The Republic of Kenya and the State of Israel have enjoyed, over the years, a strong and fruitful relationship based on mutual friendship, respect and trust. This relationship has proved its value through numerous historical events and has remained steadfast due to continuous positive dialogue and effective bi-lateral cooperation.
The roots of these friendly ties can be traced to Kenya’s pre-independent times when Kenya was struggling to attain sovereignty and later as a young nation trying to uphold a spirit of “Nation Building” in coping with the challenges posed by self-governance. Even before Kenya attained independence, Israeli experts from various fields were engaged with the rising Kenyan leadership and assisting with the difficult task that lay ahead to create and strengthen bodies that would later lead in the creation of the fledgling state. The seeds for the creation of organizations like the National Youth Service were planted, based on the Israeli “Gadna” experience of enlisting the countries youth for national service in many fields and most specifically in agriculture.
The similar semi-arid climate, which exists both in Kenya and Israel, allowed this agriculture exchange of knowledge and experience to flourish and saw Kenyan trainees attending enrichment courses in Israel long before Kenya’s independence. Following an official visit to Kenya by Golda Meir, Israel’s then Minister of Foreign Affairs, it was decided in a meeting between Meir and Kenya’s Prime Minister at the time, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, to put more emphasis on the Kenya’s training needs in the fields of agriculture and medicine among others. The result was an extended effort to train Kenyans and bring Israeli know-how to Kenya by MASHAV, the Center for International Cooperation, created just five years earlier under the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Under MASHAV, trainees from Kenya were flown to Israel for study, an effort that continues even as diplomatic ties between the two countries were severed following the 1973 “Yom Kippur” War, which saw many African states cutting their official ties with the State of Israel.
Israel Foreign Minister Golda Meir and Mzee Jomo Kenyatta at the ceremony
laying a cornerstone for the Israeli Embassy in Nairobi (December 1963)
MASHAV diversified its efforts regarding Kenya and over the years, with the resumption of diplomatic ties in 1988, in addition to the many Kenyans traveling to Israel for training, Israeli experts arrived in Kenya to hold “on the spot” courses in various fields for large groups of trainees at a time. This cooperation diversified into large-scale projects, which were a welcome addition to the efforts being made by private Israeli companies to advance Kenya’s infrastructure. The pinnacle and more well known of these projects was the “Kibwezi Irrigation Project”. A large scale “school of irrigation”, created in the Kibwezi district, aimed, in collaboration with USAID, to bring the successes made in Israel in the field of irrigation to Kenya. The result, following ten years of the intense training of hundreds of Kenyan farmers, was the complete transformation of the region surrounding the Project, into a self-sustaining, flourishing area. The Kenyan graduates of the Kibwezi Project, learned to plant and operate using new and innovative irrigation techniques, which transformed them from farmers whose crops were barely sufficient to sustain their own families, into farmers whose efforts yielded not only enough for their households, but enough to earn a decent living
The first groups of MASHAV trainees from Kenya arrived in Israel in the early 1960's
In addition to the success of MASHAV in enhancing the strong bonds between Israel and Kenya, historical events have allowed the two countries to prove their friendship to one another. Such was the case when a group of terrorists hijacked an Air France flight to Entebbe, Uganda in 1976. The daring rescue undertaken by Israel’s special forces could never have taken place so far from home had a friend not come forth and allowed the airplanes carrying these brave soldiers and the freed hostages to land and refuel in its territory – this friend was Kenya