The West African nation of Togo is taking the lead in organizing an Israeli-African “security and development” summit, which it offered to host in its capital next year, The Jerusalem Post reported on Friday.
News of the summit first emerged after Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin following his arrival in Jerusalem last week. Netanyahu is expected to attend the proposed forum in Togo, as well as a meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Nigeria later this year.
A diplomatic source who spoke to the Post explained that Togo views itself as a good friend of Israel and “wants to become a hub of friendship between west Africa and Israel.” By arranging the summit, Togo will gain “credibility and influence in helping Israel come back to the entire region, not only on the political side, but on the business side as well,” the source added.
When asked if Togo feared retribution from North African or Arab states for seeking closer ties with Israel, the source noted that “Togo is a small country and is not getting billions of dollars from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Muslim population in the country is small and not active, so the political risk is low.”
Concerns over the threat of Islamic terrorism have motivated a number of African countries to seek stronger ties with Israel. While Togo has not yet experienced an attack within its borders, the nearby nations of Nigeria and Mali have been targeted by terrorists on multiple occasions.
“The people of Togo admire what Israel has achieved, an admiration shared by many nations in Africa and around the world,” Gnassingbe said in his meeting with Rivlin. “This is not my first visit to Israel, yet on this trip I have visited a wide range of places across the country. I am moved and inspired anew by your infrastructure, and by the growth that I have seen, and I know that this is not to be taken for granted.”
In his own meeting with Ghassinbe, Netanyahu thanked his guest for Togo’s support of Israel, saying: “I want to express our deep gratitude for Togo’s position in the international forums. You have been there consistently friendly to us and you stood up not only for Israel, you stood up for the truth time and time again. We remember our friends and we appreciate them. And in this spirit we receive you, our great friend, in Jerusalem.”
Ghassinbe’s visit comes shortly after a delegation of Christian leaders from across Africa visited Jerusalem last month to give an award to Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency. “We believe that Africa’s future depends on our connection to Israel. … We have a great deal to learn from the Israeli people and we believe that we have a great deal to offer in return,” said Nigerian pastor Olusegun Olanipekun. South African pastor Linda Godobo, the founder of the Vuka Africa Foundation, told Sharansky that she and her foundation had organized “the largest rally in the world to support Israel during the summer conflict with Hamas in 2014,” when 12,000 people demonstrated in Johannesburg in support of Israel.
Netanyahu, who has made it a priority to strengthen Israel’s commercial, diplomatic, and security relations with African countries, visited Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and Ethiopia in July. Weeks later, the Muslim-majority Republic of Guinea restored diplomatic ties with Israel after a 49-year break. Israel has a long history of sharing its expertise on the continent, and Jerusalem hopes that increased ties with African nations will lead to a shift in their voting trends at the UN and other global fora, thus improving Israel’s diplomatic standing and reversing what Netanyahu called “the automatic majority against Israel.”
In a bid to counter Israeli diplomatic successes in Africa, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last month met with and embraced Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The two “discussed developing a strategy for the African continent and coordinating to restrain Israeli attempts to make a breakthrough in Africa,” the PA’s foreign minister told reporters in Khartoum.
[Photo: Marc Israel Sellem / POOL ]