I believe in Africa. I believe in its potential – present and future. It is a continent on the rise. Its people are diverse and talented. I have made strengthening our relations one of our top priorities – national and international priorities of the State of Israel. It’s the reason I became the first Israeli prime minister to visit Africa in decades. Well, one thing I can assure you – it won’t be decades until an Israeli leader visits Africa again. It won’t be five years. It’ll be a few months.
Africa and Israel share a natural affinity. We have, in many ways, similar histories. Your nations toiled under foreign rule. You experienced horrific wars and slaughters. And you’re still fighting to get out of the past into the future, valiantly, in efforts that I deeply admire. With determination and conviction, you won your independence. You healed the wounds of the past to chart a future of hope for your people.
This is very much our history. Our people too were denied independence for far too long. Our people too suffered the indignity of bondage, slavery and dispossession. Our people too experienced unimaginable horrors of mass death and genocide.
But we never ever gave in. We fought for our independence and won. We established a thriving democracy in the heart of the Middle East. We developed one of the world’s most dynamic economies. We became a world leader in agriculture, water, cyber technology, technology of communications, security and much more.
Today we seek to share our experience with the governments and peoples of Africa. ECOWAS’ mission is to increase peace and prosperity by harnessing Africa’s vast resources.
I came to Africa last year, to East Africa. I saw these resources first-hand. I saw diversity and richness. I saw passion and productivity. I saw young African entrepreneurs who are building companies harnessing the power of the digital age. Africans are seizing the future. Israel wants to seize this future with you. You truly have no better partner for this mission than Israel, because Israel is a world leader in technology, in all areas of technology.
And because… It has to be understood that the distinction between hi-tech and low-tech is rapidly disappearing. Every field, every field without exception, is becoming technologized. And unless you absorb this technology and apply it to the various areas of critical life, then you will fall behind. But if you seize it, if you seize it, you jump forward.
The simplest example that all of us know is in cellular phones. Look at what possibilities accrue to the people of Africa from the use of cellular phones. Enormous possibilities. But if we had to develop this communication network by laying pipes and lines and so on, these benefits would never accrue. It’s the use of technology that allows you to leap forward over generations. And this is the leap that Israel can and wants to do with you.
Though small in size, Israel is a world leader in so many fields: in energy, in agriculture, public health, water management, water creation – just creating water literally from thin air – and of course, in the vital area of security. Our cows – as an example, our cows produce more milk than any other cow on Earth. It’s a matter of some pride. You’d think – and no offense, Federica – you’d think it would be a Dutch cow or a French cow, maybe an Italian cow or even an American cow. But it’s not. It’s an Israeli cow. Because every moo is computerized, and the results are tremendous productivity.
And this is why countries like Russia, China, India, are doing all these programs with us, and the benefits that Israel gives to them are the benefits we want to give to the people of Africa. We are the number one country in the world in water recycling. A statistic: We recycle nearly 90% of our waste water, 90%. The next country is Spain, 17%. So it gives you a feeling for the possibilities inherent in technology. It changes the world. Our intelligence has helped stopped terror attacks – dozens and dozens of terrorist attacks all across the world, including in Africa.
And this is why the leaders of many countries – President Trump has just visited Israel. Before that, I visited China and Russia, and Mr. Modi, the prime minister of India, is coming to Israel in a few weeks. When I met President Xi in Beijing, he said to me, 'You know, we’re crossing now 1.4 billion people.' And I said, 'Well, we’ve just crossed eight million.' And he said to me, 'Yes, but you’re a world power in innovation.' A world power. And therefore, China made a special arrangement with Israel and also with Switzerland – two countries – to work on innovation, to advance innovation.
At the UN last year, I met with many African leaders. It was a spectacular visit, because young Israelis showed what they’re doing in Africa. Not what they will be doing, but what they are already doing. And one of the leaders said something that I’ll never forget. He said to me, 'We have problems; you have solutions.'
A young woman there, a young Israeli technologist, comes to the podium and she shows how they’ve solved the problem of an African village, where a typical woman would go eight hours to get a gallon of water. And they solved it by making water out of thin air. And another showed how they make energy out of the sun, out of the air too. And another showed how they’re working to stop the spread of AIDs with miraculous results. In every field, in every field, our technology is there, it’s ready to work with you to provide solutions to some of the most pressing problems of Africa. We want to help your soil become more fertile, your water reusable, your cities safer, your air cleaner.
The foundation for cooperation we lay will last many decades into the future. Today, Israel and the countries of ECOWAS are in advanced stages of cooperation on joint projects in agriculture, in energy, education. Six months ago, agricultural ministers from your countries gathered in Israel, together with our extraordinary development agency, Mashav, which is doing incredible work in Africa. Mashav was established in the ‘50s, worked here in the ‘60s and then was discontinued and now it’s coming back with full vigor. And it’s coming back for one reason alone – to help Africa achieve its rightful place among the peoples and nations of the Earth. This is something we deeply believe in.
I hope that we will advance two important agreements that will deepen our cooperation even further. Israel is opening two new trade missions – one in West Africa, one in East Africa – to significantly increase trade between our countries. We will hold later this year an African-Israel summit in Togo. I want to thank you, Mr. President, which I hope all of you will attend. We are prepared to send technology survey teams to every one of your countries, and to look and see, together, what is the best way that we can cooperate. Those of you have already experienced our teams and our capabilities can attest to the wisdom of such a move. I invite all of you, without exception, to do this.
Our growing bilateral relations should also be reflected, I believe, in international forums. Israel should once again be an observer state of the African Union. Now, it’s clearly – and I say this openly, especially with my great sympathy and affinity for Africa. It’s definitely in our interest. But, ladies and gentlemen, I fervently believe that it’s in your interest too, in the interest of Africa. And I hope all of you will support that goal.
Many nations are changing their attitudes toward Israel very rapidly. And I have to say that nowhere, nowhere, is this happening so dramatically and so rapidly than in the Arab world. Many Arab countries no longer see Israel as their enemy. They see Israel as their ally, I would even say, their indispensable ally in the fight against terrorism and in seizing the future of technology and innovation.
This change in the Arab world is new. I believe it’s the best hope for peace, not only between Israel and the countries in the region, but ultimately between Israel and the Palestinians. This is what changes minds and hearts.
President Sirleaf once said, 'The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.'
Well, Israel is a small nation that dreams very, very big. Let us work together to realize big dreams for all our peoples. Let our dreams be so audacious that few people would think them possible today. But just as those who doubted Israel were proven wrong, let us ensure that the skeptics who doubt Africa are also proven wrong.
The founding fathers of ECOWAS spoke of creating this organization to promote love and respect for one another. Israel is a nation which loves and respects all. Israel seeks peace with all its neighbors and has done so from its first days. In Israel, Jews, Christians and Muslims live side by side as equal citizens. This is the real Israel. Diversity in Israel isn’t tolerated; it’s celebrated. I hope you see in Israel what Israel sees in the countries of Africa – a vibrant nation that seeks cooperation for the benefit of all.
By Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister of Israel.