Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta arrived in Israel on Monday for the first visit by a Kenyan president in 22 years.
The three-day visit is being trumpeted in Nairobi as a reflection of the increasingly close ties between the two countries.
“Kenya holds Israel as friend,” the president’s spokesman Manoah Esipisu said before Kenyatta left for Israel. “That friendship is not only borne out of a long history of fraternal relations, but is also manifested in real and concrete cooperation in a number of important fields.”
Kenyatta is the son of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta , who let Israel jets refuel in Nairobi during the Entebbe rescue operation in neighboring Uganda in 1976. A hoped-for visit this summer to Kenya and Uganda by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to commemorate 40 years since the Entebbe raid is expected to be discussed during Kenyatta’s meetings here.
Esipisu said that “of particular note” in the ties between the countries is “the excellent cooperation on security matters.”
“Israel’s support for the training of Kenyan security personnel and technical support to our security services is much appreciated,” he said. “Kenya, like Israel, is faced by numerous security challenges which require attention and resources to confront.”
Esipisu said that Kenyatta expects that the security and intelligence cooperation between the two countries will continue to grow, and that Kenya is interested in benefiting from Israel’s “long expertise” in fighting terrorism.
Kenya, he pointed out, has suffered a number of attacks from the al-Qaeda affiliated Al Shabab terrorist group operating in east Africa.
Esipisu said that Kenya and Israel have concluded several cooperation agreements in defence, water resources, fisheries, education, technology and scientific cooperation.
On Saturday Kenyatta took part in a sending-off ceremony to Israel for 25 students from the Kenya Water Institute for water and irrigation studies. Another 20 students are slated to join the program in the coming weeks. Kenyatta is scheduled to meet Netanyahu on Tuesday.
During his visit he will also meet President Reuven Rivlin, other senior officials, and visit Yad Vashem. The spokesman said that Kenyatta is also interest in increased Israeli investment and trade. In 2014 the trade between the two countries amounted to only some $75 million.
Among the issues Israeli officials are is expected to raise with Kenyatta, in addition to the common interest in combatting Islamic radical terrorism, is getting the country to change its voting pattern on Israel at the United Nations, and to enlist its help in getting the African Union to grant Israel observer status.
Israel was an observer member of the Organization of African Unity until the OAU was dissolved and replaced by the African Union in 2002. Then, under pressure from Libya’s former strongman Muammar Gaddafi, Israel lost this status.
The AU granted “Palestine” observer status in 2013, something that Israeli officials believe has led to some very negative resolutions against Israel coming from that body.