In this question-and-answer interview, Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen talks about his historic visit to Ghana and how the two countries can deepen diplomatic and trade relations
- What brings you to Ghana?
I am very delighted to visit Ghana. This visit is the first of its kind by an Israeli Foreign Minister since 2014. My visit to Ghana is mainly a working visit to deepen the excellent bilateral relations between our two countries since 1958. I will have meetings with my colleague Minister, Hon. Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey to discuss various issues regarding our economic cooperation that will be of benefit to our two countries. We will explore possibilities of deepening mutually beneficial cooperation particularly in the agriculture, water, clean energy and cybersecurity. I am also looking forward to meeting with H.E. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, the President of Ghana for further discussions on our excellent bilateral relations.
Additionally, Israel is deepening its ties with African countries, recognizing the continent’s strategic importance and vast potential. Israel is interested in such huge progress in Africa.
- How would you describe Ghana-Israel relations?
Israel’s relationship with Ghana has blossomed. We have worked closely with the Ghana government on the levels of government-to- government, business-to-business and people-to-people, building a strong and mutually beneficial partnership based on respect, trust, and collaboration. Our relations with Ghana are particularly special, as we were among the first nations to recognize Ghana’s independence in 1957. In recent years, our focus has been on increasing trade and economic ties between our two nations, and I am proud to share that we have made great progress in this area.
Five years ago, we established our first Economic and Trade Mission in West Africa, and Ghana was chosen to be the host country. This is Israel’s first and only Trade Mission in West Africa, and one of only three Trade Missions on the African Continent. The purpose is to further strengthened the bilateral ties and created new opportunities for trade and investment between the two countries. So far, I am happy with the success stories of our Economic and Trade Mission in connecting Ghana’s business market to Israeli companies and connecting Israeli business market to Ghanaian companies.
Beyond economic and trade relations, our government-to-government and people-to-people relations also keeps growing. For 65 years, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation (MASHAV) has worked closely with the Government of Ghana on projects that are sustainable and replicable in diverse communities, with an emphasis on capacity building. Key areas of MASHAV’s development cooperation include health (reducing neonatal and maternal mortality), water & sanitation, early childhood education, agricultural cooperation, women empowerment and innovation. The objective is to contribute to Ghana’s growth and the attainment of the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
The Foreign Trainees in Agriculture program is one strategic project that is high on our development agenda and so far, we have more than 600 Ghanaian agricultural graduates who have benefited from the 11-month training program that focuses on capacity building through practical and professional knowledge transfer in agriculture. I am particularly excited to hear of the many testimonials of how some of the beneficiaries are shaping their communities with their experiences from Israel.
- I understand you would be attending the Israel-Ghana Business Forum in Accra. What other activities will you be involved in during your time here?
As mentioned before, I will be meeting with my colleague Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Shirley Ayorkor Botchway, pay a courtesy call on H.E. Excellency Nana Addo Dankqua Akuffo-Addo. I am also delight to have the chance to visit the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Pack and Mausoleum. A beautiful heritage site that stands as a symbol of history and the great contribution of then President Kwame Nkrumah to the independence of Ghana. Most important for my visit to Ghana is the opportunity to meet with various business leaders to interact and bridge the gap between Israel and Ghana when it comes to economic, trade and business.
- Kindly provide more details about the business delegation that is here with you?
The main purpose of my working visit to Ghana is to have discussions with my colleague minister on possible ways of increasing economic and trade relations between Israel and Ghana focusing on sectors such as agriculture, water, clean energy and cybersecurity.
As part of my activities, I will open the 1st Israel-Ghana Business Forum which will be organized on July 25th to strengthen Israel’s economic, trade and business ties with Ghana. To ensure that we move forward with our economic and trade relations, I came with a team of business leaders in sectors such as agriculture, water, clean energy and cybersecurity. These are critical sectors that Israel is a leader in, and were carefully selected to fall in line with Ghana’s economic and development agenda.
With me on this delegation are key companies in the above-mentioned sectors. This is part of the initiatives to connect our two markets and create prosperity for our people. The purpose is to have the Israeli companies study the Ghanaian markets and familiarize themselves with the numerous opportunities and potentials that exist between our two countries. I believe that through these engagements, Israel’s trade with Ghana will shore up to an appreciable level that supports both economies. I am happy that we have partnered for this forum with Ghana Investment Promotion Center (GIPC) and with the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI) because they bring so much added value to this partnership and to the forum.
Through this initiative, we hope to contribute to the government’s policy of championing economic and trade engagements. We are interested in enhancing the economic and trade relations in Africa in general, and with Ghana in particular.
- How important is Ghana to Israel’s foreign policy in Africa?
Ghana is very important to Israel’s foreign policy in Africa on many levels. Israel has been making efforts to deepen its ties with African countries, recognizing the continent’s strategic importance and vast potential in economic development. Ghana, with its stable democracy, growing economy, and friendly people, has emerged as a key partner for Israel in Africa. Israel and Ghana may seem like an unlikely pair, with vast geographical and cultural differences, but our shared values, interests and the friendship between our peoples brings us together in many ways. Ghana was one of the first African countries to establish diplomatic relations with Israel in 1958, and since then, our two nations have enjoyed a warm and friendly relationship based on mutual respect, cooperation and a spiritual connection between people of faith.
On the multilateral level, Ghana ranks high among the international community and we look up to Ghana for support on different levels. For instance, in 2019, Israel and Ghana co-chaired the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)’s Science, Technology and Innovation forum. Our two countries led discussions, took part in the selection of speakers, and prepared receptions on promoting innovation in the world. This joint selection was a recognition of Israel and Ghana’s numerous collaborations in economic transformation, food innovation, agricultural technologies, and all areas that advance the UN’s development goals. Also, Ghana is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, and its contribution to peace and security worldwide, and especially to our region, is well appreciated by Israel.
- Do you think there is an increasing need for the two countries to work more closely?
Yes, there is an increasing need for Israel and Ghana to work together on bilateral and multilateral levels. Our two countries have a lot in common and Israel is very much open to ensuring that it shares its knowledge in economic development with Ghana.
On the business-to-business levels, both countries are yet to tap into the vast potentials that exist. There is a lot of collaboration that Israel and Ghana can have on the development level and our MASHAV is working on it assiduously to ensure that we extend our technical know-how to transform sectors such as agriculture, education, health, innovation, energy, cybersecurity, climate change, women empowerment among others.
- What are some of the areas of collaboration that you think Ghana and Israel should strengthen?
One of the key drivers of our success as a country has been our commitment to innovation. Israel has one of the highest rate of start-ups per capita in the world, and we are constantly developing new technologies and products that are revolutionizing industries from healthcare to cybersecurity. Our country is known as the “Start-up Nation,” and our entrepreneurial spirit and risk-taking mentality have made us a hotbed for innovation.
I am delighted to share that Israel and Ghana has been working on improving Ghana’s innovation ecosystem to allow for young entrepreneurs to explore and come up with tailor made solutions for the development of Ghana. Since 2020, we have been collaborating with the government of Ghana and the German development cooperation (GIZ) to hold various consultations, trainings and workshops to strengthen Ghana’s innovation ecosystem. This has resulted in the creation of the Ghana Digital Innovation Week that brings together key stakeholders to drive the agenda for Ghana’s innovation within the context of economic and development.
Our Economic and Trade mission is also keen on connecting Ghana’s business community to Israel’s high-tech solutions that are replicable in Ghana. All of this fall within the plan of expanding trade and investment.
- In your opinion, what can be done to increase trade and economic relations between the two countries?
We have indeed come a long way in our trade and economic relations, but there is much more to be done. We would like to see visits of Ghanaian ministers to Israel, leading business delegation in sectors such as agriculture, communication, water and more. Moreover, I would like to see Israel continue its contribution to Ghana’s innovation ecosystem and to the impressive progress Ghana has made in the field of digitalization.
- In your opinion, what are some of the things that Ghana can learn from Israel?
This is a very good question. I believe that there is a lot of things Ghana can learn from Israel, especially in the areas of technology and innovation. This we are already working on in many sectors of our bilateral relations as I have already stated. However, there is a lot that the State of Israel can learn from Ghana as well, especially if we are looking into expanding our markets to Ghana and Africa as a whole.
The vast potential of economic and social development calls for bilateral relations that enhances both economies and improves the lives of the people by the standards of the UN sustainable development goals. Our success in innovation is not limited to our borders and we are proud to have found partners in Africa whom we can cooperate and share our knowledge and expertise, eventually contributing to the continent’s growth and development in numerous ways.
- Where do you see Ghana-Israel relations in the next five years?
The opening of Israel’s Economic and Trade Mission in Ghana has not only facilitated trade and investment but has also fostered cultural exchange and people-to-people relations between the two countries. Business forums and trade fairs organized by the Mission have helped to promote understanding, create networks and strengthen the ties between Ghanaian and Israeli businesses.
Within 5 years, we have been able to hold over 100 events, which consist of B2B events, incoming delegations, exhibitions, outgoing delegations, as well as business and professional seminars. The Mission has assisted and worked with over 450 Israeli companies and 2000 Ghanaian companies and agencies. The Mission has facilitated over 2000 B2B meetings between Ghanaian and Israeli companies.
These activities led to an unbelievable record of over $140 million worth of business deals and investments between Ghanaian and Israeli companies. These collaborations have not only benefited Ghana but also Israel, as they have opened new markets and opportunities for Israeli businesses and strengthened Israel’s ties with Ghana. I would like to see a 30 percent increase in all of these engagements in the next five years as we work hard to connect our markets and create prosperity.
- Any final comment(s)?
I look forward to my visit to Ghana, and to experience in person the famous warmth of Ghanaian welcome and hospitality. In light of everything I’ve shared with you on this interview, I encourage your readers to participate in the 1st Israel- Ghana Business Forum that will be held today, 25th July, and make the most of this opportunity to meet, engage and collaborate with the Israeli companies that will participate.
Thank you and Shalom!