The blossoming of the Arab Spring was not a good news for Iran. Teheran finds itself confronting the possibility of losing important allies, such as Syria, and of losing the chance to become a hegemonic power in the region. Iran is therefore looking around the globe for new partners that could politically and economically support the regime. The Iranian government has made significant strides in Latin America, helping to embolden the anti-American bloc of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba and Nicaragua, while gaining sympathies in countries such as Brazil and Argentina.
Teheran, to secure support, is now trying to diversify its allies, and Africa represents the latest continent to be conquered. As the United States has been ignoring these developments, these Iranian activities pursued by Iranian officials in Africa -- including a coordinated diplomatic, economic, and military strategy in African countries such as Sudan, Zimbabwe and Eritrea -- have been growing unchecked.
While Iran has launched an impressive number of development projects in Africa, business is never separated from ideology. This is particularly clear in Sudan where, according to Sanam Vakil, an expert on Iran at the Johns Hopkins University, "Iran has been successful in strengthening ties with Sudan because the two countries have an ideological link. They are standing up against the West and imperialism."
If left unchecked, Iran's thrust into Africa might do at least as much damage as it is doing in Latin America. Iran is not exactly an altruistic power: its aid is always conditional, and its conditions always run against the West. At the very least, new allies in Africa can provide support in international forums for Iran;s nuclear weapons research program and in circumventing UN sanctions. In a darker scenario, Iran might use these new-found friends to launch terror attacks against Western interests.
If the US continues to ignore Iran's silent and patient growing global ambitions, particularly in Africa and Latin America, Teheran will, in the long run, have the upper hand. On one side, Iran will be able to threaten the US from Latin America, on the other side, Iran will have a strong foothold in Europe's backdoor: Africa.
After participating in the 66th United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, went for a long official visit to Sudan to further strengthen relations there.. According to the Agence France Presse, Ahmadinejad said during the visit that Iran and Sudan were standing together as "defenders of Islam" in the face of pressure from the West: "Iran and Sudan will stand together as defenders of the Islamic world and the independence of the region," Ahmadinejad maintained, adding that "both countries are facing pressure from the colonialists, who want to impose things that affect our people negatively. They are trying to apply pressure on independent states because they do not want them to be strong."
Iran and Sudan are both facing international sanctions, Iran because of its nuclear program, and Sudan because of its crimes against humanity in Darfur. The media outlet Sudan Tribune reports that in a speech delivered before a crowd of youths in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, Ahmadinejad criticized the United States and Europe for taking the riches of the black continent: "They stole the riches of Africa," he said. "Despite this wealth, we see poverty and deprivation."
Fars News wrote that Ahmadinejad described the two countries' ties as "brotherly, deep and stable," and went on to note that, "[h]aving a deep and shared understanding of the current historical juncture and developments, the two countries are seeking to increase their cooperation at all levels and without any restrictions." The Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, for his part, underlined the significance of the relations between Iran and Sudan, and stated that his "country, that owns rich natural resources, has opened all ways of cooperation to Iran so that the two countries can benefit from these resources in the interest of their nations and the entire Islamic Ummah [Nation of Islam] through partnership and joint cooperation."The Sudanese president also stated that, "Sudan will defend the Iranian nation's nuclear rights in all circles."
In February 2011, the Associated Press noted that according to an intelligence report, Iran is expanding its covert global search "for the uranium it needs for its nuclear activities, and a key focus is Zimbabwe." A month later, during a visit to Teheran, Zimbabwe's Foreign Minister, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, said his country is willing to cooperate with Iran on uranium mining. "Zimbabwe has rich uranium reserves," he said, "but is faced with a shortage of funds and does not possess the technical knowledge and equipment needed for extracting rich uranium ore […] If we can work together on uranium mining, it will improve the economic situation of both countries."
In April, the Sunday Telegraph reported that Iran had struck a "secret deal with Zimbabwe to mine its untapped uranium reserves in a move to secure raw material for its steadily expanding nuclear program." The British paper explained that "in return for supplying oil, which Zimbabwe desperately needs to keep its faltering economy moving, Iran has been promised access to potentially huge deposits of uranium ore – which can be converted into the basic fuel for nuclear power or enriched to make a nuclear bomb."
Before leaving for the UN meeting in New York. Ahmadinejad stopped in Mauritania, where he discussed the latest developments in the Middle East and North Africa, and emphasized the "necessity of establishing an international system based on justice and respect for the rights of all nations." He also stated that although Mauritania is rich in natural resources, Western countries "have exploited their national assets and imposed poverty." Mauritania's president announced his country's support, according to Iran's Press TV, for Tehran's nuclear program.
As Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki's dictatorship has transformed the country into a center of tyranny and despair, the Eritrean opposition media, Asmarino, noted that Iranian forces are stationed in the Red Sea Port of Assab, where they could be of serious danger to Israel. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) had also reported, as early as 2008, that "Eritrea has granted Iran total control of the Red Sea port of Assab," adding that Iranian submarines "deployed troops, weapons and long-range missiles... under the pretext of defending the local oil refinery." Other media outlets have also stated that Eritrea was hosting military bases for the Iranian Revolutionary guards. Radio France Internationale (RFI) remarked that "Iran has not chosen the port of Assab randomly. In case of a conflict with the West over the nuclear question, Tehran would be in a position to carry out a 'maritime jihad'."
Iranian First Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi announced that in mid-November he will visit Kenya and Tanzania. Rahimi recently visited Cuba and Ecuador in the framework of Iran's policy of strengthening relations with Latin America. Now, it is Africa's turn.
Iran is already an observing member of the African Union (AU); as reported by Fars News, Teheran is considered one of the AU's strategic partners and is believed to have as a priority the promotion of its economic and political ties with African states.
Kenya's government stated that is urging Iranian investments.Iran's interest in Kenya, however, goes in other directions. The Ahlul Bayt News Agency wrote that the Kenyan Shia cleric, Morteza Morteza, said that "the number of Shia Muslims has sharply increased, and a lot of Kenyans became familiar with this honorable school of thought."
In the meantime, in Teheran, the Iranian Speaker of the Palriament, Ali Larijani, met with former Tanzanian former president, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, and with the Speaker of the Tanzanian House of Representative, Pandu Ameir Kificho. The two Tanzanian politicians had gone to Iran to attend the Fifth International Conference on the Palestinian Intifada. On that occasion, Larijani maintained that the development of relations with Africa was one of Iran's priorities.