Netanyahu arrives in Kenya to meet 11 African leaders

Continuing his diplomatic push into the continent, PM says he may announce a new Israeli embassy by the end of the day

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plane landed in Kenya late Tuesday morning for an official visit that is set to include meetings with 11 African leaders.

The purpose of the one-day trip to Nairobi, Netanyahu said before boarding the plane, “is to deepen [Israel’s] ties with Africa, including by establishing connections with nations with which we do not have diplomatic relations.”

He reiterated the government’s new focus on developing ties in Africa. “Four [Israeli] diplomatic offices have been opened in Africa in the past two years, and I hope that by the end of today I will be able to announce the opening of yet another Israeli embassy in an African nation. And this is just the beginning.”

Officially, he is traveling in honor of the inauguration of Kenya’s reelected President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday.

Speaking at a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset on Monday, the prime minister boasted of the strong ties he has forged with the African nations, and reminded lawmakers that it was his third trip to the continent in the past year and a half.

He will depart Kenya on Tuesday night.

While there, Netanyahu will attend an official lunch, where he will be joined by the leaders of Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Rwanda, Togo, Botswana, Namibia and Ethiopia, the vice president of Nigeria and other senior officials. The prime minister is to give an address during the meal.

Afterwards, Netanyahu is to hold bilateral meetings with several of the heads of state.

Netanyahu held a similar round robin of talks with African leaders when he attended a summit in Liberia earlier this year.

In early July 2016, Netanyahu became the first Israeli premier in decades to travel to the continent, when he visited four East African nations: Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia.

Despite allegations of vote rigging in the election that returned Kenyatta to power, Netanyahu congratulated the Kenyan leader in a November 2 letter on his “landslide victory.”

Kenyatta was sworn into office for a second term in front of tens of thousands who gathered Tuesday in the country’s largest stadium.

Kenyatta was sworn in using a Bible that had been used to swear in his father, founding President Jomo Kenyatta, at independence in 1963. The ceremony was held as police fired guns and tear gas in other parts of the capital, Nairobi, as officers attempted to stop the opposition from holding peaceful demonstrations in memory of dozens killed by police and militia during weeks of election protests.

Elsewhere in Nairobi, police patrolled the Jacaranda grounds where the leading opposition group, the National Super Alliance, had urged supporters to gather to remember those killed in post-election protests since August.

A source familiar with Netanyahu’s travel plans said there were some concerns over his safety in a massive crowd. Hebrew media reports said the Shin Bet security service has therefore not green-lighted an appearance by Netanyahu at Nairobi’s Kasarani Stadium out of concern for his safety.

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inspects an honor guard in Nairobi, Kenya, on July 5, 2016. (Kobi Gideon / GPO).

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

Netanyahu said the visit, along with planned trips to Belgium, France and India, were proof of an “unprecedented diplomatic boom” for Israel.

“There has never before been anything like this, in political, security, economic or social terms. Israel is now in the best situation it has been in since its founding,” he said at Monday’s faction meeting.

Netanyahu, who also serves as foreign minister, is slated to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on December 10.

A day later, he will travel to Brussels to take part in a summit of the foreign ministers of all 28 member countries of the EU, after receiving an invitation from the Lithuanian foreign minister.

This will be the first time in 22 years that an Israeli leader has attended any European Union meeting.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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