May 19, 2010

The Iranian African Connection

Since Iran has a difficult time in making friends with the West, it has been keeping its eye on Africa for partnerships over the past decade. Why reach out to Africa? According to an Iranian MP, “Iran looks at these countries through a humanitarian view based on prominent Islamic values”. Like Iran, governments such as the Sudanese and the Democratic Republic of Congo have a well known history of human rights violations. With that in mind, one cannot help but wonder what this “humanitarian view” consists of.
Instead, Iran’s efforts are political and economic.  Sudan turned to Iran two years ago for a military cooperation when China and Russia decreased their military aid. According to Sanam Vakil, an expert on Iran at the Johns Hopkins University, “Iran has been successful in strengthening ties with Sudan because the two countries have an ideological link. They are standing up against the West and imperialism”.
Meanwhile, Iran and the Democratic Republic of the Congo recently signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” forming a joint commission on economic cooperation, lifting visa requirements and political consultations. For those not aware of the DRC’s history, it is currently trying to recover from “Africa’s World War’, where approximately three million lives were lost between 1998-2003. The war was partly to blame for economic reasons, as the country has valuable mineral wealth. While one of the Congo’s two main religions is Islam, I would not be shocked if Iran is more interested in reaching out to engage in economic cooperation.  For its part, the Congolese government is planning to open up an embassy in Tehran in its efforts to expand bilateral cooperation.
Speaking of cooperation, Monday concluded the  G15 Summit in Tehran. The G15 is made up of 18 African, Asian and Latin American developing nations, of which six are African states. During the Summit, Zimbabwe and Senegal expressed that every country has the right to develop peaceful nuclear energy, including Iran. This follows President Ahmadinejad’s visit last month to  Zimbabwe to meet with President Mugabe where Iran negotiated a deal  securing exclusive rights to mine Zimbabwe’s uranium.
So, it appears that, with dwindling opportunities for political and economic cooperation with the West, Iran is having little trouble making friends in Africa.

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