Iran Combats Isolation With Africa Outreach
President Raisi tours Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe topromote trade and strategic depth
By Debbie Mohnblatt/The Media Line
Iran is investing a lot in relationship-building on the Africancontinent. The Islamic Republic’s president, Ebrahim Raisi,embarked on a diplomatic tour Tuesday, including visits toKenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.
Iran, isolated internationally under strict US-led sanctions, alsoannounced last week that it had developed new ties with Algeriaand Sudan.
“Iran needs to end its international and regional isolation, and itsmove toward Africa should be viewed in that context,” saidMohammed Khan, a researcher at Rasanah, a Riyadh-basedIranian studies group.
Although Iran has recently signed deals with Middle Easterncompetitors such as Saudi Arabia, Khan told The Media Line, itsregional rivalries are still alive and well.
“Iran wants to keep its options open and not put all its eggs inone basket,” Khan explained. After all, Iran’s new agreementswith Middle Eastern countries “can be easily overturned.“
Valeria Scuto, an analyst at Sibylline, a London-based globalrisk assessment group, said President Raisi was trying toimprove relations with African countries since beginning histerm in 2021.
Raisi’s goal, Scuto said, was increased economic opportunities.Countries like Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe could use Iran’sservices and technical know-how in the medical and agrifoodsectors.
Washington is also sanctioning Zimbabwe, Scuto said, and“Harare may be seeking greater alignment with Tehran as asource of [international] relief.”
Kenya’s interest in enhancing ties with Iran is linked to its nuclear power ambitions. “Iran’s advancements in nuclearenergy are enticing to countries like Kenya that are seeking toset up their own nuclear power plants,” Scuto said.
Africa offers Iran significant potential for strategic depth, naturalresource access, and opportunities to expand its sphere ofinfluence, Khan said. It is also a key arena for competition withSaudi Arabia and Turkey, both of whom have been upping theirown African outreach.
Khan says that former Iranian President MahmoudAhmadinejad, who led the country from 2005 to 2013, regardedsome African countries as potential members of Iran’s “Axis ofResistance.”
Some Iranian leaders have used the term when referring to theirrivalry with the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Sunni militants, andIranian opposition groups.
Members of the Axis of Resistance typically include Palestiniangroups, the Syrian government, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, ethnicHouthi militias in Yemen, and Shiite factions in Iraq.
Khan says Iranian activity in Africa is also aimed at showingdomestic and foreign audiences Iran is not isolated and haspotential trading partners outside the West.
Scuto noted that all three African countries on President Raisi’sitinerary are part of the Non-Aligned Movement, a forum of 120countries who say they are not aligned with major geopoliticalpowers.
The movement’s next summit meeting is scheduled to take placein Kampala, Uganda’s capital, in June 2024.
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