lieberman, who was leading a delegation of more than 60 people for a two-day visit, met with President Paul Kagame and discussed areas of mutual interest and cooperation between Israel and Rwanda.
Majority of Lieberman’s entourage were business people seeking investment opportunities and joint ventures with Rwandans.
At the time, after meeting with President Kagame, Lieberman said: “Now we are speaking of upgrading our economic relations and we hope that Israeli investors will come to Rwanda and develop the economic ties. We are speaking about high tech ICT industry and agriculture and we hope to see Rwanda opening its embassy in Tel Aviv soon.”
Indeed, in March 2015, Cabinet named Col Joseph Rutabana as Rwanda’s Ambassador to Israel.
‘Raising profile in Africa’
Netanyahu is the first sitting Israeli prime minister to travel to Africa since Yitzhak Rabin visited Casablanca in 1994.
Israel’s cabinet approved a proposal on June 25 to open offices of Israel’s Agency for International Development in the four countries he is scheduled to visit.
Netanyahu was reported to have told the cabinet that his visit “is part of a major effort on our part to return to Africa in a big way”.
“This is important for Israeli companies and for the state of Israel. It is also important for the countries of Africa,” he said.
The trip comes at a time when Israel is launching a $13-million aid package to strengthen economic ties and cooperation with African countries, according to the premier’s office.
Israel would also provide African states with training in “domestic security” and health, it said.
“Israel’s comparative advantage in these fields has created great interest in African countries seeking training from Israel. The African continent constitutes vast potential for Israel in very many areas,” it said.
Great personal consequence
Israel’s dealings with Africa currently constitute only two per cent of its foreign trade, leaving plenty of room for growth.
Demand is rising for Israel’s defence expertise and products.
But it also sees African countries as potential allies, particularly at the United Nations and other international bodies, where it is regularly condemned over its occupation of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Some African countries are keen to obtain Israeli agricultural and water technology, which the country has been promoting, say officials.
Netanyahu’s trip follows years of efforts to improve ties.