Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Rise and Decline of a Special Relationship: Israel and Ghana, 1957-1966

Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Rise and Decline of a Special Relationship: Israel and Ghana, 1957-1966

Article excerpt


The "special relationship" between Israel and Ghana that began with the latter's attainment of independence in March 1957 endured only three years. At the January 1961 Casablanca Conference, Ghana joined in a sharp condemnation of Israel, marking the end of Israel's brief but extraordinary influence in Accra. Despite this downturn, Israel continued to fund aid and assistance projects in Ghana and to conduct civilian training programs. This article reviews the policy origins of Israel's entry into Ghana, demonstrates how both countries exploited a brief "honeymoon period," analyzes their diverging paths, and explains why Israel did not use the fall of Nkrumah in 1966 as an opportunity to reestablish the special relationship.

Résumé: La "relation spéciale" entre Israël et le Ghana, inaugurée lors de la déclaration d'indépendance de ce dernier en mars 1957, n'aura duré que trois ans. Lors de la conférence de Casablanca en janvier 1961, le Ghana s'est joint à la condamnation sévère d'Israël, marquant ainsi la fin de l'influence brève mais extraordinaire d'Israël à Accra. Malgré cette régression, Israël a continué à financer des projets d'aide et d'assistance au Ghana, et à diriger des programmes de formation de la population civile. Cet article examine les origines politiques de l'entrée d'Israël au Ghana, démontre comment ces deux pays ont exploité une brève période de « lune de miel », analyse leurs chemins divergents, et explique pourquoi Israël n'a pas profité de la chute de Nkrumah en 1966 pour essayer de rétablir cette relation spéciale.

Israeli Archival Sources and the Context of Israel's Engagement in Africa

This article is based primarily upon documents in the Israel State Archives in Jerusalem and at the Israeli Defense Force Archives in Givatayim.1 Records in the Israel State Archives are released in accordance with a thirty-year law governing their declassification, and the files that have been opened shed much light upon both the history and policy-making process of Israel's foreign relations. These documents have, over the past two decades, facilitated a growing literature on important aspects of Israeli foreign policy. Yet Israel's role in Africa remains a little-explored subject, and this article makes extensive use of that archival material in order to begin filling a large gap in that literature.

Despite the thirty-year law stipulating the release of documents, nearly all files at the Israel State Archive dealing with Israeli arms procurement and other defense and security affairs remained classified. Moreover, the law governing the opening of files at the Israeli Defense Force Archives permits the public to view only those documents belonging to the period up to 1956. In certain instances, it is possible to obtain special authorization to view material pertaining to later periods, but this is on a selective basis and at the discretion of the authorities at that archive. The documents on Israeli military involvement in Africa cited in this work were obtained with that permission, and they add a dimension to the broader scope of Israel's aims and activities on the continent.

Israel's initial goals in Africa were to establish relations that would ameliorate its diplomatic isolation, garner support at the United Nations, achieve greater international legitimacy, and create economic opportunities mainly for Israeli government concerns but also for private business interests. Accra was a center of diplomatic activity, and aid projects in Ghana impressed African countries that reached independence in the early 1960s about the advantages of ties with Israel. For that reason, Israel invested much in order to maintain assistance programs in Ghana even after the downturn in relations that followed the 1961 Casablanca Conference.

Yet by the early-to-mid 1960s, Israel had turned greater attention to combatting Arab and Eastern Bloc influence that threatened its interests in the sub-Saharan African states. …

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