Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on a serious charm offensive and Africa is but one destination, says the writer. File picture: Embassy of Israel in Buenos Aires / Reuters
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on a serious charm offensive and Africa is but one destination, says the writer. File picture: Embassy of Israel in Buenos Aires / Reuters
Togo’s government cancelled not because of a lack of preparation but because President Faure Gnassingbé might no longer be the country’s leader in a month, says the writer. File picture: AP
Togo’s government cancelled not because of a lack of preparation but because President Faure Gnassingbé might no longer be the country’s leader in a month, says the writer. File picture: AP

Last week it was announced that the grand Israel-Africa summit scheduled for late next month in Togo’s capital, Lome, would be postponed indefinitely.

Predictably, there has been a scramble to explain why the summit was cancelled and an even larger attempt to own the reason the meeting fell apart.
The government of Togo said it needed more time “to prepare”.

Palestinians claimed their pressure resulted in the event being cancelled, that Israel would have been embarrassed about the low attendance.

Israelis sent out mixed messages in which they said either the decision to cancel came from Togo or it had come as a result of a planned boycott of the meeting.

In reality, the truth is somewhere in between. But let’s clear up a few myths.

First, Togo’s government cancelled not because of a lack of preparation but because Faure Gnassingbé might no longer be the country’s leader in a month. This might come across as hyperbole, but had a huge conference taken place with Gnassingbé in power, it would have been the perfect platform for the opposition to draw media attention to the troubles in the country.

Over the past month, hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets demanding the president step down and for electoral reforms, including presidential term limits. The same family has ruled Togo since 1976. Later this week, more protests are scheduled, and the government wants the attention to dry up.

Second, despite the pressures of the Palestinians and pro-Palestinian groups for countries to boycott the event, their lobbying is certainly not the reason the event was cancelled. Perhaps half of all African countries would have attended.

But crucially, almost all countries south of the Sahara, are not just extremely open to relations and trade with Israel, they are no longer shy to talk about it. Exceptions, like Nigeria, which rejected the summit, or South Africa, which suggested it wouldn't attend the summit, are perfectly comfortable keeping their ties behind closed doors.

Third, Israel has, whether it wants to admit it or not, suffered a public relations disaster by agreeing to launch its "new" Africa project in an undemocratic, authoritarian-run West African country.

It was a gross miscalculation on its part and perhaps an intelligence failure to have missed the internal strife bubbling inside Togo.

But will it affect Israel's move on to the continent? Unlikely so.

This is a nefarious relationship that almost always existed in the shadows. Even when relations between most African states were severed after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, partnerships continued behind the scenes. The cancellation is only a temporary setback.

It’s not that the many African leaders are unaware of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians, its decade-old abuse, its apartheid policies and divide-and-rule schemes in the Arab World; these issues have become secondary.

Gone are ambitions, for instance, of an idealistic pan-Africanism or an allegiance to a non-aligned movement.

According to the statement released by the summit, Togo’s president emphasised that the event aimed to “unite the efforts undertaken against the threat on peace and security, which undermines stability and slows down the development of the continent”.

This is code for counter-terror efforts and many African leaders are ready to use Israeli technology to delegitimise dissent. Look no further than Cameroon or Kenya, both close allies of Israel, for this.

Then, there is solar energy, water and agricultural methods that Israel is marketing. The continent is not concerned that “these successes” are due to structural theft of the natural resources in the occupied West Bank. If the Arab world can’t be bothered to attend to the Palestinian cause, why should African leaders care?

Meanwhile, Israeli arms are flowing to South Sudan, the irrigation projects outside Dakar are growing and the small tech hubs in Addis and elsewhere are gathering momentum via the generous contributions and support from Israel’s Agency for International Development Co-operation in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Today, there is no Muammar Gaddafi or a Hosni Mubarak moderating Africa’s relationship with the Arab world or Israel. The AU is a bureaucracy with little clout. And with no Africa bloc policy, countries are able to deal bilaterally, with little transparency or larger pan-African agenda. For instance, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia last year alone.

Israel is on a serious charm offensive and Africa is just one destination.

When the Africa Summit was cancelled, Netanyahu was on his way to Argentina for a tour of three countries in Latin America, where no Israeli prime minister has been before. The other major pivot of his charm policy is India, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is fully behind Netanyahu. The project to garner support from a range of countries at the UN is well under way. As it stands, it is just not clear when the investment will bear fruit.

Anyone who continues pushing the myth that most African leaders will probably take up the Palestinian cause is misguided, lying or delusional. This can change, but as it stands, most African governments are barely interested in the abuse of African asylum seekers or migrants in Israel. Theirs has become a game of political survival.

While pro-Palestinian supporters attribute the cancellation of the Israel-Africa summit to pressures of the boycott movement, it is hypocritical for them to claim that while ignoring the plight of the Togolese people.

This event was mostly cancelled because of the threat the people of Togo posed to both the image of Togo and Israel.

Their desire for democracy, accountability and better governance was the key driver. When we admit this, we recognise Israel’s penchant to work with authoritarians and we draw Israel closer to governments oppressing their people.

And for the people of Togo, their fight has just begun. They deserve your support.

* Essa is a journalist at Al Jazeera. He is also co-founder of The Daily Vox.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.