Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s five-country African tour “is one of the most extensive trips by an Israeli foreign minister to Africa in recent years.” He has used the occasion to call for a greater role for Africa in the Arab-Israeli peace process:
Lieberman on Wednesday [September 2nd] said Africa should help moderate Arab positions to solve the Middle East crisis[…]
“Africa’s ties with Arab and Muslim countries, whether within the framework of the Arab League, the Islamic Conference or the African Union, place the countries of Africa in a position to contribute positive influence.
“We look to Africa to help promote moderation and reconciliation in the Middle East.”
Many African countries, often cajoled by Libya whose leader Moamer Kadhafi currently holds the African Union chairmanship, have traditionally backed Palestinians in their conflict with Israel.
Kadhafi accused Israel Monday of being “behind all of Africa’s conflicts” during a special AU summit in Tripoli.
“Indeed, within the African Union itself it is very important that the decisions and activities of African states reflect a positive and constructive approach, one that rejects one-sided decisions against Israel,” Lieberman said.
Yesterday in Nigeria, Lieberman received a message in return:
Nigeria’s foreign minister said on Tuesday Israel must do more to achieve peace in the Middle East if it wants improved diplomatic and business ties with Africa’s most populous country.
Ojo Maduekwe and his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman, on a two-day visit to Nigeria’s capital Abuja, signed an economic agreement for both countries to work more closely on trade, agriculture and infrastructure development.
“We urge you to do a lot more for peace then you have done now,” Maduekwe said after a signing ceremony.
“If there is peace, we will sign more. If there is no peace, it will be difficult to sign more agreements.”
Maduekwe said Nigeria was “frustrated” with the violence in the Middle East and suggested Israel turn to African countries for help in resolving the crisis.
“Every solution has been tried except the African solution … perhaps we can provide more traction in that process,” Maduekwe said.
Reuters goes on to say that Israel may sign an agreement with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) while Lieberman is in Nigeria. It seems then that Lieberman’s trip will boost Israel’s economic position in Africa, but Maduekwe’s statement suggests it will be harder for Israel to improve its political position on the continent.
I’m actually working on a conference paper about how the Arab-Israeli conflict played out in Northern Nigeria in the period just before and after independence, so I’m following these developments with interest. To give a rough historical outline of the relationships, from the late 1950s through 1967, Israel’s diplomatic position in Africa was strong, and despite African leaders’ objections to the Six Days’ War it was not until 1973 that a majority of African nations severed ties with Israel. Israel rebuilt some relationships on the continent in the 1980s and afterwards, and restored ties with Nigeria and many other countries by the early 1990s. So Israel is not cut off from Africa. This effort by Lieberman, however, does appear to herald a renewed effort at engagement. I wonder where it will lead.