News / Middle East

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

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

Afghanistan, Pakistan Leaders to Hold Icebreaking Talks in Paris

Two sides are expected to discuss ways to ease bilateral tensions and jointly work for resumption of stalled peace talks between Afghan government and Taliban officials

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs