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 Sahara.
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 continent.
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 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.