JERUSALEM — When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended the West African Economic Community Summit in Liberia in June 2017, many local and international spectators dubbed it the dawn of a new era. Netanyahu’s visit served as an affirmation of his country’s dedication to investing in West Africa and started the mobilization of Israeli companies into the continent.
While Netanyahu himself conceded that the move was made with politics in mind, as he was vocal in hoping that the newly-established ties with West Africa will prop up Israel’s diplomatic position at the international stage, the campaign is also primarily concerned with immense economic opportunities for both parties involved. West Africa is a massive part of an untapped market that has the world’s fastest-growing middle class and, in 2050, is expected to account for 50 percent of the world’s population growth.
Investing in West Africa itself is a high-risk, high-reward venture, especially for a development donor like Israel with limited financial capacity. Given its limited resources, Israel wisely decided to focus more on technological contributions rather than unloading billions of dollars to the other end of the economic partnership. In May, representatives from Israel’s Ministry of Economy and Industry visited the Ivory Coast and Ghana to meet local officials and survey possible avenues for development support.
Officials of the Ministry of Industry, who determine Israel’s economic development strategy, said that they will be looking to partner with local development finance institutions to be able to roll out programs and in-country services.
“Support is being built from the bottom up,” director of financial institutions and emerging markets at the Israeli Ministry of Industry Zafrir Asaf said. “The thing is to focus and try to make more development with less resources and find, through development interactions, a common ground, which can be sustainable and ongoing and would also be an enabler for private economic activity.”
Currently, state-endorsed Israeli companies and West African governments are working to establish strong, long-term ties, and the fruits of their effort have been more than auspicious. This past month, Israeli solar power company Energiya Global announced a $20 million investment to build a commercial-scale solar field in Liberia’s Roberts International Airport. The field is set to supply 25 percent of the country’s generation capacity, said Energiya Global CEO Yosef. I. Abramowitz.
The same company has already developed the first commercial-scale solar field in Rwanda, which has increased the country’s solar power by 6 percent, and undertook the same field project in Burundi. The solar field in Burundi promises to supply 15 percent of the country’s power by the end of 2017.
Energiya Global is also set to invest $1 billion over the next four years to advance green power projects across 15 West African countries. This commitment is part of a memorandum of understanding signed between Israel’s Ministry of Industry and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) earlier this year.
Other companies are also showing keen interest on investing in West Africa and its emerging markets. One example is Water-gen, a company that produces devices that ambitiously make clean drinking water from air. Water-gen executives believe that with 40 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa living in water-scarce environments, their product can offer great help in that part of the continent.
With the company set to mass produce its water-making devices later this year, executive chairman Maxim Pasik has started to talk to African partners to start selling devices on the continent. He sees opportunities both through aid projects and selling to governments.
“The [most effective way]is through government projects. People don’t have a lot of money, but governments still need to provide water to drink because drinking water means stability for the country,” Pasik said.
Many are quick to question Israel’s intent in investing in West Africa. Besides the vast economic and political opportunities that are offered by strong ties with West African governments, analysts have cited the roots of Israel’s high-tech industry as a possible reason. The foundations of the success of Israel’s technological industry was of course established with a World Bank loan in the 1970s, where the World Bank lent to the Israeli Ministry of Industry to launch and support the new high-tech community.
The loan was itself responsible for the different programs that created the startup nation. Now, the country has 300 international firms, including Microsoft, IBM and Hewlett-Packard, which have high-tech research centers in the country.
Given Israel’s background and its position as a global technological innovator, it is in a prime position to lead the way of development. It offers technological strength and confidence to a part of the world in dire need of it.
“I believe in Africa. I believe in its potential – present and future. It is a continent on the rise,” Netanyahu said in his speech in front of the West African Economic Community. With such confidence, Israel is primed to make investing in West Africa a concept deserving of the international spotlight.
– Bella Suansing