Israel opened its first embassy in Rwanda on Friday, offering support to the East Africa nation from health to education and agriculture, as well as communication technology including cybersecurity.
“This country shares a lot of similarities with state of Israel and offers a lot of ground for mutual cooperation,” new Israeli ambassador Ron Adam said after a meeting with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame.
Adam, a career diplomat who has served previously at the United Nations in Geneva and New York, presented his credentials to the Rwandan president on Thursday.
The two countries, both with histories largely defined by genocide, already have close ties, including being embroiled in a controversial 2018 deal that sought to deport African refugees and asylum seekers from Israel.
Israel said it could possibly send refugees to Rwanda, a proposal widely condemned by rights groups. Kigali always strongly denied any such deal.
Rwanda, a largely Christian nation, has said it is keen to encourage tourists to the country, especially to see its famous mountain gorillas.
Rwandair, the national airline, has said it will begin direct flights to Israel in 2019.
Israel already has strong ties across East Africa, especially in Uganda and Kenya, but is expanding its diplomatic presence on the continent.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made expanding ties in Africa one of his key foreign policy objectives.
“I’ve been in Africa four times in the last two years, that’s gotta tell you something,” Netanyahu told American-Jewish leaders on Monday.
“There is a tremendous change… in Israel’s acceptance around the world, by just about every country,” he said.
Last month, Netanyahu travelled to N’Djamena to restore diplomatic relations with Chad, a Muslim-majority in Africa. During the trip, Foreign Ministry deputy director-general for Africa Yoram Elron told Army Radio in an interview that Israel “hopes Mali will be the next country with which we renew ties.”
During Netanyahu’s presentation to the American Jewish leaders, Netanyahu presented a map that showed Israel has “potential” diplomatic relations with Mali and Niger — two Muslim countries in Africa.
Israeli officials have long acknowledged their goal to restore formal ties with Mali, though never publicly referred to the status quo of relations in this way.
On the map, Somalia and Djibouti, two Muslim-majority states in East Africa, were colored in light blue, implying they have full diplomatic relations with Israel, which they do not.
But a senior official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that coloring Somalia and Djibouti light-blue was obviously a mistake by whoever prepared the map.