When Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel‘s prime minister, visited Kenya in East Africa in 2016 for a ceremony honoring the 40th anniversary of the hostage rescue mission carried out by Israeli commandos at Entebbe Airport in Uganda on July 4, 1976, he exclaimed “Israel is coming back to Africa; Africa is coming back to Israel.”
Mr. Netanyahu’s visit was notable for several reasons. His brother Yonatan, who was among the commandos, was killed during the raid. The visit also marked the first time that a top Israeli politician had visited the continent in several decades.
His declaration that “Israel is coming to Africa; Africa is coming back to Israel,” was repeated several times at the “Innovate Africa: How Israel, Africa and the U.S. Are Shaping the Future” held on the evening of Jan. 24 at the Atlanta International School‘s Early Childhood Learning Center in Buckhead.
Panelists included four executives with extensive experience in Africa. They were Darren Goebel, an agronomist and director of Global Agronomy and Farm Solutions at AGCO Corp. which has its headquarters in Loganville; Eliseo Neuman, director of the Atlanta Jewish Committee‘s Africa Institute; Laurie Olivier, CEO and co-founder of LifeQ, a global digital health company and a partner with venture capital firms in Israel and South Africa and Yoav Zilber, CEO of Jets Investments, a member of a large Israeli based group focused on executing large scale turn-key projects and investments in developing countries.
Juliana Njoku, managing partner of the Suber Group, a financial consulting company based in Atlanta, served as moderator on behalf of the AJC’s Africa Institute, which since its founding in 2016 has established ties with civil societies and governments in Africa as well as with African diaspora communities in the United States.
Mr. Neuman, the New York-based director of the Institute, said that its mission is to establish “lasting friendships” on the African continent on the basis of promoting Israel’s “soft power” as well as its leading edge technologies in a wide variety of sectors.
He cited Israel’s rise as an economic force as providing an inspirational example for the development of African countries specifically citing Rwanda, Kenya and Ethiopia, but not limiting opportunities to those countries, where “there is a great appetite for Israel.”
Despite the potential for collaborations among companies, government agencies and non-governmental organizations, he frankly addressed the problems that Israel faces as a small country composed of 8,019 square miles compared to a continent of 11.73 million square miles.
Apart from the difference in their geographic scales, Israel financial resources, he said, can’t compare to those of its competitors including China, India, Russia and Turkey that are active developing projects.
“There is sort of a mismatch,” he told the attendees, but the Institute was actively developing the important relationships for doing business there by inviting African leaders to Israel. “What Israel has done is deeply inspiring to them,” he added. “and we are developing friendships at the highest levels.”
Israel’s close ties with the U.S. provides somewhat of a counterweight to the resources of its competitors. He pointed to the efforts of Stanley M Bergman, chairman of the board and CEO of Henry Schein Inc., to provide a platform for “Jewish prospecting in Africa.”
Through its operations in South Africa, U.S.-based Henry Schein Inc., a provider of health care products and services offers dentist and dental laboratories in the region for the growing number of patients seeking their services.
Additionally through its business and global social responsibility program, the company has advanced health care in Africa, most notably during the 2014 Ebola outbreaks in West Africa when Henry Schein and its supplier partners committed $1 million in protective equipment for prevention and preparedness programs.
According to Mr. Neuman, in addition to a moral case for Israel’s involvement in Africa, there also is a strategic case, which dates back to Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, who foresaw a Jewish nation in what is now Israel, encircled by enemies.
“Netanyahu recently saw the strategic value as he was flying over South Sudan,” he added, noting that Israel’s strengths in cyber security could be helpful on the continent as well as at home.
He spoke of Israel’s efforts to develop friendships at the highest levels of governments, claiming that “what Israel has done is deeply inspiring” to many African leaders who face the same challenges that Israel did in the past including those from nations where Islam is the dominant religion.
Food security as Africa’s population is expected to explode (the United Nation‘s predicts that the continent is to have 1.68 billion people by 2030). AGCO Corp., the Atlanta-based agricultural company and manufacturer of Massey Ferguson tractors and equipment, among other brands, is actively working on the continent to improve agricultural practices.
Darren Goebel, AGCO’s director of Global Agronomy and Farm Solutions, said that the future of farming in Africa had to be focused on small seale and emerging middle class farmers. “We at AGCO are bridging the gap,” he added. Through the company’s ‘Future Farm’ and ‘Farm in a Box’ initiatives the company is providing these farmers with new techniques.
Following decades of failed attempts on the continent to improve traditional farming methods, the company has developed solutions including training of soil conservation, water management and other modern agronomy techniques. The company also provides effective machinery and remote monitoring and reporting capabilities.
In response to Ms. Njoku’s question: “How do you define success for the continent?”, he replied, “Success will be when people aren’t hungry anymore.” He went on the say that only a coordinated transfer of knowledge by governments, private companies and non-gorvernmental institutions could fulfill the continent’s future agricultural needs.
Yoav Zilber, who has worked on several large-scale turn-key projects in Africa as CEO of Kobil Rwanda Sarl and Kobil Ethiopia LTD, traced Israel’s history of engagement with Africa. Under the premiership of Golda Meir, from 1969-73, he said Israelis were active on the continent, but that its relations chilled in 1974 due to the activities of the Arab League, which recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization as the sole legitimate representation of Palestine.
With the breakdown of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the Oslo Accords in 1993 including the PLO’s renunciation of terrorism and it’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist in peace, he said Israel’s involvement recommenced.
He cited shared his experience in a continent that he said had tremendous potential where “one fifth of the world’s people will be living with 45 percent in urban areas.”
Very much in Africa’s favor, he added, is the willingness of Africans to adopt new technologies. “One half of the population is using smart phones. By 2034, they will be surpassing India and China.”
He warned, however, that success in Africa could only be acquired through a thorough understanding of local contexts. “Even those that you think might be similar such as Gabon or Congo Brazzaville can be different.”
Laurie Olivier, the venture capitalist, was equally optimistic about the importance technology can play in Africa’s future. “Africa is behind,” he said in adopting outdated technology such a land lines, “which means that it can be ahead. Technology enables the ability to leap frog or move into the backdoor.”
Israel, he added, offers technologies with a wide range of capabilities “from the most basic to the most sophistcated.”
To learn more about the American Jewish Committee’s programs in Atlanta, click here.