Dehai News Iran Homing In On Africa With Trade Promises, Chaos

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Sunday, 28 April 2024

The armed forces in Sudan have recently reversed losses in their fight against rebels with the help of Iranian weapons.
The armed forces in Sudan have recently reversed losses in their fight against rebels with the help of Iranian weapons.
April 28, 2024

Iran is expanding its footprint in Africa, offering arms, partnerships, and chaos as it works to boost its influence on the continent.

It is part of a major strategic shift that has involved high-level Iranian diplomatic and trade delegations as well as weapons deliveries to Africa.

In return, experts say, Iran hopes to build partnerships that will help it bypass international sanctions while carving out new ground for its "axis of resistance" against its global and regional adversaries.

"Iran has been seeking to expand its political and economic reach further beyond its region," said Lukas Webber, senior consultant for Valens Global and co-founder of Militant Wire. And due to Western sanctions, Webber said, "Iran has extra incentive to pursue new trade opportunities with African countries."

Iranian officials have lauded the potential to gain access to Africa's agricultural and mineral wealth while finding new destinations for Iranian exports, including sophisticated weapons. President Ebrahim Raisi, underscoring the importance of the strategy, made a three-country tour to Africa in July -- the first by an Iranian president to the continent in more than a decade.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi visits Africa in July 2023.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi visits Africa in July 2023.

This week, Iran is touting the second Iran-Africa trade summit in just over a year, with representatives from more than 40 African countries expected for the April 26-29 event in Tehran.

An Iranian official responsible for the promotion of international business said this week that "the future of world trade will be determined in Africa." And unlike with other major powers that have sought to tap into Africa's "unexploited virgin resources," he said, African countries do not have "political angles" with Iran.

But Iran's engagement in Africa -- marked by efforts to export Tehran's version of political Islam, the establishment of proxies, and weapons supplies to both states and nonstate actors -- often coincides with instability and anti-Western sentiment, fitting in with Iran's broader aims.

"Iran is advancing its multipronged global 'resistance' strategy in Africa, whereby it seeks to secure partnerships that offset Western influence and isolation of Iran," said Liam Karr, an analyst with the American Enterprise Institute's Critical Threats Project.

In recent months, Iran has made its presence felt from the Horn of Africa to the Sahel, allowing it to put more pressure on regional adversaries and to attempt to derail Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip.

With Iranian-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen wreaking havoc on international shipping in solidarity with the Palestinian cause, Tehran has solidified its position across the Bab al-Mandel Strait, a narrow passage to the Red Sea.

Iran's "expanded supply of weapons and ammunition to various regional markets" is evident in the Horn of Africa, Webber said, with Somalia serving as a hub. Iran has also provided the Ethiopian government with weapons to fight opposition armed groups.

With Tehran's strained relations with rival Saudi Arabia restored in early 2023, normalized ties with Horn countries have followed. In September, Iran reestablished relations with Djibouti, which cut ties with Iran seven years ago at Riyadh's urging.

Tehran has also worked to patch things up with Eritrea and Sudan, which fell out with Iran after joining a Saudi-led coalition against the Huthis.

Iranian weapons sales to Sudan's armed forces, which are fighting a civil war against rebels, have recently allowed the military to reverse losses and regain territory.

They have also provided Iran with an opening.

In March, Iran reportedly sought permission to establish a permanent naval base in Port Sudan, which serves as the military's de facto capital. The request was refused, and denied by Iran, but exposed Tehran's efforts to extend its presence along the western banks of the Red Sea.

"An Iranian naval base at Port Sudan would directly support Iranian out-of-area naval operations and attacks on international shipping," while allowing Tehran to counter regional rivals, Karr said.

From Sudan, Iran has carved out a sphere of influence that extends across the Sahel to the Atlantic, an area the West fears could become a refuge for Islamist militants.

Karr said Iran's efforts have been most successful in Nigeria, where Tehran has established a proxy group called the Islamic Movement of Nigeria that "functions like other [Iranian] proxies insofar as Lebanese Hizballah and the Iranian regime have provided financial, military, and political support."

Iran has also seized on the opportunity to reach out to a trio of anti-Western military juntas that have taken power in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, which Karr said fits Tehran's broader efforts "to increase economic engagement to undermine Western sanctions."

There are also indications that Iran is seeking to capitalize on recent rifts between junta leaders and Western countries, whose forces are being pushed out.

"With the military withdrawals and declining French influence in West Africa, for instance, Iran has sought to increase its influence through security cooperation and infrastructure development projects," Webber said.

Iran has also said international security cooperation is needed in the fight against terrorism in Africa, suggesting it could help fill a role previously played by Western forces.

Protests against the U.S. military presence in Niger erupted in April.
Protests against the U.S. military presence in Niger erupted in April.

Since the Niger junta seized power in July, leading to the withdrawal of French and European forces from the region, its budding relationship with Iran has not gone unnoticed.

A U.S. delegation traveled to the country last month to express concerns about Niger's relations with Iran and its ally Russia, which is also expanding its influence in Africa.

Shortly after the visit, Niger terminated its counterterrorism alliance with Washington, reportedly after the U.S. officials accused the military junta of exploring a secret deal that would provide Iran access to its uranium reserves.

The ruling junta, which has called the U.S. military presence in Niger "illegal," rejected the allegations. Last week, the United States announced plans to withdraw 1,000 military personnel in what was seen as a victory for Iran's and Russia's aims in the region.

ERi-TV, Eritrea - ጸብጻብ ዑደት ፕረዚደንት ኢሳይያስ ኣፈወርቂ ኣብ ዋዕላ ደቡብ ኮርያ አፍሪቃ | Reportage on President Isaias Afwerki's visit to South Korea for the South Korea-Africa Summit, held from June 3-4

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