In bid to boost Africa ties, Israel to open embassy in Rwanda

In bid to boost Africa ties, Israel to open embassy in Rwanda

In Kenya for meetings with a dozen African heads of state, Netanyahu also considers establishing direct air link between Tel Aviv and Kigali

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

PM Netanyahu, left, with Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Nairobi, Kenya, November 28, 2017 (Haim Tzach/GPO)
PM Netanyahu, left, with Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Nairobi, Kenya, November 28, 2017 (Haim Tzach/GPO)

Israel is opening a new embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, and is weighing direct commercial flights to the East African country, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Tuesday.

“This is part of the expansion of Israel’s presence in Africa and of the deepening cooperation between Israel and African countries,” Netanyahu said after a meeting with Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Nairobi.

Currently, the Israeli ambassador to Ethiopia deals with Rwanda-related affairs.

Israel recently agreed to pay the Rwandan government $5,000 for every African migrant in Israel it is willing to accept, as the Jewish state steps up efforts to deport the largely Sudanese and Eritrean population residing in the country illegally.

Netanyahu arrived in Kenya for a whirlwind visit to celebrate the inauguration of President Uhuru Kenyatta and for a marathon session of bilateral meetings with African leaders.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in Nairobi, Kenya, on November 28, 2017. (Haim Zach / GPO)

Netanyahu was seated next to Kenyatta — who won a contested election critics say was rigged — and Kagame at a luncheon in Nairobi’s Presidential Palace. The event, at which Netanyahu delivered brief remarks, followed Kenyatta’s inauguration in the city’s Kasarani Stadium.

Due to security concerns, Netanyahu did not attend the inauguration, which was marred by protests and violence.

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga said police have shot dead three people during protests against Kenyatta’s inauguration.

The Kenyan won a controversial election last month, which some observers say was rigged.

This year, Kenya has held two presidential elections, both of which were marred by violence, with scores of political activists being killed by police.

The election’s first round, on August 8, was overturned by the Supreme Court, after opposition leaders complained the results had been hacked.

Kenyatta won the October 26 rerun election, which some observers say was rigged again. The country’s opposition boycotted the rerun election, leading the incumbent to garner 98.25 percent of votes cast. Voter participation was at 38%.

At the sidelines of the luncheon in Nairobi, Netanyahu also met the presidents of Gabon, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, South Sudan, Botswana and Namibia, and the prime minister of Ethiopia.

Netanyahu may also have conducted secret meetings with African nations with which Israel does not have diplomatic ties.

“Our intention is to deepen ties with Africa also by forging links with countries that we do not have diplomatic relations with,” he said earlier on Tuesday, before boarding the plane to Nairobi.

In the last two years, four African countries have opened diplomatic missions in Israel, and he was inviting others to follow suit, Netanyahu added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks down the red carpet after landing in Rwanda on July 6, 2016. (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel staff)

In July 2016, Netanyahu became the first sitting Israeli prime minister to visit Rwanda. Although he only spent a few hours in Kigali, Kagame welcomed him at the airport along with an honor guard of over 100 soldiers.

“I am deeply impressed with Rwanda,” Netanyahu said at a joint press conference. “It’s a vibrant country. It’s a resolute country. And you’ve accomplished amazing things. And these achievements are even more impressive given the horrors that you had to overcome,” he said, referring to the Rwandan genocide.

A year later, Netanyahu hosted Kagame in Jerusalem.

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame (center) shakes hands with President Reuven Rivlin (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on July 10, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX)

“To be here it’s like coming home,” the Rwandan president said. “We are happy to be received by excellent friends with whom we have links of years and do many things together that have meaning to peoples on both sides.”

In recent years, Rwanda has been a staunch ally of Israel, notably abstaining in 2014 vote on a resolution advancing the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations Security Council.

AP contributed to this report.

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