Israel's ties with the Sub-Saharan African countries
date from the mid-1950s though first contacts with some of these countries had taken
place even before Israel achieved independence in 1958.
In 1956, diplomatic relations
were established with Ghana, followed by most countries south of the
Sahara; by the early 1970s, Israel maintained full diplomatic relations
with thirty-three countries in the region. These ties were an expression of
African affinity with Israel, itself a young state that had achieved
independence in 1948 and was eager to share its experience and expertise
with the newly independent African states. Mutually beneficial economic
ties were also developed, including many joint ventures. In 1958, then-Foreign Minister Golda Meir sent Jewish technocrats to help newly independent African countries get on their feet.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, Israel helped establish agricultural cooperatives, youth training programs, medical infrastructure and joint industrial enterprises in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and other sub-Saharan countries. In 1962, Newsweek called the Israeli program “one of the strangest unofficial alliances in the world.”
In the aftermath of the Yom
Kippur War in 1973, followed by the global oil crisis, most of the
Sub-Saharan countries severed diplomatic ties with Israel, due to two
prime factors: promises of cheap oil and financial aid, and compliance
with the OAU (Organization of African Unity) resolution, sponsored by Egypt, calling for the severing
of relations with Israel. Only Malawi,
Lesotho and Swaziland maintained full diplomatic relations with Israel,
while a few other countries sustained contact through interest offices
in foreign embassies. Commercial ties did, however, continue to some
extent; African students participated in training courses in Israel;
and Israeli experts were active throughout the continent.
Since the 1980s, however, diplomatic relations with Sub-Saharan
countries have been gradually renewed, gaining momentum as peace negotiations
between Israel and its Arab neighbors progressed. By the late 1990s,
official ties had been reestablished with forty countries south of the
Today, Israel and the Sub-Saharan countries are engaged
in an ongoing political dialogue, expressed in reciprocal visits by
heads of state and government ministers. Furthermore, dynamic activities
exist, including economic and commercial ties, cultural and academic
contacts, a variety of joint agricultural projects, medical assistance,
professional training programs and humanitarian aid in times of need.
Israel, which was regularly invited as an observer
at OAU meetings, has followed with interest the process of political
and economic integration in Africa and the creation of the African Union.
As an expression of friendship and solidarity, Israel has reiterated
its commitment to work together with the emerging institutions and organizations
in Africa, adding another chapter to its unique relations with this
In June 2004, Israel and Ethiopia signed an agreement
for cultural, educational and scientific cooperation, as well as a convention
eliminating double taxation.
In April 2008, a trade agreement signed signalled a significant upgrading of Israeli aid to Africa. The joint declaration on trade and economic cooperation was signed in Jerusalem by government ministers from the African nations of Rwanda, Burundi, Benin and Liberia and Israel's Minister of Trade and Industry Eli Yishai, and includes an Israeli commitment to help the African countries build infrastructure and technology, while also seeking to open new export markets for Israeli industries.
In 2011, Israel formalized diplomatic relations with the newly established country of South Sudan. Additionally, it renewed it ties with Ghana after nearly four decades.
In November 2012, Israel provided the University of Ghana with a $217 million loan to construct a 600-bed teaching hospital at Legon. Ernest Aryeetey, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana, said the project would be a model of the Sheba Medical Centre in Israel.
In 2014 the world experienced a terrible outbreak of the disease Ebola, which spread from Africa and killed over 10,000 people in 8 different countries in the span of less than 2 months. In order to help combat the spread of Ebola Israel sent teams of medical professionals along with pop-up emergency clinics to the affected countries, as well as sterile inflatable tents manufactured by Israeli company SYS Technologies to assist with quarantine. These special inflatable isolation tents were installed in countries hit hardest by the outbreak such as Guinea and are extremely effective in isolating the patient and protecting their surroundings and the people around them from the disease. After being ordered the tents take 2 weeks for delivery and are custom built to the client's specifications. One of the main symptoms of Ebola is an elevated body temperature and fever, so Israel has also given African airports infrared cameras to measure body heat of people travelling in and out of the country. It was reported in late December 2014 by UNICEF that Israel made per capita the greatest contributions to fight the 2014 outbreak of Ebola. In total Israel pledged $8.75 million to fight the spread of Ebola during 2014's epidemic and additionally sent many fully trained medical staff members and fully stocked mobile medical clinics.
The Israeli Embassy in Senegal innaugurated a drip-irrigation farm project in the Senegalese city of Fatick in December 2014. This project will be run by a group of Senegalese women and was undertaken at the request of the first lady of Senegal, Marième Faye Sall. The Israeli drip-irrigation system will be hugely beneficial to fighting poverty in the drought-stricken country, as it helps farmers better regulate their water usage and saves more crops from going bad. It is estimated that 75% of Senegalese citizens are farmers in at least some capacity, so this irrigation system will have a large impact on life in Senegal when it is adopted more widely. The first phase of the project involves twenty farm plots stretching 500 square meters. Many important Senegalese figures attended the innauguration of this farm, including Senegal’s Minister of Women, Family and Children, Anta Sarr, the Mayor of Fatick, the District Governor, and the Israeli embassy staff.
Israeli firm Gigawatt Global, in coordination with Norfund and Scatec Solar, began a project to increase solar energy capacity in Rwanda during February 2014. With the help of these innovative companies the first major solar-power farm in East Africa was finished in July 2014, just a few months later. Construction of the plant provided jobs to 350 locals, and increased Rwanda's power generation capacity by a full six percent. During it's first year in operation the plant produced 15 million kilowatt hours, and brought power to over 15,000 underserved Rwandan residents. The power plant is monitored by professionals in Oslo, Norway.
In May 2014, the Africa-Israel Initiative was launched in Ghana, with the expressed goal of lobbying and advocating for Israel's strength and survival. The Initiative has since become a global player in the Israel advocacy movement. The organization's mission statement calls members to “raise the importance of the state of Israel and the Jewish people to the community.”
Innovation Africa, an Israeli organization dedicated to improving the lives of rural villagers in Africa, has provided the people they serve with access to many Israeli technologies. Solar panels have been installed in Malawan, Ugandan, Tanzanian, and South African villages by Innovation Africa, allowing residents to light their homes and school buildings, as well as refrigerate food and medicine. The solar panels also facilitate connectivity and improve disemination of information, allowing residents to charge electronics like cell phones and laptops. Israeli drip irrigation systems have been installed in villages by Innovation Africa, which has dramatically improved water management, and driven down the price of produce while providing for larger crop yields. A manual pump that makes all types of water, even sewage, drinkable without the use of electricity, has been installed in many villages to gaurantee safe water. Since it's establishment in 2008, Innovation Africa has brought electricity, clean water, food, and improved medical care to over 1 million individuals. The organization was founded by a woman, and features a mostly female leadership team.
Muslim Religious leaders from various African countries arrived in Israel on March 14, 2016, to explore cooperative possibilities with the state of Israel. The nine Imams and other leaders visited Israel courtesy of the Africa Division, the World Jewish and Interreligious Affairs Bureau of the Israel Foreign Ministry, and the American Jewish Committee. During their trip the African leaders held meetings with their Israeli counterparts as well as politicians, visited holy sites, and toured Israeli cities. Immediately upon returning from his visit to South Africa, Foreign Ministry Director General Dr. Dore Gold held meetings with the African delegation.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf travelled to Israel in June 2016 to receive an honorary Doctorate from the University of Haifa for her work promoting women's equality and other human rights issues. Sirleaf brought with her to Israel Liberia's Defense Minister, Foreign Minister, Trade Minister, and Minister of Information, Culture, and Tourism. During her visit she spoke and met with various Israeli leaders including Benjamin Netanyahu, Reuven Rivlin, and Yuval Steinitz, and also visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Ethiopia during the first week of July 2016, with hopes of fostering stronger ties with the African nations and forging alliances in the United Nations general assembly. Netanyahu met with leaders of seven African countries at a summit in Uganda to discuss cooperation in the counter-terrorism, energy, agriculture, and water technology sectors. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta told Netanyahu that he would work with other African leaders to grant Israel observer status in the 54-state African Union once again. While Netanyahu was in Africa visiting other African leaders, the Tanzanian government announced that they would be opening an embassy in Israel. Following Netanyahu's visit, it was announced that Kenya would be working with israeli counter-terrorism officials to build a 440-mile wall along it's border with Somalia, to prevent the spread of terrorism. The visit was the first ever visit of a sitting Israeli Prime Minister to Kenya, the first ever “high-level contact” between leaders of Somalia and Israel, and the first visit of an Israeli leader to sub-Saharan Africa in 30 years.
Israel Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold met with the President of Chad, Idriss Déby, on July 14, 2016, at the President's official palace in the city of Fada. Chad formally cut diplomatic ties with Israel in September 1972.
On July 20, 2016, two weeks after the Israeli Prime Minister's trip, Israel and the West African country of Guinea announced that they would be renewing diplomatic ties after 49 years. Guinea was the first African nation to sever ties with Israel following the 1967 war, but enjoyed cordial relations with Israel even in the absence of diplomatic ties during the subsequent years.