Kenyan President William Ruto welcomed Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi to Nairobi on Wednesday. This is the first leg of a trip that will take Raisi to Uganda and Zimbabwe and aims to bolster Iran’s political, economic and trade ties with the African nations.
"Highly productive" is how President William Ruto described meetings with Ebrahim Raisi as Ruto hosted his Iranian counterpart at the State House in Nairobi.
Ruto said stronger collaboration with Iran is important for the Kenyan economy, and that trade volumes between their nations have increased.
“Kenya exported tea worth 28.4 million U.S. dollars, about 4 billion shillings, to Tehran in the first quarter of this year, which is an eight-fold increase from sales from the same period last year," he said. "Kenya is also highly encouraged by the great interest shown by Iran in promoting technological and entrepreneurial innovation among Kenyan youth by promoting incubation of Kenyan startups and creative industry through the Iran House Innovation and Technology Center.”
Ruto also reported good news for Kenya’s mechanical and automotive industries.
“Iran’s intention to set up a motor vehicle assembly plant in Mombasa to manufacture an indigenous Iranian vehicle that has now been given the Kiswahili name 'Kifaru,' meaning rhino, and I hope it’ll be a tough one, your excellency. I am confident the project is unstoppable as the name suggests,” he said.
The two leaders signed agreements to increase cooperation on information and technology, fisheries, animal health, livestock products and investment promotion. Through an interpreter, President Raisi said this is a turning point in the development of relations between Iran and Kenya.
He said, “With the talks and exchanges we had with the president earlier today, we register the determination of both countries for expansion of economic and trade cooperation, political cooperation, cultural cooperation between the two countries. And I hope the relevant authorities and officials in both countries could exercise a lot of efforts in order to provide the groundwork for further cooperation of relations between the two countries, which could also lead to development of regional cooperation.”
With Raisi’s visit, Iran joins China, Russia, the United States and other countries in seeking to strengthen diplomatic and trade links on the African continent.
Javas Bigambo is a lawyer and governance specialist based in Nairobi. He notes this is the first time an Iranian president has visited Kenya in 11 years.
“When you look at the issue of Africa and Kenya being a significant nation on matters of geopolitics in the Horn of Africa, then Kenya becomes a very important nation within the continental politics of Africa," he said. "Beyond sending a message to the West and to the friends and even the enemies of Iran, President Raisi wants to demonstrate he’s unafraid to reach out to nations that are friendly to the West and Kenya, in this case, even though themselves they don’t have a particularly rosy and friendly relationship with the West.”
The U.S. and its allies have moved to isolate Iran because of its nuclear program, human rights record and anti-Western ideology. Iran has maintained its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
In an attempt to reduce its isolation and offset sanctions, Iran recently restored ties with regional rival Saudi Arabia. President Raisi embarked on a Latin America tour last month.
He will travel to Uganda and Zimbabwe later this week.