DRC president to send ambassador to Israel

  • felix DRC
The president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Félix Tshisekedi, has announced that he will appoint an ambassador to Israel for the first time in 20 years.
by TALI FEINBERG | Mar 05, 2020

Speaking at the annual AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) Policy Conference in Washington on 1 March, Tshisekedi said, “After more than 20 years of inadequate representation, I will name an ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the state of Israel in the coming days.”

At the moment, there is a DRC embassy in Tel Aviv, but it’s headed by a chargé d’affaires – a diplomat who heads an embassy in the absence of an ambassador. There is also an Israeli honorary consulate in Kinshasa, headed by Honorary Consul Aslan Piha.

“Relations between my country and Israel have long been lethargic. Yet we have huge areas of convergence, interests in security, economics, culture, and science,” said Tshisekedi at the AIPAC conference. He began his address by saying, “Shalom”, and was given a standing ovation as he walked on stage.

He said his “personal history” and Christian faith made him a “good friend of the Jewish people and a fervent defender of their cause. I have the deepest respect for the prophetic character of the history of this nation and its destiny. Israel is at the heart of our Judeo-Christian civilisation.”

He shared that the chief rabbi [of Brussels], Albert Guigui, is scheduled to visit the DRC to “strengthen our spiritual ties”.

The DRC president said his ambassador would be stationed in Tel Aviv, but “an economic section will be created and operated by high-level personnel whose mission will be to promote economic relations between the two states. With our embassy being in Tel Aviv, I find no disadvantage to the economic section being established in the holy city of Jerusalem.”

Currently, only the United States and Guatemala have embassies in Jerusalem, recognising the city as Israel’s undivided capital.

Naming numerous Jewish and Israeli leaders of the past, he said, “This nation is a source of inspiration. It teaches us what mankind can achieve in a short time when one has will, resilience, and above all, divine grace and favour.”

He also expressed his support of the Trump peace plan and a two-state solution for the region, and promised to visit Israel this year.

Israel once boasted warm ties with the DRC when it was known as Zaire, first restoring relations in 1982, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post. However, these ties deteriorated in the late 1990s and early 2000s during the First and Second Congo War. The last Israeli ambassador to Kinshasa left in 2003.

The move comes hot on the heels of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Uganda in early February, where the Israeli leader made the surprise announcement of formalising ties with the African Arab state of Sudan.

“This move is motivated by genuine interest in Israeli expertise. It’s also further evidence of outreach to Africa having had some success. Netanyahu has visited Africa four times since 2018, and the foreign ministry has put energy into developing ties with African states,” says Steven Gruzd, foreign policy analyst at the South African Institute of International Affairs.

“AIPAC’s conference is a big and important stage,” says Gruzd. “It was used to showcase this diplomatic win for the interim Netanyahu government. It’s interesting that it [the DRC embassy] will have a commercial section in Jerusalem, when Tel Aviv is the business hub. Maybe this is the DRC hedging its bets? Israel would welcome any presence in the capital.”

Local political analyst Daniel Silke believes the move is a combination of two factors: Israel’s efforts to strengthen ties to African states, and African states hoping to curry favour with the US, using Israel as a conduit.

He thinks that making such an announcement at the AIPAC conference “plays directly into the understanding by the DRC that AIPAC has had a very good history with [US] President Donald Trump and the Republican administration. By announcing it there specifically, it’s an indication that this is partially to improve relations [with Israel], but clearly also the DRC is indirectly talking to the Trump administration and wanting to ingratiate itself.”

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