Iran is looking to Africa for trade exports and new deals, part of its wider strategy to form closer economic ties with China and strategic ties with Russia. As part of this, Iran is also joining groups like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and BRICS, with the goal of expanding Iran’s opportunities and shifting it away from Western economies.
Years of sanctions by the US have led Iran to the conclusion that there is nothing to be gained by engaging with the West. As it continues to enrich uranium, it wants to build insulation from any Western blowback.
As such, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is traveling to Africa. According to reports, he left for Africa on Wednesday and arrived in Kenya, where he received a “red carpet welcome,” a new horizon for Iran’s ties. He is supposed to visit Zimbabwe and Uganda as well. This trip follows one to South America, as well as an important trip to the Gulf by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.
Iran has ties in other African states, and Iranian proxies like Hezbollah have stoked a new, interesting role in West Africa. In recent years, Russia, China, Turkey – and now Iran – have made inroads in Africa, meaning that the US and the West may be losing very staunch influence there.
Israel, as well, has close ties with a number of African countries, something that is not likely to be harmed by Iran’s penetration. However, Israel will need to continue to show African states that it cares about these ties, all while extremist groups destabilize the Sahel, which could harm many border countries.
Iran's ties with China and Africa
According to a report at Iran’s pro-regime Fars News, Iran is trying to emulate the China model in Africa. The report points out that China’s trade with African countries has increased “more than 20 times, the equivalent to $270 billion,” something Iran is looking to model. The report adds that Iran currently only has around $600 million in trade with African countries, though it did not specify if this was only in sub-Saharan Africa or in the continent as a whole.
Regardless, with $600b. in trade on the continent, Iran is looking to increase beyond the tiny percent it has. “The African continent, with a population of over 1 billion, half of which are Muslims, has a great capacity and opportunity to develop cooperation with the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the report says.