How agreement between Israel and the UAE likely to affect Africa
By Yariv Cohen, Ignite CEO. Published in The New Times
According to chaos theory, “a butterfly flapping its wings in Taiwan could cause a tornado in the United States.” But in the hyper-connected age we live in, one does not have to go far to the regions of chaos. Events all over the world affect countries, economies and governments on a daily basis, and the butterfly effect has never been so real and tangible.
Such is the upcoming peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, announced this week by US President Donald Trump. Under the agreement, the two countries (which are thousands of miles apart) will, for the first time, announce the establishment of official relations, including commencing direct flights between the countries, opening mutual embassies, and more. The importance of the agreement, historically the third one signed between Israel and an Arab state, and its geopolitical, military, economic and political implications should not be underestimated, as it holds potential effects in multiple sectors.
These effects are likely to eco not only in intensity but also in distance, far beyond the Middle East. While every peace agreement carries with it a string of hope and prosperity to the parties involved, the current agreement brings with it tremendous potential for a positive impact for hundreds of millions of people, including countries that are tens of thousands of kilometers away, and are not involved in the Israeli-Arab conflict in any way. Thus, the current agreement brings with it substantial promise not only to Israel and the United Arab Emirates, but also to Africa.
So how is an agreement between two countries in the Middle East likely to affect Africa, and why are these particularly promising news?
Mega-merger between 2 leading technological hubs. Until not so long ago, the UAE economy relied entirely on the country’s vast oil reserves. But several years ago, its leaders realized that oil could not be relied on as a sustainable resource over time, and that its status is expected to decline in the future. To keep the economy afloat in such a scenario, the UAE decided to invest a great deal of money and effort to become a global leader of technology and innovation.
After a calculated, extensive investment, the UAE established its status as a global leader in innovation and technology: Today, the country is considered a major international hub, and in the 2020 Startup Blink ranking, mapping the innovation ecosystem in 100 countries around the world, took second place in the Middle East. And who took first place in the ranking? You guessed right: Israel.
The two countries share more than the top of the ranking, but also a long list of common challenges and problems, including the desert weather that characterizes the United Arab Emirates and large parts of Israel, the difficulty in cultivating agricultural crops, and the shortage of drinking water. These made foodtech, watertech and agritech key sectors in the local entrepreneurial landscape, and many companies offer (and implement) innovative and groundbreaking solutions in these fields.
Now, the new peace agreement will allow close cooperation between the two leading innovation hubs in the Middle East, in the form of R&D, funding, deployment, and more, and with this cultivation of leading entrepreneurs, might very well lead to technological breakthroughs that still seem like science fiction today.
For Africa, this is particularly good news. Many countries on the continent suffer from the exact same challenges mentioned above, and are in need for technological innovations that will enable scalable and affordable solutions on a large scale. The cooperation between Israel and the United Arab Emirates has tremendous potential to enhance innovation is those fields, impacting the lives of hundreds of millions in the Middle East and Africa.
A wider bridge to Africa. As part of its efforts to develop the country’s innovation sector, the UAE has invested considerable effort and resources to establish itself as a bridge to many regions around the world, most notably Africa, through investment funds and direct investment, institutionalizing collaborations with local entities (such as Abu Dhabi Global Markets) and more. Now, the cooperation with Israeli companies is expected to make this bridge even more significant, and to make many innovations and inventions (which, as mentioned, are very relevant to the African market) accessible to African countries and its citizens.
A boost to the renewable energy sector. Israel and the UAE are also considered leaders in the fields of green energy. In the case of the UAE, this is somewhat surprising, since, as mentioned, the economy relies heavily on the country’s oil reserves (which make up to 7% of the world’s oil reserves). But despite this unbelievable number, the government decided that the UAE would lead the world to a more sustainable future and invested huge sums in renewable energy projects, including mega solar farms and an entire city powered by clean energy. In addition, in January, Abu Dhabi’s National Oil Agency announced that in the last decade its renewable energy portfolio has grown by more than 400%, and that it is expected to double in the next decade. Now, the cooperation with Israel will allow the UAE’s investment portfolio to grow even more, and to fund large-scale projects carried out by Israeli companies in Africa.
A cross-continent geographical sequence. The agreement is, as stated, the third peace agreement between Israel and an Arab country in the Middle East (preceded by agreements with Jordan and Egypt). According to all estimates, this is only the first step, and in the near future more moderate Arab countries may sign similar agreements with Israel, starting with Oman and Bahrain. Later, if all goes well, Saudi Arabia may join.
If these countries do sign similar agreements, a tremendous territorial continuity will be created between Oman in the East, through the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Egypt - and Africa. Territorial continuum of collaborations and economic agreements will allow for large-scale trade, import and export of domestic goods, extensive collaborations, implementation of innovative solutions and wide-scale, cross-continent impact.
There is still a long way to go
The agreement between Israel and the UAE is exciting news to millions of people in the Middle East, now hoping for a better future based on peace and cooperation. But beyond its direct effects, the agreement also includes a tremendous potential to Africa and hundreds of millions who are in dire need for solutions to the most basic needs, such as water, food and agriculture.
For the potential embodied in the agreement to be fully realized, much more needs to happen. But if we can work together, encourage innovation and entrepreneurship, invest wisely and seize the opportunity, we may now be at a historic crossroads, for the Middle East, and for Africa.