Israel and Ghana have enjoyed strong bilateral relations over the years. Despite previous hiccups and strains in diplomatic ties, Israel’s footprint on every facet of the Ghanaian landscape has been very visible and Ghana is grateful.
It is hoped that the ties of cooperation will grow and more importantly, be mutually beneficial with great camaraderie and common respect.
The strong co-operation reflects the common ideals and history between the two countries. In recent times, trade and investment have been at the heart of the bilateral co-operation, as it has enabled both economies to thrive.
History & Political Ties
Israel and Ghana have had long-standing relations dating back to the pre-independence era when Ghana (then the Gold Coast) became the first sub Saharan country to recognise and establish diplomatic relations with Israel, leading to the establishment of an Israeli Consulate in Accra in November 1956.
Israel became more involved in Ghana in commerce, construction, transportation, public works and training programmes in various fields. In 1953, Israel exported less than $6,000 worth of goods to the Gold Coast. By 1957, it had increased to $135,000. Dizengoff West Africa’s company, with offices in Accra, had orders worth $550,000 and arranged to purchase $250,000 worth of goods of this order from Ghana. Tahal, Israel’s water-planning authority, surveyed rural water development in Ghana. Construction firm, Solel Boneh, set up the Ghana National Construction Company. Ghana’s Black Star Line, Israel’s greatest investment in Ghana at the time, was 40% financed by Israel’s Zim Navigation. Additionally, the Ghana Merchant Marine Academy (now Regional Maritime University) was set up with assistance from Israel.
Israel has long maintained strong commercial partnerships with West Africa and more importantly Ghana by way of financial assistance. During the 2014 Ebola outbreak for instance, Israel committed close to $9 million to fight the pandemic and made available medical support to stop the spread.
In recent times, Foreign Direct Investments from Israel have made a significant impact on the Ghanaian economy. Israel supported the University of Ghana in 2012 with a loan of $217 million to construct a 650-bed medical centre.
Israel leads the world in security, technology, agricultural and water management. Over the years, Israel has demonstrated a strong desire to share knowledge especially in agricultural technology.
The Agriculture Internship program that begun in 2018 reflects the strong partnership for economic growth between Israel and Ghana.
Israel has had strong economic ties with Sub-Saharan Africa for several years. Data from the Israeli Export and International Co-operation Institute suggests that between 2010 and 2019, imports of goods from Sub-Saharan Africa to Israel had grown by 30%, indicating a strong potential for Africa and especially Ghana, to deepen its trade relations with Israel for accelerated growth. Israel and Ghana have strengthened their bilateral trade collaboration over the years in areas such as agriculture, cybersecurity, health, water and innovation.
In 2019, Israel’s trade flows with Ghana was approximately $29 million, with exports alone representing about 83% of the trade flows ($24 million) in key export products such as chemicals and metals whiles imports from Ghana represented about 17% of the total flow ($5 million) of import products like cocoa, fruits and nuts etc.
According to the International Trade Centre (ITC), Ghana’s Non-Traditional Exports to Israel has lost significant momentum overtime, from a trade value of $49 million in 2015 down to $4 million as at 2019.
Ghanaian businesses are yet to maximize the vast opportunities that Israel presents. It is therefore important to identify areas where Ghanaian businesses could benefit in order to strengthen this partnership.
Opportunities for Growth
The Ghanaian economy is estimated to have grown by 0.9% in 2020, reflecting the impact of the pandemic on key sectors of the economy. Latest GDP sector growth data released by the Ministry of Finance suggests the agricultural sector saw the biggest expansion in terms of average sector growth from Q1’ 2020 to Q3’ 2020, growing by 4.5%. The growth in agriculture was due to an expansion in sub-sectors such Fishing (11.6%), Livestock (5.7%), Cocoa (5.4%) and Crops (4.8%). At the end of 2020, data from the Central Bank revealed that, Cocoa together with Non-Traditional Export (NTE) commodities formed about 33% ($4.7 billion) of the total value of Ghana’s exports ($14.5 billion) signifying the crucial role that agriculture plays in Ghana’s economy. However, the sector is yet to realise its full potential as it is dominated by smallholder farmers (close to 80% according to the FAO) and is very traditional relying on rainfall patterns.
Israel’s agriculture is a highly developed industry, despite its land is not naturally suited for agriculture. The application of modern technologies in agriculture could help Ghana unlock more value in exports receipts in Cocoa and other NTE if the country is able to move away from rain fed agriculture to a more advanced approach where crops are on irrigation all year round. This is where Israel’s collaboration as a partner in development can be deepened to advance modern farming practices and irrigation towards accelerated growth in the agricultural sector.
Government programmes such as Planting for Food and Jobs; One District-One Factory; One Village-One Dam are all aimed at improving production efficiency, food security and profitability for famers. These could benefit from advanced agri-tech innovations based on the strong established partnership between Israel and Ghana. With the AfCFTA secretariat recently operational and Ghana being the host country, growth in agriculture could boost the country’s trade position, as intra-African trade is likely to be improved.
Ghana’s path to digitisation has been accelerated by the issuance of the Ghana Card, modern payment systems (such as the GHQR, Mobile Money) and Public Sector collection e-services platforms (such as the Ghana.Gov). The fast pace of the national digitisation agenda opens Ghana up to external vulnerabilities and cyber-attacks. It has become important, now more than ever, in the era of COVID-19, when online activities have increased significantly, to protect our cyber space. Israel-Ghana partnership towards improving the cyber security has been evident over the years.
In 2020, Ghana signed an MOU with Israel that focused on strengthening cyber security and co-operation in telecommunication and information technologies. Israeli cyber security firms have collaborated with their Ghanaian counterparts over the years. For example, Triple Cyber, an Israeli firm and a leader in cyber security joined forces with their Ghana counterparts to develop cyber solutions for companies in Ghana.
A deeper collaboration between the two countries is pertinent in order to close the remaining gaps in the cyber space. With over 49 million registered mobile money accounts and GHS 68 billion total transactional value as at February 2021, the risk of cyber-attacks continues to rise. More and more collection platforms are open to mobile money payments and this increases the risk of fraud across multiple channels. Strong collaboration between the National Cyber Security Centre, National Communications Authority, National Information Technology Agency and their Israeli counterparts in knowledge sharing and training could go a long way to protect the country from future cyber-attacks.
Ghana is committed to providing universal healthcare to her citizens through a national insurance policy with the aim of reducing financial barriers and facilitating access to health care. Over the years, Ghana’s National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) has been overburdened. This is due, in part, to the sheer volume of enrolment and, to a lesser extent, the lack of interest of some health providers in accepting the NHIS card. Other issues in the health sector include inadequate health infrastructure particularly in rural Ghana, healthcare financing due to low budgetary support from the central government and the inefficient management of our health system.
Israel’s healthcare system is one of the most technologically advanced systems with the highest quality in the world. Hospitals are well equipped and medical personnel highly trained. Israel has supported Ghana with the provision of health infrastructure and training to address some of the critical challenges facing the Ghanaian healthcare sector. The Israeli company EDC built a state-of-the-art health centre, the University of Ghana Medical Centre, modelled along the lines of the world-class Sheba Medical Center (in Israel) to provide training to medical personnel and quality healthcare to patients.
Healthcare providers have received assistance for their work from Israel’s Agency for International Development and Co-operation (MASHAV) by developing a training program for doctors and nurses based on a clinical low-cost, low-technology approach to caring for high risk and sick newborns in rural hospitals. Through this initiative, two Mother and Baby Kangaroo Mother Care Units comprising of a 16- bed capacity each was established in Kumasi. MASHAV also provided several on-site training courses for staff of Kumasi South and Suntreso Hospitals. This clearly demonstrates the benefits derived from the partnership the two countries share. Given that Ghana has not fully realised her potential in medical technology, a stronger collaboration between the two countries with startups from both countries advancing into precision medicine, could help improve the Ghanaian health care sector.
In line with the Sustainable Development Goals, Ghana has worked to make clean water accessible to 89% of her population by the end of 2015. The Ghana Safe Water Network estimates that 8.3 million people lacked access to drinking water service. Ghana continues to face challenges in the management of wastewater. In 2006, urban areas produced about 280 million cubic meter of wastewater and deprived several others in rural Ghana from getting access to clean water. Israeli companies have been at the forefront of water provision in Ghana. Lesico, a leading Israeli infrastructure company, announced in January 2021 that it was embarking on an €85 million construction and upgrade of a water supply facility.
Although Israel is an arid land with only 90 cubic metres of internal renewable water per capita annually, it is a world leader in water management for domestic, agricultural and industrial purposes and has been able to overcome its water challenges through a combination of technological innovation through research, government initiatives, policies, and public-private partnerships. According to the Israeli Ministry of Economy and Industry, about 97% of wastewater is recycled and used for agriculture and irrigation due to challenges with water supply. Israel’s water innovation programs have been replicated across the world to support agricultural irrigation, basic sanitation and hygiene as well as clean drinking water, all of which are high priority areas for Ghana.
Israeli engineers and scientist have been at the cutting edge of solar energy technology and its solar companies work on projects around the world. The country aims at producing 30% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. Solar water heaters are mandatory for every home. In 2018, Israeli firm, Yam Pro Energy signed a partnership with Indian business conglomerate Shapoorji Pallonji (SP) Group to begin production on the world’s first commercial-scale wave energy power station in Ghana. This will culminate in a $180 million station designed to generate up to 150 megawatts, to be built along the coast near Accra.
Israel has continued to share with Ghana its defense technology and provided training to Ghana’s military personnel. In 2018, for instance, 25 commanders from the Ghana Armed Forces’ 64 Regiment Special Unit successfully went through a three-day special Counter-Terrorism Training by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). This was a unique collaboration between Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF). Ghana has a lot to learn from Israeli innovative expertise in counter-terrorism, cyber security, counter-intelligence and combat.
Though bilateral co-operation between Israel and Ghana has improved since the re-opening of Ghana’s Mission in 1996, the relationship is yet to reach its full potential. Israeli and Ghanaian businesses need to deepen collaboration along the areas of opportunity mentioned. Ghana’s advances in building a digital economy puts the country in a good position to benefit from a deeper collaboration with the world’s leading provider of cutting-edge technologies in areas such as agri-tech, cyber security, water technology and precision medicine.
The symbolic status that Ghana occupies as the first African country to recognize Israeli sovereignty should forever strengthen the bond and collaboration between the two countries for accelerated economic growth.
Israeli businesses must be encouraged to consider Ghana as the gateway and one-stop shop for Israeli businesses planning to enter the West Africa and Africa markets. The African market presents a huge opportunity for Israel to deepen growth across all sectors. Ghana’s readiness to do business with Israel is evident across all key sectors and it has now become imperative to consolidate our gains and take this partnership to the next level. There is no doubt that Ghana finds in Israel a trusted partner for knowledge transfer in economic development.
Long live the Ghana-Israeli Partnership!!!