ASTRIKING development in international relations is the mounting interest with which more and more states of Africa and Asia, notably Ghana and Burma, are looking to Israel. They have found in Israel a state with an advanced technology capable of extending assistance, providing technicians, entering into trade, and supplying investment capital without in any way compromising their sovereignty or threatening their independence. Israel also has the advantage of being a relatively neutral source of assistance, without any of the possible ideological implications which might attach to assistance from the West or the Communist bloc. In addition, the dynamism of the Israeli development effort, the pioneer spirit that pervades it, and its visible achievements in difficult circumstances have undoubtedly excited the interest of many underdeveloped countries, and provide an attractive model with which they can identify themselves.

For Africa, Israel's desire to establish reciprocal relations offers a special attraction in that it can serve as a countervailing political force to offset Egypt's ambitions there. This was first perceived by Prime Minister Nkrumah of Ghana, who has his own plans for Africa; and as a result the Israeli initiative has found its warmest reception in Ghana.

African relations with Israel, which have been evolving over the past 18 months, have proved capable of withstanding antagonistic and even disruptive external pressures. Egypt's previously discreet efforts to weaken the Ghanaian-Israeli relationship became relatively overt at the Accra Conference of Independent African States in April 1958. There, the Egyptians tried to obtain an anti-Israel resolution which would tend to drive a wedge between Ghana and other African states on the one hand and Israel on the other. They were defeated. Dr. Fawzy, Foreign Minister of the United Arab Republic, sustained a double rebuff, first, in his failure to have the question of Israel placed on the Conference agenda as a separate item, and second, in the noncommittal resolution which emerged from the Conference, calling for a "just" resolution of the Arab-Israeli dispute. At the subsequent All-African People's Conference held in Accra in December 1958, Egypt sustained still another setback in her efforts to introduce the Israeli issue at an African conference. This meeting of representatives of African political parties, trade unions and nationalist organizations firmly resisted Egyptian efforts to label Israel as an "imperialist" state along with the United Kingdom and France.

One of the highlights of the All-African People's Conference, which assumes particular importance in this context, was a somewhat enigmatic statement by Prime Minister Nkrumah in his address to the opening session of the Conference. "Do not let us also forget," he warned, "that colonialism and imperialism may come to us yet in a different guise, not necessarily from Europe. We must alert ourselves to be able to recognize this when it rears its head and prepare ourselves to fight against it."[i] Certainly this is susceptible, inter alia, to the interpretation that Nkrumah was warning against direct Egyptian expansionism or indirect Communist penetration of African areas through a willing Egypt. This interpretation is consistent with the report that "Dr. Nkrumah told intimates late last week that he would ignore Bandung [Conference of African and Asian states in 1955] because he felt that President Gamal Abdel Nasser . . . had corrupted its principles of non-interference and intruded Asian and Communist influences into African affairs."[ii]

The role President Nasser envisages for Egypt in Africa is set forth in his book on the Egyptian revolution. It expresses a latter-day version of the "white man's burden," complete with references to Egypt's "manifest destiny" and "civilizing burden" in "the interior of the Dark Continent:"

The peoples of Africa will continue to look to us, who guard their northern gate, and who constitute their link with the outside world. We will never in any circumstances be able to relinquish our responsibility to support, with all our might, the spread of enlightenment and civilization to the remotest depths of the jungle.[iii]

In North Africa this rôle has meant interference in the internal political affairs of Tunisia and Morocco and calculated campaigns to penetrate the public administration and educational system of Libya. In the Sudan it has meant interference in the Sudanese national elections, assertion of territorial claims against the northern frontier boundary of the Sudan, and disputes over use of the Nile River waters. In the Horn of Africa it has meant an intrusion in domestic affairs by a political appeal to "Moslem unity." In Africa generally it has meant a drumfire of anti-Western and anti-Israel propaganda and a beehive of conspiratorial activity against incumbent régimes in independent African states as well as in dependent territories.

Under the circumstances, for an African nation to establish close relations with Israel is at once courageous and useful. The kind of political penetration that Egypt has achieved in Libya would be particularly dangerous in sub-Sahara Africa at a time when education and public administration are generally undergoing drastic changes with the coming of independence. The ability and willingness of Israel to supply technicians and management personnel on reasonable terms for sterling reimbursement is thus extremely important. It could be a crucial factor in preventing "indirect aggression" by Egypt.


The most far-reaching of the evolving relationships between Israel and Afro-Asian states is that between Israel and Ghana. As a precedent and as a model for other countries to follow, it warrants examination in greater detail. What are the elements of this new relationship which may at first glance appear unlikely between states with seemingly disparate interests?

Trade. Early in 1957 the Israeli Minister of Commerce and Industry went to Ghana to represent Israel at the Independence Day ceremonies of the new nation. Shortly thereafter trade relations between Ghana and Israel were inaugurated, and the first shipment, a modest export of 1,000 tons of cement and miscellaneous industrial items from Israel, took place in May 1957. In the following August the Ghanaian Minister of Trade and Industry headed a trade mission to Israel to explore the possibilities of developing a regular flow of trade between the two countries. These visits at the ministerial level led to the initialing of a preliminary trade agreement in January 1958, and in July longterm trade and payments agreements came into force. The agreements are for a period of four years but are automatically renewable on a yearly basis unless terminated by either party after appropriate notice.

A principal feature of the agreements is the provision of credits to Ghana in the impressive sum of $20 million over the four-year period. Credits for capital goods and services are to run six and one-half years; others are to run five years. All credits involve a two-year grace period for payments of principal. Under the trade agreement Ghana will buy cement and other building material and equipment, tires, glass, ceramics, paper, cardboard, leather goods, plastics and other industrial goods, processed foods, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, and in return will export to Israel cocoa, coffee, copra, oil seed, hides and skins, palm kernels and oil, hardwoods, bauxite, manganese and rough diamonds.

In 1956, prior to independence, Israeli trade with the Gold Coast was virtually non-existent; one year later Israeli exports to Ghana during its first nine months of independence exceeded $100,000, and imports from Ghana reached $300,000. In 1958, on the basis of unofficial statistics, Ghanaian exports to Israel will show a further growth but are not likely to increase at the rate of growth projected for Israeli exports to Ghana.

Dizengoff West Africa, Ltd. was organized in Israel in 1957 as a trading company with the exclusive purpose of engaging in two-way trade between Israel and West Africa. It established an office in Accra early in the same year and a second branch office was opened early in 1958 at Lagos, Nigeria. In the first nine months of operation of the Accra branch, Dizengoff received orders for $550,000 worth of Israeli goods--primarily cement, tires and food products--and placed orders for approximately $250,000 worth of Ghanaian goods--mainly cocoa and timber.

Investment. In the fall of 1957, the Black Star Line was incorporated in Ghana with 60 percent ownership vested in the government of Ghana and 40 percent ownership in Zim Israel Navigation Company, Ltd., a private Israeli corporation. The corporation has an authorized capitalization of $1,400,000, with $840,000 paid in. Zim is the managing agent and will operate the Black Star Line for the first five years. Thereafter, the government of Ghana may, if it desires, take over these functions and, in fact, buy out the Zim interest. The company owns three vessels and has four others under long-term charter sailing on regular schedules, primarily between West Africa and the United Kingdom and Western Europe. The start of operations in December 1957 was commemorated by Ghana in a series of three colorful postage stamps designed by an Israeli artist.

In conjunction with the establishment of the Black Star Line, Israel has provided a technical assistance mission to assist in the establishment and operation of a Ghanaian Nautical Academy to train officers for the developing merchant marine. For a number of years Israel will help to staff the Academy and on-the-job training will be made available aboard Zim vessels and in Zim offices in Israel and abroad.

The second major Israeli investment in Ghana is in the building industry. The Ghana National Construction Company, Ltd. was established in March 1958, with 60 percent participation by the Ghana Industrial Development Corporation, a wholly-owned government corporation, and the remaining 40 percent controlled by Solel Boneh, the industrial complex of the Israeli labor organization, Histadrut. The new corporation is to engage primarily in large-scale construction projects in the public sector, but it may also participate in private projects, particularly industrial building. Technical assistance is also an important feature of this investment. Solel Boneh is to train a substantial number of Ghanaians in the skills and techniques of the construction industry. The capitalization of the new corporation, all paid in, is $560,000.

These two investments have established precedents, particularly with respect to the distribution of ownership and the provision of Israeli technical personnel and assistance. Future investments in Ghana are likely to adhere to the pattern set in these two important ventures.

Technical Assistance. In addition to private technical assistance associated with the two Israeli investments described, the government of Israel has provided technical assistance in the fields of city planning, public veterinarian services, trade union organization, irrigation and drinking water supplies, and maritime law. Ghana has also shown considerable interest in receiving technical assistance in the operation of coöperatives. During the fiscal year 1958, Ghana received visits from Israeli technicians in the fields of coöperative farming and resettlement projects, cooperative banking, coöperative marketing and consumer coöperatives.

Perhaps the most dramatic technical assistance is to be found in the agricultural field. An Israeli coöperative settlement expert is studying the feasibility of creating farm communities patterned on the Israel kibbutzim and moshavim. Other Israeli technicians are pioneering in water-drilling experiments in the hinterlands. And still others are concerned with commodity marketing, agricultural credit and agricultural productivity generally.

Exchange Programs. In addition to trade, investment and technical assistance, there has been a growing exchange of official and unofficial visits between the two countries. Israel has initiated a scholarship program for Ghanaian students to study in Israel; more than 40 have already arrived there and the number is expected to increase steadily. The Israeli government helped to recruit two Israeli professors of civil engineering to teach at Kumasi College of Technology for three-year periods. There is also a growing number of private scholarships, such as the ten granted by Solel Boneh to provide Ghanaians with the opportunity to become architects, engineers and building foremen.

The evolving Ghanaian-Israeli relationship thus brings together two new postwar states, both pioneers in their respective ways and areas, and both seeking in difficult circumstances to create enduring and viable nations. It brings together two former segments of the British Empire which, as part of that Empire, had no contacts. It brings together two states heretofore unrelated by historic ties, tradition or habit solely on the basis of newly developing mutual interests.


Many of the elements found in Israel's relationship with Ghana are present in her expanding relations with other areas of Africa and Asia. These contacts have been abetted by the completion of Israel's "dry land Suez Canal," the hard-surface road reaching to the port of Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba. Israel has instituted regular freight service between Eilat and the entire east coast of Africa and the Union of South Africa, postal services between Eilat and Ethiopia and British East Africa, and expanding commercial contacts with Ethiopia, British East Africa, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, Mozambique and the Union of South Africa. The recent trade agreement between the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and Israel is among the most important of these expanding trade relations. The agreement puts trade between the two countries for the first time on a general open license system and a most-favored-nation basis.

Both Liberia and Ethiopia maintain diplomatic relations with Israel, and both have been developing trade, investment, technical assistance and cultural relations with that country. Both are reported to have stood firm with Ghana in resisting Egyptian attempts to obtain an anti-Israel declaration from the Accra Conference of Independent African States. The Liberian Construction Corporation was set up in Israel for the expressed purpose of constructing public works and roads in Liberia; and the Alliance Tire and Rubber Company, Ltd. of Israel is in an advanced state of negotiations with respect to investment in a new rubber plantation in the Western Region of Nigeria. Israel has also developed increasing contacts with other parts of West and Central Africa, and trade with French West Africa, especially, increased last year, partly, perhaps, as a result of the visit of Mrs. Golda Meir, the Israeli Foreign Minister, to that area and to Nigeria in March 1958. In 1957 Israeli exports to the Belgian Congo and French Equatorial Africa also started to increase significantly.

In Asia the relationship between Israel and Burma comes closest to the Israel-Ghana model. Burma is Israel's oldest friend in Asia. Their growing relationship has been subjected to hostile pressure ever since early 1955, when Burma incurred Egyptian displeasure by its efforts to moderate the Arab anti-Israel resolution at the Bandung Conference. Shortly thereafter Prime Minister U Nu of Burma defied an Egyptian demand that he abandon an official visit to Israel. Instead U Nu made his visit to Israel and cancelled a planned three-day visit to Egypt scheduled at the same time. Israel has established diplomatic relations with Japan, Thailand, Laos, Ceylon and the Philippines, as well as Burma. The one striking gap is the absence of any rapprochement with India, which has steadfastly refused to exchange ambassadors although it recognized Israel as long ago as 1950.

On the economic side, there has been a growing stream of Israeli technicians going to Burma, and a reverse flow of Burmese trainees going to Israel. Both groups have been largely concerned with agricultural development. Recently 56 Burmese arrived in Israel to spend one year living and working on collective and coöperative farms on the frontiers of the country. At the same time a Burmese army contingent of 33 officers and men will spend one year studying defense arrangements in these border settlements. In 1956 and 1957 Israeli exports to Burma, made up entirely of industrial goods, totalled approximately $1,000,000, while Israeli imports from Burma amounted to $900,000 in each of these years. For both countries, these are not insignificant totals.

A shipping partnership has recently been formed with financial interests in Hong Kong, which annually handles Israeli exports amounting to more than $2,000,000. The Gold Star Line is to operate between Far Eastern ports, the United States and West Africa, with the Black Star Line serving as its representative in West Africa and as a connecting link with Western Europe. Thus, Israel has brought together in an imaginative way its developing and complementary relationships with Ghana and Hong Kong. In this type of arrangement there are potentially interesting possibilities for triangular trade.

Elsewhere in Asia, Israel has growing trade relations with Japan, the Philippines and Iran. In 1957 trade with these states showed a significant increase over the 1956 levels. Growing numbers of Asian trainees are finding their way to Israel, including a small group of trainees from Thailand, India and Japan who are studying at Israeli scientific and technical institutions. The most recent development is the creation by the Israeli government of an integrated program of several months' duration for the study of agricultural settlements and coöperative enterprises. At the present time 60 trainees from 17 Afro-Asian countries and territories are participating.


One of the most hopeful aspects of Israel's relations with Afro-Asian states is that her economic methods, rather than those of the Communists, may serve as a model for underdeveloped areas.

The Soviet and Chinese Communist models undoubtedly have a strong attraction for those countries which, after centuries of subsistence-level economies and, in many cases, generations of colonial status, are seeking the shortest route to economic development. The underdeveloped countries are casting about for the formula that will not only work for them but also achieve maximum results in minimum time. The temptation to find a short cut by the use of authoritarian policies and techniques is constantly with them.

The forced pace of Russian and Chinese development is likely to be attractive for new political leaders in underdeveloped countries under a variety of circumstances: for those laboring under a compulsion to show tangible results within a single generation; for those impatient with democratic processes for obtaining a consensus on development policies; for those unsure of their position and fearful of the political pressures likely to accompany economic growth; for those attracted by the argument that poor nations cannot afford the luxury of relatively unplanned growth of private economic sectors; and for those whose anti-colonialism leads them to regard all private enterprise with suspicion and to consider private ownership of the means of production a dangerous relic of the colonial past.

The Israeli model might well prove to be a sort of economic "third force"--an alternative differing from the Western pattern but certainly far more compatible with free-world interests than any Communist model. For Israel has many things in common with the underdeveloped countries: limited natural resources, short supplies of capital, fundamental social problems, major tasks of building a national state and developing new political institutions, and a will to develop modern economies--indeed, the whole range of problems confronting almost any new state in today's world. The inspirational note and sense of purpose associated with the Israeli economic development effort are likely to exercise an appeal for underdeveloped countries with a drive to achieve expanding economies and higher standards of living. Finally, and most important, Israel by no stretch of the imagination presents an external threat to these newly independent countries. Israeli assistance can be accepted without fear of "strings" which might in any way be thought to compromise the independence of the recipient states.

As Israel develops its relationships with other African and Asian countries, her economy and development schemes will be on exhibit before a growing number of visitors. The availability of qualified Israeli technicians and the apparent adaptability of Israeli economic development techniques are likely to enhance the possibilities for a transfer of some or much of the Israeli experience to African and Asian areas.


The general benefit to Israel of expanding relations with the Afro-Asian states is implicit in the foregoing. In conclusion, it seems worth while to note some of the specific advantages which may accrue to Israel as these relationships develop.

Already, Israel is breaking out of Nasser's "Arab circle." Measures to secure and develop the port of Eilat and an overland route from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba are part of the unfolding strategy of outflanking the Arab blockade on the east. Similarly, the Black Star Line, founded in Ghana with substantial Israeli participation, provides a greater measure of security on the western flank. It would appear unlikely that Egypt will choose to interfere with free access to the Suez Canal of ships flying the flag of Ghana even if such ships should be plying routes originating or terminating in Israel.

The friendly and mutually profitable relations which Israel has achieved with other young states have also been successful thus far in forestalling Egyptian efforts to turn the Afro-Asian bloc against Israel. The refusal of the African states and political organizations to take an anti-Israel position at the respective Accra Conferences, already noted, is one instance of this important development.

The material advantages for Israel in developing fruitful economic ties with African and Asian states and territories are no less promising. The Afro-Asian world represents both markets for her manufactured goods--cement, tires, chemicals and pharmaceuticals--and sources of raw materials for her processing and manufacturing industries and of agricultural products which supply her with food and animal fodder on reasonable terms. Israel is particularly interested in obtaining rough diamonds for her important diamond finishing industry, which furnishes her second most important export by value. African areas, such as Ghana, are a source of diamonds outside the control of the international cartel, which in recent years has reduced Israel's share of total production within the syndicate.

Investment opportunities of the type already developed in Ghana and Hong Kong are also advantageous to Israel. They afford employment opportunities for her technicians, provide a return on capital invested, and, in sterling areas, achieve savings in foreign exchange.

Finally, the advantages which Israel finds in her growing relations with the states of Africa and Asia are shared by the free world generally. Her assistance in economic development, the expanding use of her technicians and her agricultural and industrial technology, the increase in her private and quasi-public external investment and the growth of her trade--all these contribute to the strength of a number of young and uncertain states in Africa and Asia. In addition, in several of these states Israel offers an economic model as an attractive alternative to that offered by the Soviet Union. These developments are in the general interest as well as of value to the nations directly involved.

[i]The New York Times, December 9, 1958.


[iii] Gamal Abdul Nasser, "Egypt's Liberation--The Philosophy of the Revolution" (Washington: Public Affairs Press, 1955), p. 109-110.

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  • ARNOLD RIVKIN, Director, African Economic and Political Development Project, Center for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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