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December 6, 2017 1:11 pm

Israel Joins USAID Effort in Africa, Further Bolstering Ties

avatar by Alex Traiman /JNS.org

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) meets with Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Nairobi, Kenya, on Tuesday. Photo: Haim Zach / GPO.

JNS.org – In a strategic win-win-win for the US, Israel and Africa, the Jewish state has been welcomed into a multi-billion-dollar initiative that aims to dramatically raise the standard of living for as many as 600 million sub-Saharan Africans, who are currently living in poverty and without electricity.

On December 4 in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman attended the signing of a memorandum of understanding on Israel’s incorporation into the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Power Africa initiative.

The project offers the promise to steer billions of dollars in international foreign aid to Israeli entrepreneurs so that they can develop innovative high-tech energy solutions for Africans who are not connected to the power grid.

“The US and Israel are cooperating on this because [Israel is] the superpower of innovation, and America is a superpower,” said Yosef Abramowitz, CEO of Israel-based Energiya Global Capital, an official partner and cofounder of Power Africa. “When you put these two forces together, you should be able to crack the code and bring energy to 600 million people.”

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Abramowitz told JNS.org that the key to the deal’s success for Africa — and the primary driver of Israel’s ability to participate — is “private sector leverage,” noting that “there is not enough foreign aid in the world to transform an entire continent to lift people out of poverty.”

Rather, Abramowitz noted that the Power Africa model uses “international resources strategically with leverage so that the private sector feels comfortable to come in.” For Israeli innovators, he said Power Africa provides “risk-reducing grants” and enables Israeli companies the opportunity to “get 70 percent financing on our deals from the US government, so that really helps.”

Yet the USAID signing does not necessarily guarantee funds for Israeli companies.

“Just because the markets open up, [that] doesn’t mean that every deal that gets announced is going to go to a financial close. These are tough countries, with tons of political instability,” Abramowitz said.

The signing came just days after Netanyahu returned from his third trip to Africa in the past 18 months. Netanyahu has touted his restoration and expansion of relations with multiple African nations as one of his greatest diplomatic accomplishments. Prior to his visits, the last Israeli prime minister to visit Africa was Yitzhak Shamir in 1987.

Diplomatic relations between Israel and many African nations soured when Arab countries convinced Africans to sever ties with Israel following the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Since that time, Israel has shifted from a developing nation to a country that has utilized ingenuity and foreign investment to propel itself into the first world — a model that many African nations would now like to follow.

Many African nations that once shunned Israel, are now increasingly realizing the upside of working with the Jewish state.

Zambia, for instance, opened an embassy in Israel in 2015 and is now among the countries that is leading Africa closer towards the Israelis. In the days leading up to the Power Africa signing, Zambian President Edgar Chagwa Lungu said that he intends to collaborate with Netanyahu on hosting a multi-national summit of African leaders in 2018.

Asked why African nations have warmed up to Israel in recent years, Zambia’s Ambassador to Israel, Martin Mwanambale, told JNS.org: “To put it shortly, it’s the technology.”

Mwanambale said that Africa also provides fertile ground for Israeli innovation, because the continent is desperate for solutions to problems that other countries haven’t grappled with for decades.

“We are having a lot of different companies getting involved in Zambia in the agricultural sector, in the energy sector and in security,” Mwanambale said.

Ambassadors from 10 African nations attended the Power Africa signing, including from Zambia, Rwanda, Kenya, Eritrea, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Tanzania, Cote d’Ivoire and South Sudan.

The speaker of the South Sudanese Parliament, Anthony Lino, also attended the event as part of his first visit to the Jewish state. Lino said that though his country “is a new nation … historically, we have long ties with the State of Israel. We are in an age of globalization, where countries have to put their acts together to advance something,” Lino told JNS.org.

“We want to partner with Israel in the areas of clean energy, technology, education, agriculture and water purification,” he said. “Because 80 percent of our land is arable (good for agriculture), we want to make the technology advanced, so we can make use of our land and grow produce for export. Israel is good in that technology.”

Glenn Yago, the senior director of the Milken Innovation Center at the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, said that one of Israel’s major “comparative advantages” over other developed nations when it comes to forging technological ties in Africa is that “we were also a developing economy over much of the last 70 years, until we became a developed economy.”

“The path that Israel has taken in its economic growth is one that can be emulated,” Yago said.

At the Power Africa signing, Netanyahu said that the initiative “will electrify Africa — well, literally and figuratively. This is bringing light, and every time that an African mother will turn on the light or turn on a heater for some water for her children, part of Israel will be there….And it comports with a vision that I have, which is to have Israel come back to Africa and have Africa come back to Israel.”

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