Top Stories / National
Tuesday, 05 Jul 2016 17:45 EATswaithera@kenyafreepress.com
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Kenya last night, the first Israeli leader to visit this staunch ally of the Middle Eastern country. Among his first official engagements was a visit to the graveyard of Kenya’s founding president and Israel's strong ally Jomo Kenyatta, who died in 1978.
The prime minister laid the wreath on the senior Kenyatta’s graveyard next to Parliament Buildings, Nairobi, before later holding talks with Uhuru Kenyatta, a son of the departed president who has served as Kenya’s fourth president since April 2013, at State House.
President Uhuru welcomed Netanyahu, who was accompanied by his wife Sara Netanyahu, to State House with an elaborate state reception rounded off by a 19-gun salute. At the leaders' media address, President Uhuru heaped praise on Kenya's ties with Israel and pledged to lobby other African leaders to give greater recognition for Israel in the future.
The centerpiece of President Uhuru's address was Israel's unmatched expertise in combating terrorism, which he said was a big priority for Kenya and Africa in an increasingly volatile world. The President began his speech by referring to the 40th year anniversary of the Israeli 'Raid on Entebbe' whose commemoration on Monday was attended by Netanyahu, who visited Uganda before coming to Kenya. Uhuru said Kenya was proud for the logistical assistance it provided Israel in executing the mission, explaining that that support showed Kenya's commitment to stand with Israel in "practice and principle".
The president called for a reset in Africa-Israel relations to enable Africa benefit more from Israel's expertise. “We have to be able to live in the future, address ourselves to the challenges of today.” He added, "And the one clear fact is that terrorism is the biggest challenge we face, not only as a state and continent, but as a community of nations threatened by deranged people who believe in no religion and threaten men, women and children across the globe.”
In the spirit of renewed cooperation between the two sides, Uhuru promised to lobby his fellow African presidents to renew Israel's observer status at the African Union, which was revoked in 2002, saying the upgrading of Israel’s status was necessary not just for Israel, “but for all those who see terrorism as a common challenge. This is a battle not won by any nation, but by coming together.”
The Palestinian Authority enjoys observer status at the African Union, and its leader could address an A.U. Summit if he needed to. Israel has fought for over a decade to have the status renewed but it has faced opposition from some Arab members of the A.U. and South Africa.
Netanyahu, who is on a four-nation visit to Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia, has dubbed his trip as part of a venture of “Israel coming back to Africa and Africa coming back to Israel”, reflecting the continental goals of his mission.
He said at the address with President Uhuru that Africa has a lot to learn from Israel. “There may be other friends, but none of them exceed Israel in our proven capacity and desire to put our experience in helping African countries struggling against the same adversary and same enemies that want to destroy us, and want to destroy you.”
Kenya has endavoured to ensure high security during the prime minister's visit. Many Nairobians were forced to walk to work today after key roads were closed as part of security arrangements for the visit. The police last night warned that there would be traffic disruptions on major city routes. They, however, did not give details on the specific roads, apparently in fear of security breaches.
This morning, motorists woke to a nightmare of closed roads west of Nairobi, including Waiyaki Way, Uhuru Highway, Parliament Road, Kenyatta Avenue, State House Road and other smaller ones.
Waithera is a staff writer at the Kenya Free Press.