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Zambia cements ties with presidential visit to Israel



Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema visited Israel this week to strengthen relations with the country, and met Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Zambia and Israel have maintained enduring relations since Zambia’s independence in 1964,” Hichilema said. “We aim to strengthen this relationship by tapping into Israel’s advanced technology, particularly in agriculture, to bring in investment, create jobs, and improve the quality of life for our people.”

The large Zambian delegation included senior government ministers. Israel’s foreign minister, Eli Cohen, met his Zambian counterpart Stanley Kakubo in Jerusalem on 31 July, where they discussed bilateral relations and establishing Israel as an observer to the African Union (AU) and in the regional arena. They signed several co-operation agreements to strengthen ties in the spheres of medicine, communications, agriculture, and culture.

When Herzog and First Lady Michal Herzog hosted the African president and his wife, Mutinta Hichilema on 1 August, he emphasised this potential for growth, saying, “Zambia is a great country with which Israel has enjoyed outstanding relations for many years. We believe in this co-operation and in the economic advancement of our relations. There are so many things we can share in technology, agriculture, science, health [and more].”

He noted the importance of Israel’s role as an observer state at the AU, and asked for Zambia’s help to improve relations between Israel and South Africa.

Said Hichilema, “Israel and Zambia’s relationship is government to government, people to people, and there’s an important Jewish community in Zambia. We’re grateful for this relationship, and would like to build on it.”

Hichilema said of his meeting with Netanyahu on social media that the two of them discussed a wide range of matters of mutual interest and benefit to both their countries and people. He said that the meeting with the prime minister emphasized the importance of the two country’s relationship, which “ continues to grow stronger”.

After landing in Israel, Hichilema wrote about visiting the Kotel, posting a picture on social media of himself wearing a kippah and placing a note in the wall. “We were profoundly honoured in visiting the Western Wall. Beyond the strengthening of our personal faith, this pilgrimage further emphasised the essence of social justice, peace, and unity for all humanity,” he said.

Jewish entrepreneur and Johannesburg resident, David Akinin, accompanied Hichilema on the trip, having been invited by the Zambian Development Agency. “As a tech entrepreneur in Zambia and proud Jew, I was invited to represent the Zambian side in multilateral conversations that will help define the roadmap for innovation in the country.

“Israel has proven to be an inspiring partner, willing to walk the journey with Zambia in igniting a future of innovation and disruption,” said Akinin, who is the founder and chief executive of tech start-up JABU, which has a branch in Zambia.

After meeting Israeli companies in the technology sector, Hichilema said, “They talked us through Israel’s journey in creating a successful ecosystem for innovation. Their market-driven model works closely with the private sector to ensure financing and market linkages. The technology sector also works with academia in research and development to ensure the country has the expertise and resources it needs.

“We were particularly interested in some of the smart agriculture solutions to increase farming productivity,” he said. “We look forward to collaborations that bring economic and job opportunities for our people.

“Zambia is unique in Israel’s relations with Africa,” says Glen Segell, visiting professor in the department of political studies at the University of the Free State and research fellow at the University of Haifa. “While many other countries broke off ties in the 1970s and 1980s, Zambia’s relations never completely ceased.

“Israel has invested considerable energy in improving its relations with Africa since 2016 when Benjamin Netanyahu visited Uganda for the 40th anniversary of the Entebbe raid,” says local political analyst Steven Gruzd. “This is the latest in a string of state visits to Israel since then by African presidents. It’s definitely a win for Israel, and has the potential to boost trade and cultural ties. Hichilema is one of the few former opposition politicians to be elected in Africa, and is well respected as a reformer.

“Clearly those states that have established ties with Israel have befitted in political, economic, and security relationships, and value these,” says Segell. “States that shun Israel, such as South Africa, are now the minority in Africa, and should see how this is ‘cutting off their nose to spite their face’. South Africa could benefit as Zambia is now doing in water and electricity technologies.”

Akinin says he came as one of six CEOs from the private sector to conduct business diplomacy in Israel. “I’m filled with pride and emotion to see that Zambia, a country where I have invested my time, energy, and soul is building tangible bridges of progress with Israel,” he says. “The discussions have been proactive and focused on replicating innovation in Zambia.

“President Hichilema is a man of action – a visionary leader who brings an entrepreneurial spirit” says Akinin. “It’s clear that he’s not just hoping for a brighter future for Zambia, he’s actively paving the way for it. As an entrepreneur in Zambia, it gives me a sense of pride and security knowing that the country is in such capable hands.

“President Hichilema’s visit to Israel, I believe, was driven by both personal faith and strategic foresight,” he says. “It marks a new chapter in our relations. This trip serves as a testament to his vision of transforming Zambia into a powerhouse for the continent.

“This trip will yield numerous positive outcomes for Zambia and Israel,” he says. “For one, the minister of commerce has received a direct mandate from the president to establish an innovation model for Zambia. I’m honoured to be part of the special working committee, alongside the chief executive of a Zambian bank, that will help shape the next steps for this ambitious initiative.”

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