News / Middle East

    Iran's Wooing of Africa Yields Scant Results as Sanctions Bite

    Reuters
    Before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad started a visit to Niger last week, there was talk that the poor West African state might add Iran to its list of buyers for the uranium mined in its remote desert north.
           
    Such a deal would have alarmed world powers seeking to have Iran curb its shadowy nuclear program. But the outcome of Ahmadinejad's trip was far less spectacular: an agreement on visas for diplomats and another on health cooperation.
           
    Ahmadinejad's final African tour before he steps down this year illustrated how Iran's campaign to court the fast-growing continent has yielded remarkably little in the way of trade and votes at the United Nations against sanctions targeting its disputed nuclear activity over the past seven years.
           
    "There is a general sense that Iran's influence in Africa is on the wane,'' said Manoah Esipisu, a Johannesburg-based Africa analyst. "Iran means trouble with Washington and its allies, and there is little appetite for that.''
           
    With an economic growth rate forecast above five percent this year despite a global slowdown, Africa is now attracting investment from around the world, meaning the continent can afford to be choosier about its friends.
           
    Burgeoning oil production from countries like Nigeria,
    Ghana, Chad and Equatorial Guinea also means Tehran's chief economic bargaining chip is of less value.
           
    South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa's largest economy, had relied on Iran for a quarter of its oil imports but gave in to Western moves last year to embargo Iranian oil exports, turning elsewhere to secure its crude.
           
    Kenya, an important Western ally in the fight against
    militant Islam in East Africa, also backtracked within days on a deal to import 4 million tonnes of Iranian oil last year after its allies expressed disapproval.

    South African Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim said he had told Tehran frankly that his country could no longer purchase Iranian oil to avoid running into Western sanctions.
           
    "I told them the United States is an important export market ...We don't want a situation that will damage our economy,'' said Ebrahim, who returned from Tehran last week.

    "While we may appreciate and sympathise with them, there are certain realities that we need to take into consideration.''
          
    Many developing states in principle back Iran's insistence on the right to enrich uranium for what it says will be civilian nuclear energy only. But they also feel Iran should heed U.N. demands for transparency in its nuclear work to help defuse fears that it is trying to develop the means to make atom bombs.
           
    Trade down, no notes at the United Nations 
        
    Last week's visit to Benin, Niger and Ghana was
    Ahmadinejad's fifth to the continent since he took office in 2005. Before the trip, he described relations with Africa as "of paramount importance to Tehran."
           
    But Tehran's lobbying for votes at the U.N. Security Council has fallen on deaf ears. African nations have voted in favour of all four sanctions resolutions passed between 2006 and 2010 as a result of Iran's nuclear program.

    IMF data also suggests that Iran's trade with Africa - a
     fraction of other emerging powers' - has been hurt by sanctions. Its exports to sub-Saharan Africa peaked at $3.9 billion in 2011 only to slump last year to $1.8 billion.

    Senegal exemplifies Iran's checkered record. A deal signed under the previous government of President Abdoulaye Wade led to a factory churning out yellow, Iranian-designed vehicles. But promises of a Iranian-built refinery to help ease
    Senegal's chronic fuel shortage never materialized.

    Then the seizure of a secret Iranian arms shipment in
    Nigeria in 2010 en route for Gambia prompted Dakar to break off relations with Tehran as it feared the arms would have found their way across the border into the hands of separatist rebels.

    The link between Iran and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which was ties in West Africa, causes particular concern.
           
    "It's important these countries are aware of the connections Iran has,'' said one Western diplomat, noting Tehran was using its chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement to court African nations. "You can track a lot of things going on back to Iran ... which means we need to be alert to what is going on.''

    Iranian warships visited Sudan last year after Khartoum
    accused Israel of bombing a weapons factory there. Israel has not commented on that accusation but has accused Sudan of smuggling weapons to Iranian-allied Palestinian group Hamas.

    In Niamey, the Nigerien capital, Ahmadinejad called on
     Muslim states to resist Western efforts to divide them.

    "The enemy doesn't want to see nations, especially Muslim ones, have good ties. They are always plotting ... but there is no doubt that the will of the people will triumph,'' he said.
           
    But, with France a significant donor and security ally for
    Niger, Nigerien Foreign Minister Mohamed Bazoum was quick to stress that any exchange with Iran would have to meet international laws.
          
    Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress and an adviser to several African leaders, said he was previously alarmed that Iranian activities on the continent were not being taken seriously enough but now feels the tide has turned.
           
    "Iran and Ahmadinejad have become more pariah-like than they were a few years ago and African leaders understand where their long-term bread is buttered,'' he said.

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.