Rwanda-Israel cordial relations reflect new post-Cold War realities

On reflection, it is fair to say that Rwanda and Israel are enjoying their best relations ever. This is if you look at the frequent encounters between the two nation’s leaders, the stately manner they treat each other and lavish words they use about each other.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a hero’s welcome when visiting Kigali last July, when President Paul Kagame visited Israel last week, The Jerusalem Post reported that he enjoyed a “rare joint greeting” by both the country’s President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu (something not even accorded to US President Donal Trump or India’s PM last month).

In his welcome speech, Netanyahu told Kagame that he is “the indispensable bridge on which Israel marched to make their return to Africa.”

In March this year, Kagame became the first African president to address the influential American-Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual gathering where he said that “Rwanda is, without question, a friend of Israel,” and the Jewish state “has the right to exist and thrive.”

If Rwanda and Israel were traditional allies, their words or visits would not surprise anyone. But since relations between the two nations and Africa in general haven’t traditionally been cordial due to cold-war politics and Israel’s siding with the apartheid system in South Africa, the coziness is causing some discomfort.

As one friend in the diplomatic community told me, a few African diplomats perceive Rwanda’s closeness to Israel as some sort of disloyalty to the continent.

However, many Rwandans perceive the relationship as inspired since Israel is understood to be powerful within the community of nations and therefore can benefit Rwanda as a country.

To understand why it’s good for Rwanda and Africa to nurture fruitful relations with Israel, one needs to know not only how the genocide redefined the former’s friends, but also how rising nationalism in Europe and America is necessitating the formation of new alliances.

To explain, it’s crucial to first clarify that, in establishing relations, nations aren’t driven by emotions, love but interest. In that sense, a nation relates to based on the benefits the relationship brings.

Secondly, within cold war politics, Israel had an ungodly alliance with apartheid South Africa, but this was largely because that was how it protected its interests.

However, while Israel and some members of the western-led alliance undermined the liberation struggle, it’s also true that Africa’s policy on the Israel-Palestinian question for over fifty years hasn’t brought the desired outcome of a two-state solution or defeat of Israel. And since, within international relations there aren’t permanent enemies or friends, it’s wiser for Africa to adopt a new policy of double engagement to influence a win-win solution between Israel and Palestine.

Thirdly, with George Bush Senior’s promise of a “new world order” after the end of the cold-war not materialising and cold-war alliances disintegrating due to rising nationalism in Europe and America, both Africa and Israel would benefit from new relations.

For Africa, this is especially critical since the post-colonial divide of “La Francophonie” and “Anglophone” only serves to perpetuate western domination and should be stopped.

For Rwanda, there is a lot to benefit from by having good relations with Israel, not least, the shared policy of NEVER AGAIN genocide and how to become a regional powerhouse despite a small geographic size. And good relations with Israel would continue the country’s pragmatic approach of cultivating new friends, which would help serve its interests.

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By Christopher Kayumba