Israel’s positive influence on the continent of Africa

Israeli expert at MASHAV-Ethiopia-Germany irrigation project in Ethiopia (Photo: MASHAV)

Avocado consumption is soaring worldwide and Ethiopia has become one of the top 20 producers of this fruit in the world. For that, the African nation can thank Israel.

Israel’s International Development Agency MASHAV plays a pivotal role in the relationship between the two countries. This agricultural collaboration between Ethiopian and Israeli farmers is part of a wider program of involvement between Israel and Africa.

In cooperation with the U.S. Agency for International Development, MASHAV has helped Ethiopia achieve a thriving cadre avocado nurseries. These trees are not indigenous to Ethiopia, but with Israeli intervention in agriculture they are flourishing. About 200,000 seedlings a year have been produced by the Israeli nurseries in Ethiopia, providing jobs and training, and supplying the local economy with avocados and avocado products as well as producing enough for export.

Ethiopia is one of the poorer countries in the world but with Israel’s resident experts, apart from avocados, Ethiopians are now learning other advanced agricultural techniques such as grafting, drip irrigation and other related skills giving them an advantage over comparatively more wealthy countries.

Whereas multiple billions of dollars in international aid have been pumped into Africa from around the world for decades, the funds have been ineffective in solving practical solutions with little to show for all those donations.

This is what makes Israel’s MASHAV unique. It is not a financing agency, but rather works to facilitate and promote effective, practical application on the ground ensuring the continuation of the MASHAV-generated projects even after the Israeli workers have left.

The avocado project is just one of many that follows a principle of helping by sharing experience. This concept is certainly not new to Israel. Founded in 1957 under Golda Meir, who was Israel’s foreign minister at the time, MASHAV has a long history of successes by offering training and providing expertise to other countries.

Meir wrote in her memoir My Life that it wasn’t just a question of “making the desert bloom,” but also Israel’s strategic position as a tiny country surrounded by enemy states. She paralleled Israel’s story with many nations on the African continent who too were gaining their independence. She felt it was important to share with them all Israel had learned in establishing a country out of what was mostly desert.

She wrote that politics made it difficult. The nations that needed the most help were the very ones that were hostile to Israel and fought against Israel’s independence. As many of them gained their own independence, they also joined the Arab League which is hostile towards Israel.

Israel’s first embassy in Africa was in Ghana. By the early 1960s Israel had experts offering aid and technical knowledge in many fields: military training, regional planning, agriculture, medicine, community services and legal work among others. MASHAV, representing Israel’s Foreign Ministry, had one of the most extensive technical assistance programs in the western world including serving 33 African countries.

The Yom Kippur War of 1973 saw many of these ties severed, but some were renewed in following decades and to date there are now 40 African countries with diplomatic relationships with Israel. Of the nine Israeli embassies in Africa, coverage is provided for multiple countries. The predominantly Muslim countries in Africa neither maintain nor desire to have any cooperation with Israel. On the contrary, where Hezbollah, Iran, Al Qaeda, Al-Shabbab and Boko Haram are active, terrorist activity toward Israeli embassies, projects and civilians of all nationalities is well documented.

Nevertheless, this does not stop from giving where it can. Predominantly in Ethiopia and Kenya, Israeli-African relations radiate from there to other parts of Africa. In addition to these two countries, MASHAV lists projects in Ghana, Rwanda, South Sudan, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, and Togo.

In Swaziland, MASHAV is consulting on irrigation, and in Togo, Israeli doctors are doing cataract operations while training local doctors. In Kenya, MASHAV has several water quality and pollution projects as well as Education. Israel partners with other foreign aid organizations and the local governments wherever possible.

In Dodoma, Tanzania, Israel is working on a trauma center that deals with emergency and disaster situations. It also offers training related to attacks and natural disasters, which is Israel’s field of expertise.

Israeli Ambassador to Senegal Paul Hirschson is also Israel’s representative in Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde. He is kept abreast of many vital Israeli projects in these countries. Sierra Leone for example has an Israeli donated dialysis center and all the doctors and nurses were trained in Israel.

In Toube-Toul, a Senegalese village east of Dakar, fields of green onions are flourishing in the desert thanks to Israeli irrigation expertise in partnership with an Italian aid agency and the Senegalese agriculture ministry. Israel currently provides support for 4,000 more farms such as these in Senegal. Over 1,600 Senegalese farmers have been trained in drip irrigation methods. In a 10-day course Israeli professionals train 25-30 people in English, who then go on to train others in the local Wolof language.

Senegal is one of the few Muslim-majority countries fostering a working relationship with Israel. The Israeli embassy even provides sheep for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. There are good relationships with local Sufi religious leaders and brotherhoods that rule in Senegal and Senegalese imams have visited Israel.

Ironically, Senegal allies with the Islamic world and the Palestinian cause. It chairs the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. The nation has a seat on the Security Council and votes alongside Arab states in support of the Palestinians. The most recent example is the contentious UN Security Council Resolution 2334 which led to Israel withdrawing Ambassador Hirschson to Jerusalem for discussions.

Apart from this the general picture in West Africa is positive for Israel. In July 2016, Israel renewed ties with Guinea after 49 years. Israel via MASHAV has trained almost 70,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa. Over 1,000 trainees have come from Africa to Israel to study in 2016. There are ongoing visits from African delegations on study tours and other partnerships and collaborations.

MASHAV’s role showcases Israel’s strengths and expertise in these specific fields. It enhances strategic and economic ties and proves that, whether it be avocados or water purification, Israel gives and does good while forming new alliances throughout the second largest continent in the world.

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Dee Catz
Israeli-born Dee Catz is a Jewish believer in Yeshua, happily married with children. She has an interest in cooking and baking and all things Biblical. History, Geography, and Archaeology are some of her favorite hobbies, as well as touring Israel's national parks and landmark sites with her family and friends. She has been contributing to Kehila News Israel since December 2015.