In 2017, I had the opportunity to visit the sacred city of Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Israel, a country regarded by Jews, Christians and several others as the biblical Holy Land. It has been a place of pilgrimage and worship for Jews, Christians and Muslims since the biblical era.
A visit to Israel is a totally unique experience. The country which covers a relatively small area interestingly has so much diversity. Israel really does have it all. Traveling from north to south takes only six hours and about thirty minutes from east to west. It is in fact a cool tourist destination.
Aside from the holy city of Jerusalem, a visit to the progressive, modern and lively Mediterranean city of Tel Aviv, less than an hour from Jerusalem is another amazing experience. Israel is a land of contrast with many museums and archaeological sites which dates back to millennia.
A week ago, I was privileged to be hosted by Shlomit Sufa, the Israeli Ambassador to Ghana at her office in Accra to discuss the current state of bilateral relations between Ghana and Israel. Ambassador Sufa is a career diplomat with over 20 years of diplomatic experience, and previously served in Canada, Switzerland and Ethiopia.
Diplomatic relationship between the Republic of Ghana and the State of Israel dates back to 1957 when Ghana became the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to establish diplomatic relations with the State of Israel. This was further deepened by the visit of then Israeli Foreign Minister, Golda Meir, to Ghana at the invitation of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah in 1958.
The relationship between the two countries continued till 1973 when Ghana, in compliance with an OAU (today AU) resolution that requested all member-states to sever relations with Israel following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The year 1996 saw the beginning of the revival of a friendly relationship between both countries, with the re-opening of diplomatic missions in Accra in 2011, and Tel Aviv later.
Cooperation between the two countries was activated in 1959 through Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation (MASHAV), when Dr. Kwabena Darko of Darko Farms became the first MASHAV Ghanaian beneficiary to be trained in Israel. This was followed by his extensive contribution to creating a vibrant poultry industry in Ghana.
MASHAV is responsible for the design, coordination and implementation of the State of Israel’s development cooperation programmes and humanitarian assistance efforts. MASHAV’s activities in Ghana are focussed on Health (Medicine and Public Health), Agriculture, Education, Entrepreneurship and Women Empowerment.
In 2018, a MASHAV delegation visited Ghana for Emergency Medicine and Disaster Management in collaboration with Ghana’s Ministry of Health. The Israeli team met all relevant stakeholders in the field of Emergency Medicine in its quest to learn about the Emergency System in Ghana and make the needed proposal for execution.
MASHAV has played a vital role in contributing to the growth of Ghana’s agricultural sector, with several Ghanaians benefitting from training programmes and sharing of information and technology. In 2018, Agro Studies – an Israeli company – signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Ministry for Food and Agriculture for young Ghanaian Agric students to benefit from an eleven month – long agricultural training programme in Israel.
“While in Israel, the graduates are attached to farms, where they work on the field for five days and be in the classroom for a day. The Ghanaian graduates are joined by other beneficiaries from other parts of Africa, Asia and South America for the programme. It started with 50 students in the first year, then the number was increased to 70 students in the second year. There is a lot more to explore, especially under this programme, and I am happy with the progress and the impact. The agricultural sector remains one sector Israel is focused on and we have contributed considerably to its growth,” she added.
The Ghanaian government has made agriculture a priority, and the partnership with Agro Studies is in line with the Government of Ghana’s flagship programme – Planting for Food and Jobs. This programme has many aspects, one of which is to develop the vegetable sector of the country and rightly forms the core of the Ghana government’s determination to use the agricultural sector to propel economic growth.
Trade volumes between Ghana and Israel is estimated to be around a couple of hundreds of millions of dollars, with trade balance in favour of Israel. Israel’s Trade and Economic Commission have also been working to support Ghana’s digital innovation agenda and since 2018, has been working to continue to promote business to business opportunities in various fields such as cyber security, innovation, agriculture and digital health.
The State of Israel prides itself as a start-up nation driven by high-tech innovation. The country has emerged from the desert sands without natural resources and now home to start-ups in agro-tech, high-tech, biotech and several others. These achievements are as a result of research and development by collaboration between academia and the industry.
According to Ambassador Sufa, Israel is committed to assisting in configuring Ghana’s innovation agenda and making it the go-to market in Sub-Saharan Africa. “The State of Israel is ready to join forces with the relevant stakeholders in implementing this agenda to address some of the digital economy drawbacks. It is important to build a Ghana where digital innovation becomes the norm and main strength of approaching critical economic and social initiatives and interventions which touch people’s lives and assure an enabling environment for businesses to thrive,” she revealed.
In wrapping up our conversation, Ambassador Sufa indicated her desire to further strengthen the relationship between Ghana and Israel through increasing the level of cooperation between the two countries in several other sectors.