[Interview] Robert Dussey : “Togo and Israel have very good bilateral cooperation”

Most Israelis would have trouble finding Togo on a map or name one significant fact about it. It’s a tiny country that rarely features in the Israeli headlines. And yet, it is one of the most pro-Israel places in the African continent. It is no wonder then that Togolese Foreign Minister Professor Robert Dussey begins his interview with the declaration that “I came here to reassure [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu that Togo will support Israel. Our support for Israel is constant.”

Officially the minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and African Integration, Dussey is one of the strongest political figures in his country (and the entire continent). He thinks of Israel as his second home, both spiritually and politically. So much so, in fact, that he can’t even remember how many times he has visited Israel.

The reason for this deep connection with the people of Zion may lie in the fact that before he was appointed minister, for 10 years, Dussey served in a number of different roles in the Community of the Beatitudes. For this Catholic group, the welfare of Israel and the Jewish people is a top priority. Ever since he was a Catholic monk and to this day, Dussey recites daily prayers in Hebrew, maintaining a strong spiritual bond with Israel.

Dussey is 46 years old. He began his career in the academic world (he still works as a professor of political philosophy). During our interview, he spontaneously begins to sing the Shema Yisrael prayer in his community’s special tune. At another point during the interview, he mentioned Psalms 137:5: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill.”

“I have a personal link with Israel,” he says. “I was a monk and I was a member of Community of Beatitudes that prays every day for the Jewish people. Every day we pray for peace for Israel and particularly peace in Jerusalem. On the weekend we celebrate Shabbat together, and after the prayer we share the Shabbat bread and sing Shabbat songs in Hebrew. If you have this spiritual link with the Jewish people and with Israel and you have to protect the Israeli people.”

“For me, the Israeli people and the Jewish people are, first and foremost, the people of God. It is a personal decision, it is my own conviction, and I will do everything for this conviction. I spent more than 10 years of my life praying for peace in Jerusalem, praying for the Jewish people and for Israel. For me, Israel is very important and I need to defend Israel and the people of Israel.”

The timing of Israel Hayom’s interview with Dussey was particularly relevant in underscoring Togo’s uncompromising support for Israel – it took place a day before the U.N. General Assembly voted on a resolution condemning Israel, but not Hamas, for Gaza border clashes. Dussey made it clear that the Togolese representative at the U.N. would go against the grain and, once again, be among the only envoys to vote against the resolution with the U.S. and Israel.

“I know in Togo we are courageous,” he says. “Everybody knows that Togo supports Israel every time. It is not the first time that we voted for Israel in international forums. In Geneva for example, at the Human Rights Council, Togo votes for Israel, it defends Israel’s position. It is our position, we defend it.”

Q: Where does this deep connection to Israel come from?

“Togo and Israel have very good bilateral cooperation and of course, it is growing stronger and stronger. Last year, we were supposed to host a summit, the first Israeli-African summit. Unfortunately, the summit was postponed. Togo received a lot of pressure from a lot of Arabic countries, and some African countries too. But I hope we will do it in the future.”

Togo was the only African country to vote with Israel and the U.S. to block a U.N. resolution condemning U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December. Generally speaking, despite the fact that Togo has no embassy in Jerusalem, the country’s pro-Israel stance has significantly intensified in recent years.

But at the same time, Togo wants to retain its status in Africa (Togo heads the important regional body ECOWAS, which comprises 15 African countries, for example), so it makes sure to maintain good relations with its neighbors.

Q: Was there a strong backlash in Africa when Togo voted with Israel on Jerusalem at the U.N.?

“Of course, you know we received a lot of calls from different capitals in the world. They condemned our decision, but we this was the decision we made.”

Q: Do you think Togo has the power to influence other countries to support Israel in the same way?

“I think it is possible, but our vision is dialogue with all African countries, to know exactly what is happening in this region. What we need is peace in the Middle East and in Israel and everywhere in the world.

“Some African countries don’t know what is happening really in this region, but we are talking with them, we are trying to explain to our interlocutors and let them make their own decisions. We believe we will find peace when God decides.”

Q: Other countries often want to make use of Israeli expertise in defense, in the war on terror and in agriculture. Does Togo share that desire?

“Of course, we share a lot of things with Israel. We have good cooperation in our health sector and our agriculture sector. For example, just for our health sector, we inaugurated three weeks ago the first trauma center in Togo, one of the best in the West African region. … Our bilateral cooperation is very good.

“In Africa, and in Togo, we have enormous resources, but unfortunately we don’t have the expertise to exploit our resources. Israel has expertise, we have a lot of engineers and we need your expertise to come to Africa to help us with our resources.”

Q: The president of Togo has said that you want Israel to return to Africa and that African returns to Israel. What does he mean by that?

“I support my president. If I am here it is because he is one of the best friends of Israel. His vision about the cooperation between Israel and Africa is very good. For him it is very simple, we need the Israeli people to come back to Africa. Before 1980, Israel was in Africa, Israel had a lot of embassies in Africa, in Togo … but we need Israel to come back to Africa, Israeli businessman have to come back to Africa, Israeli business people have to invest there.”

Q: So how is it that despite the close bilateral relations, most Israelis don’t really know Togo all that well?

“Togo is a West African country; it is just one country among 54 African countries. We want to present Togo to everyone in the world, particularly in Israel. Maybe you can come, if you want to know Africa, it is a door to West Africa.”

Q: You are probably the only professor who is also a minister in the government. Does that put you in a better position to solve the problems, considering that you are a political theorist? Have you ever tried to implement academic theories in politics?

“I try to do my best. When you are in politics you need to shift from theory to practice. It is not easy when you have to work or take a position to defend Israel. But that is our decision.”

Q: Do you have an example of a theory you tried to implement?

“You know, my favorite philosopher is Emmanuel Kant – I did my Ph.D. on him, I teach him. One of the best books he wrote was ‘Perpetual Peace.'”

Q: Is it applicable here in this region?

“I think it is possible if you have the will to do something…”

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Source : http://www.israelhayom.com/2018/06/24/i-will-do-everything-for-israel-togolese-foreign-minister-says/