Netanyahu’s African campaign stop - analysis
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is greeted by Chad's President Idriss Deby upon his arrival in N'Djamena, Chad January 20, 2019
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GOVERNMENT PRESS OFFICE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
During that meeting, Netanyahu called Chad a very important country for Israel and said that there is much the two countries can do to cooperate over a wide range of fields.
On January 19, 2019, less than three months before Israel's first round of elections in April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew through the night to N'Djamena, the capital of the central African nation of Chad.Arriving in the morning, Netanyahu was greed by about a dozen local dignitaries and a small honor guard, and whisked always – heavily guarded by Chad soldiers – through the deserted streets of the capital to the presidential palace. There he was greeted by Chad's President Idriss Deby. After a few hours of meeting in the marble-floored, chandeliered, stained-glass-windowed palace, which belied the extreme poverty of the country beyond the palace gates, Netanyahu and Deby declared the establishment of diplomatic ties.“We are making history,” Netanyahu said of the reestablishment of ties. “We are turning Israel into a rising world power. There are those who tried to prevent this, but without success” During that meeting, Netanyahu called Chad a very important country for Israel and said that there is much the two countries can do to cooperate over a wide range of fields, including security, water, health, technology and agriculture.But how much have you heard about that cooperation since then? And even if any security cooperation could conceivably be subject to censorship, cooperation in the fields of water, health, technology and agriculture should be out there in the public purview. But it's not. News of Chad-Israeli ties has been pretty much non-existent since Netanyahu's dramatic visit to the country last January.Fast forward a year, and Netanyahu is scheduled to fly to Uganda on Monday, also for a visit that will last only one day. There he will meet the mercurial Ugandan president President Yoweri Museveni. And there, too, a dramatic declaration is expected. One month before the elections, Netanyahu is not going to spend hours in flight for a brief visit that will not produce something “dramatic.”Perhaps Uganda will open some kind of diplomatic office in Jerusalem (an embassy?), or perhaps some policy will be announced having to do with African refugees in Israel.It is no coincidence that the visit is taking place now. A trip to Uganda fits in well with what was the Likud's campaign theme the last two times the country went to the polls over the last year, and which is shaping up as the campaign theme this time as well: when it comes to diplomacy and statesmanship, Netanyahu is in a league of his own.It also shifts the focus off of Netanyahu as a defendant in a criminal case soon to open in Jerusalem District Court. In Likud's narrative, the same prime minister who went to Washington last week to welcome US President Donald Trump's “Deal of the Century,” and who flew from there to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and accompany Naama Issachar home from a Russian prison, is now going to Africa to a king's welcome there. Lets see Blue and White head and diplomatic novice Benny Gantz pull that off.This will be Netanyahu's second trip to Uganda since he flew to Entebbe Airport on July 4, 2016, to participate In a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the Entebbe raid, during which his brother, Yonatan, was killed.Uganda was only the first leg of the four country trip in 2016, which also saw Netanyahu travel to Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia for the first Israeli prime minister visit to sub-Saharan Africa in 29 years. And it was during that visit that he declared famously, “Israel is coming back to Africa, and Africa is coming back to Israel.”He seemed to put teeth in that comment 11 months later, when he travelled – again, only for a day – to Liberia, for a meeting with 10 African leaders at a summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).This was to be followed up by a summit of African leaders with Netanyahu in Togo in the autumn of that year, but that was suddenly cancelled. Netanyahu did, however, travel in November 2017 to Nairobi for the swearing in ceremony for Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.But then the “pivot to Africa” sputtered, and Netanyahu's interest seemed to shift to another region that was largely ignored by Israeli leaders for years – Latin America. The following year, 2018, saw little dramatic movement in Israeli-African ties, until January 2019 – during the first election campaign – and the establishment of ties with Chad.It is not that Israel and Africa are not interested in each other. They are. Africa wants Israeli assistance and expertise across a vast array of areas, and Israel is interested in making inroads into the continent for diplomatic reasons. But the implementation has not kept pace with the rhetoric.For Israel truly to return to Africa, significant budgets are needed, but those have not been forthcoming. Since Netanyahu's visit in July 2016, Israel has opened only one other diplomatic office in Africa: an embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, bringing to 11 the number of Israeli embassies in sub-Saharan countries in which Israel has relations. Israel has relations with 39 of the 47 sub-Saharan African states, and to make inroads, you need a presence. Israel has not invested significantly in establishing that presence.And just as Israel has not delivered as much as the Africans might have expected, neither have the Africans delivered on the diplomatic benefits that Israel hoped to seeOn that first trip to East Africa in 2016, Netanyahu said one of his goals in improving ties with Africa was to chip away at the Palestinian’s automatic majority at the United Nations, a majority that rests heavily on Africa's 54 states.But so far, those results have been less than sterling.For instance, in December of 2018, when the UN General Assembly failed to pass a measure condemning Hamas because it could not muster a two-thirds majority, nearly half of the 57 votes against Israel (27) came from Africa: only seven African countries voted for Israel, 10 abstained, and another 10 did not vote.But forget about votes. Since that first visit in 2016, Netanyahu has been speaking about Israel regaining its observer status in the African Union, a status it lost in 2002. But that also never materialized.During his brief visit to Uganda on Monday, Netanyahu will surely pay lip service to ties with Africa, and his interlocutors will do the same toward ties with israel. However, nearly four years into Netanyahu's much hyped moves towards Africa, though the overall tone of Israel-African ties is positive, the words – by both sides – have not been matched by deeds.