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Iran’s Africa Fiasco

It hasn't made much noise worldwide, but Iran's rapidly deteriorating relationships with several African countries is huge news across the continent.

by
Banafsheh Zand

Bio

February 25, 2011 - 10:30 am
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Attending the July 4-8 Developing Eight (D8) summit in Abuja, Ahmadinejad rallied support for his show of resistance against growing U.S.-led international pressure. Ahmadinejad launched his Africa tour with a one-day visit to Bamako to meet with Malian leaders, and though Iranian-Malian relations were never very close, Ahmadinejad has worked at further developing ties with Mali in an effort to expand African outreach.

Of the approximately 14 million people of Mali, 90% are Muslims. And at least before September 11, 2001, Mali was considered a model African secular and democratic state. Since then, however, a persistent rise of Islamism has become a matter of serious concern.

Ahmadinejad and his cronies are eager to affiliate with and milk such potential, and are creating a support system there that could be transformed into an influential power base.

During that trip, Ahmadinejad also visited Zimbabwe and Uganda. Iran now has observer status in the African Union. In February 2010, Ahmadinejad visited Nairobi, Kenya and the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Comoros with a trade delegation numbering nearly 100. While Ahmadinejad was in Nairobi, Iran and Kenya signed a memorandum of understanding on water and oil and inaugurated a direct Kenya Airways flight between the two nations.

Iran’s interest in assisting African water extends to the Sudan, where the Iranian regime has offered technical and engineering products for Sudan’s water projects.

Iran and Sudan, which are both subject to U.S. economic sanctions, have been close allies for decades and have signed a number of economic and commercial cooperation agreements. In January 2007, the two governments signed a military cooperation agreement during a visit by Sudanese Defense Minister Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein to Iran.

In the volatile Indian Ocean island nation of Comoros, a presidential election just occurred. It is not clear as to where the new President Ikililou Dhoinine stands. However, prior to these elections, then-Comorian Vice President Eidi Nezam rallied for severing ties with Iran. Fratmat reported of discord between the Comoran President Sambi — known as “The Ayatollah” — and his VP Eidi Nezam over relations and cooperation with Iran. Iran has been making noise about developing relations with Sambi, and though Sambi had clearly stated that Comoros is not ready for Islamic revolution, Nezam alleged that Sambi (who despite his Sunni background was trained in Qom by Mesbah Yazdi) is handing their country over to the Shi’ites.

So in February 2009, which took Ahmadinejad to not only Comoros, but also Djibouti and Kenya, Ahmadinejad mentioned that expansion of Tehran’s relations with African countries is a “priority for Iran’s foreign policy.”

In late February, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast arrived in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, with a media delegation on a tour of Africa which was designed for public relations and media troubleshooting. They also traveled to Kenya and South Africa.

The regime-run Fars News Agency wrote: “Tehran has prioritized promotion of its economic and political ties with the African states and the country is now considered as one of the African Union’s strategic partners.” But it is not so. On February 23, the Senegalese government announced that it was severing ties with Iran because Iranian weapons were used in Sunday’s attack by rebels of the Democratic Forces of Casamance that killed three Senegalese soldiers and wounded several others.

Iranian-African relations are now so bad that they are frequently front-page news all over the continent, and the feverish Iranian damage control seems not to have had much effect. Indeed, things keep getting worse.

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Banafsheh Zand is a New York-based Iranian political analyst and human rights activist.
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