At a time when Israel’s diplomatic activities have grown increasingly intense, Jerusalem was able to enjoy some good news in the foreign relations front recently with the re-opening of the Israeli embassy in the African nation of Ghana. Israel’s Ambassador to Ghana, Sharon Bar-Li, in a phone interview with The Mideast Update, said they hope the diplomatic move will open the door to more interaction and cooperation between the two nations, which have a number of ties already.
The embassy had been closed following the severing of diplomatic relations between the two nations as part of a step taken by a number of African nations after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Later some contacts were renewed, with a reinstatement of diplomatic relations in 1994.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman visited the African nation in 2009 and reassured Ghana of Israel’s intention to officially reopen the embassy. Previously the Israeli Embassy in Nigeria covered Ghana.
“I think this is very important to Israel and very important to Ghana as well,” said Ambassador Bar-Li. She said it highlights the Israeli understanding “of the importance of Africa, which is now an arriving continent, and Ghana specifically.”
She points out that Ghana is experiencing “enhanced economic development”—an expected13% growth rate in 2011—has begun oil production, has gold and is number two in the world in cocoa bean exports.
Their prestige has reached the world stage diplomatically as well: US President Barack Obama visited Ghana in 2009. “Ghana is actually becoming a gateway to all of western Africa,” said Bar-Li.
Despite coming from two different continents, Ghana and Israel have much in common and a long history of cooperation, notes Bar-Li. “Both countries are sharing values of democracy… both Israel and Ghana are democratic countries,” said the Israeli diplomat. “Both these countries have great respect to their traditions and cultures.”
Religion is another link, with Ghana strongly influenced by Christianity—which connects with Israel’s Biblical history and heritage. “They have a very strong religious affiliation to Israel, due to Christianity,” said Bar-Li, who notes that the importance of Christianity in Ghana “in a way, markets Israel as well.”
Furthermore, the two nations were close in the past, with memories of that relationship still evident today. Bar-Li said eventual Prime Minister Golda Meir had close ties during her time as foreign minister with Ghana’s first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. “Golda Meir is a trademark here,” said Bar-Li. In addition, Israel helped Ghana establish their airport.
With the two nations’ ties in the background, the Ghana people have been very welcoming of Israel as they return to the country. “Although I’ve been here only for a short while, I’m overwhelmed with the treatment that I’m getting here, both on the official level and among the people in the street,” said Bar-Li. She said a number of Ghanaians express their love of Israel publicly, and one can even see taxis in Ghana with Israeli flags on their windows.
However, she cautions that as a member of the African Union, Ghana has limitations on how much overt political support they can give Israel. “Ghana is usually taking political steps according to those being decided upon in the African Union,” said Bar-Li. “So I think that we should be modest, realistic and careful when expecting strong political support out in the open. I think that we should be humble about it and realize the complexity of considerations that the Ghanaian government is taking when coming to decide about its policy.”
The two nations already have a number of links, with Israel sponsoring educational and medical projects in the country. As an example, Bar-Li said that Israel has established two neonatal units in the outskirts of the city of Kumasi. In addition, their early childhood education project, together with the Millennium Cities Initiative, is set to be copied to the Ghanaian capital of Accra in cooperation with the municipality there.
On a business level, Bar-Li said that the new embassy will be a resource for Israeli companies in connections with the Ghanaian government and private sector. “There are already strong economic relations between the two countries when it comes to the private sector… We hope that with the reopening of the resident embassy here we are going to strengthen and widen these economic relations.”
While she is excited about the reopening of the embassy on the national level, Bar-Li notes it’s exciting for her personally. “Having the opportunity to be the ambassador who will reopen a resident embassy of Israel in the Republic of Ghana after 38 years of absence, I think is a great thing,” said Bar-Li.
“It’s a great opportunity, both for me personally and for both countries… Being an official representative of the State of Israel, and being a woman I must say, is received here [by the Ghanaians] as if I’m following the giant footsteps of our legendary foreign minister [Golda Meir]. And this is of course heart-warming.”
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, September 16, 2011)