The inauguration final week of Iran’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi, has been heralded as the appearance of a “New Iran” by the ultra-conservative camp. Following the failure of the 2015 nuclear deal below his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, the Islamic Republic’s heart of energy is keen to convey a couple of shift in Iran’s international coverage. Though the Iranian authorities are nonetheless within the revival of the Joint Complete Plan of Motion (JCPOA), Raisi represents a resistance discourse that believes Iran has to concentrate on thwarting the sanctions as an alternative of attempting to raise them via political negotiations. The focus of this worldview is the growth of relations with non-Western international locations, and Africa performs a central function on this effort. Raisi just lately mentioned, “Within the new administration, all capacities [of Iran] for cooperation with African international locations will likely be critically activated.” This raises the query of why Africa is so essential for the resistance discourse and whether or not the continent provides as a lot potential as Tehran thinks it does.
“Axis of resistance”
Whereas Iran has lengthy been a significant Center Jap energy, below the Islamic Republic it has extra just lately been often called a part of the so-called “axis of resistance.” This idea got here out of a discourse based mostly on the idea that “Shia have collectively suffered all through historical past,” and that the Islamic Republic, because the “authorities of resistance,” should present deterrence in opposition to the “dominant powers.” Iranian Supreme Chief Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the architect of this technique, which goals to problem the established order within the Center East.
The Iranian authorities see “resistance” as a counterbalancing technique in opposition to the geopolitical construction of worldwide relations. They imagine this construction has been constructed and imposed by the U.S., which poses an existential risk to the Islamic Republic. Washington’s regime change coverage within the 2000s within the Center East and Central Asia pushed Tehran into creating and strengthening the “axis of resistance” to construct strategic depth within the Center East, the place it’s recognized as the principle risk.
Nevertheless, Iran’s geopolitical orbit will not be restricted to its personal neighborhood, because the supreme chief made clear in a speech to commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in October 2019: “Don’t miss this huge geography of resistance. Don’t miss this cross-border look. [We] shouldn’t be happy [only] with our area.” The Islamic Republic’s geopolitical orientation has been based mostly round two key pillars: first, a “look to the East” technique pursued by signing long-term contracts with key Jap powers — as exemplified by the 25-year accord with China and certain upcoming 20-year settlement with Russia — to construct a bloc with the East in opposition to U.S. efforts to determine a unipolar world order; and second, “Third Worldism” aimed toward increasing Iran’s affect within the “World South.” Each are designed to spice up Iran’s general deterrence functionality in opposition to the specter of regime change.
Deal with Africa
Africa has been designated as one of many essential targets for Tehran because it appears to develop its affect past the Center East. The presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-13) was a turning level in Iran’s engagement on the continent, as Tehran deepened its ties with African international locations, notably sub-Saharan ones.
Though the availability of Iranian oil was a very powerful chip in Ahmadinejad’s arms, he additionally promoted his “South-South cooperation” technique in African international locations by constructing infrastructure like hospitals, establishing corporations, and offering loans. It was a part of a broader image by which President Ahmadinejad grew to become the voice of the middle of energy in Tehran and rejected the dominant world order, insisting not on détente however on the neutralization of threats by means of counter-threats, which translated into the coverage of “resistance.” Iran invested in a number of African international locations, however the outcomes failed to satisfy expectations. With the stress between Iran and the West rising, Iran’s economic system suffered considerably from the crippling sanctions imposed by the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama. Thus, in 2013, when Rouhani succeeded Ahmadinejad as president, Iran’s international coverage shifted gears to concentrate on dialogue with the West in an effort to finish the impasse over Iran’s nuclear program. This was in line with the normal place of the so-called moderates, who’ve lengthy portrayed themselves as advocates of de-escalation with the West.
With the victory of Raisi — who has an in depth relationship with the important thing facilities of energy within the Islamic Republic — in June’s presidential elections, a brand new period within the nation’s international coverage has begun. Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, a former speaker of Iran’s parliament, has mentioned that President Raisi will “perceive and settle for” the recommendation of the supreme chief and can attempt to implement it, which “will likely be distinctive compared to the final 4 presidents.” It seems that the brand new administration will take steps based mostly on the roadmap of “resistance” that the supreme chief has laid out for empowering the Islamic Republic. This framework will seemingly see the Raisi administration revive Ahmadinejad’s Africa coverage, updating and reinforcing it to mirror altering situations in Iran and the worldwide setting. There are three essential drivers behind this seemingly renewed concentrate on Africa below the brand new president.
“The world will not be restricted to the West”
Iranian authorities have continuously emphasised the slogan “the world will not be restricted to the West,” i.e. the U.S. and Europe. In actual fact, it’s a point of interest within the Islamic Republic’s essential discourse that Shi’a refuse to simply accept strain imposed by the “dominant powers.” With the failure of the nuclear deal below the Rouhani administration, extra officers got here to repeat this slogan, even Rouhani’s personal international minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is taken into account pro-Western in Iran. Tehran’s curiosity in cultivating and strengthening relations with the non-Western world might be anticipated to extend below the Raisi administration. In his first press convention, the then-president-elect said that the “international coverage of my administration won’t be restricted to the JCPOA and I’ll take into account broad and balanced interplay with the world.”
Iran’s wider conservative camp believes Rouhani wasted an excessive amount of time and vitality specializing in the West and argue that the U.S. and Europe have continued to attempt to weaken the Islamic Republic. Historically, post-revolutionary Iran has seen the growth of ties with non-Western international locations as a way of counterbalancing pressures exerted by the West within the type of U.S.-led sanctions or navy containment efforts. Tehran’s “look to the East” geopolitical orientation and efforts to spice up ties with Asian powers resembling China, Russia, and India have been recognized by Iran’s management as a significant method of counteracting such pressures. Nevertheless, different components of the world, most notably Africa and Latin America, are additionally a part of this Iranian technique to spice up its financial and geopolitical clout by shifting its focus away from the West.
President Ahmadinejad was a key promoter of this technique, with Iran enterprise substantial engagement in Africa throughout his administration. On this vein, Ahmadinejad mentioned that “in depth and profound cooperation between Iran and Africa will go an extended technique to modify worldwide relations and regional stability.” He elevated the variety of Iranian embassies in Africa and traveled to the continent extra usually than any earlier president. Even Iranian automotive producers discovered a market to export their merchandise to in Africa. At the moment, whereas the West was making use of elevated strain on Iran, Africa was seen as a possibility for Tehran to make political and financial positive factors. Iran’s elevated involvement on the continent was additionally aimed toward undermining unity among the many worldwide neighborhood in opposition to Iran on the U.N. Common Meeting, the U.N. Safety Council, and the Worldwide Atomic Vitality Company.
In 2012, in a gathering with the president of Benin and the chair of the African Union, Ayatollah Khamenei recognized Africa as a key facet of Iran’s geopolitical orbit, saying that “the African continent is a part of the principle framework of the international coverage of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Nevertheless, this modified below the Rouhani administration, which paid far much less consideration to Africa in its international coverage. With the transition to President Raisi, who has promised to advertise a international coverage aimed toward thwarting U.S. efforts in opposition to the Islamic Republic based mostly on Khamenei’s recommendation, the significance of non-Western international locations is more likely to be revived. Foad Izadi, a College of Tehran professor of political science who has an in depth relationship with the hardline camp, has advised a change of geopolitical priorities below Raisi, stating that “a very powerful choice of Raisi will likely be altering the international coverage of the Rouhani administration that was based mostly on interplay with the West.”
In different phrases, the maxim “the world will not be restricted to the West” will as soon as once more be central to Iran’s international coverage and the Raisi administration can rely on the assist of the hardline-majority parliament on this effort. In a gathering with Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Iran in February, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, particular aide to the speaker of parliament in worldwide affairs and Raisi’s nominee for international minister, careworn that “Iran’s parliament emphasizes strengthening cooperation on the essential continent of Africa.”
Throughout Ahmadinejad’s first time period as president (2005-09), Iran took benefit of skyrocketing oil costs and have become an financial actor in Africa. Important progress was made in selling Iranian affect on the continent, notably in sub-Saharan Africa. Nonetheless, the crippling sanctions imposed below each the Obama and Trump administrations had been a recreation changer, with Tehran’s financial pursuits being undermined by regional rivals resembling Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
This led to a brand new coverage, with Iranian authorities deciding to spend money on clusters of knowledge-based corporations (often called Danesh Bonyan) and initiatives to bypass sanctions. These corporations are normally non-public organizations that search to commercialize analysis outcomes, notably in medication, meals provide chain optimization, agricultural mechanization, and crop yield maximization. As these small companies belong to the non-public sector and their discipline of labor is expounded to humanitarian merchandise, they’re much less weak to sanctions. Within the final two years, with the U.S. withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal and the EU unwilling to compensate Iran for its financial losses, the function of knowledge-based corporations in circumventing sanctions has gained higher significance. As Africa is sort of an untapped market in these areas and plenty of African international locations depend on imported providers in medication, meals, and agriculture, there’s a distinctive alternative for Iran to revenue from assembly Africa’s wants.
As an example, in January, the Iran Home of Innovation and Expertise (iHit) opened in Kenya, and Tehran additionally goals to determine an financial zone within the nation by the tip of this 12 months. Furthermore, in June, a “specialised workplace for exporting Iranian biotechnological merchandise” began working in Uganda. Iran’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has said that the second-largest African nation will likely be Tehran’s subsequent precedence, inviting Iranian start-ups and knowledge-based corporations to return to the DRC. Tehran College of Medical Sciences has signed an settlement with the African Well being Improvement Middle, situated in Ghana, to cooperate within the discipline of medical nanotechnology. And referring to a grant of €200 million ($235 million) to assist exports to Africa, Farzad Piltan, the director-general of the Iranian Commerce Promotion Group’s Workplace of Arabian and African International locations, mentioned, “In a three-year plan, we are going to improve Iran’s exports to the continent to $1.1 billion.” These latest developments are a transparent signal of the re-emergence of Iran’s Africa technique and its efforts to spice up its financial ties with the continent.
Given the inclination of the Raisi administration to develop relations with non-Western actors, it’s more likely to assist a higher Iranian presence in Africa. Whereas the sanctions have little affect on the businesses concerned, their growth on the continent will seemingly be a precedence for the brand new administration. In early July, Raisi mentioned that one of many situations for these wishing to work together with his administration would be the shared perception within the actions of knowledge-based corporations, stressing that “all officers of the incoming administration should be critical on supporting these corporations.” It shouldn’t be forgotten that if Tehran improves its financial ties with African international locations by way of these smaller, knowledge-based companies, Iran could later have a robust place within the huge African marketplace for its oil and the merchandise of larger corporations, following any additional easing of sanctions below the Biden administration.
Increasing the geography of resistance
The Iranian authorities imagine that what has turned the Islamic Republic right into a regional energy is their “resistance coverage,” and thus they should develop it past the Center East. Though Iran has sought to deepen its affect in Africa over the past twenty years, the necessity for a broader axis of resistance grew to become clear after the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC’s international operations arm, the Quds Power, in January 2020. On this context, Gen. Ali Fadavi, the deputy chief of the IRGC, mentioned that Solemani’s legacy will likely be strengthened because the geography of resistance will vastly develop sooner or later. Tasnim, a information company near the IRGC, revealed a bit simply after Soleimani’s loss of life, stressing that if the Quds Power could make Africa a part of Iran’s strategic depth, Tehran will have the ability to strike the U.S. there as Washington is extra weak in Africa than in different areas.
One other intention of Tehran’s in increasing its affect in Africa is to comprise its regional rivals, together with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, all of which have grow to be energetic on the continent in recent times. To this finish, the Islamic Republic is in search of to leverage its ideological potential amongst African state and non-state actors. It hopes that Islam, and notably the Shi’a worldview, will give it an opportunity to reinforce its affect throughout the continent. On this vein, Iran has targeted on Nigeria, Senegal, and Tanzania, an effort which can seemingly be maintained and strengthened below the Raisi administration.
Moreover, one of many essential drivers of Iran’s geopolitical orientation is to affect international locations the place the folks or governments have already got cultural antagonism with the West. Anti-colonial sentiment in components of Africa may pave the best way for Iran and a few African international locations to achieve a standard perspective, which may in flip enlarge Iran’s function within the area.
Within the final eight years, the Rouhani administration’s willingness to hunt an lodging with the West clashed with Iran’s “axis of resistance” regional insurance policies. Now, below President Raisi, the resistance technique — as Tehran’s essential device in counterbalancing the dominant world order — will acquire full assist from all facilities of energy in Iran, together with the administration. Amir Mousavi, a retired Iranian diplomat, instructed Al-Mayadeen TV in July that “the axis of resistance will totally profit from the victory of Raisi” within the election.
The Raisi presidency won’t change the core tenets of the Islamic Republic’s international coverage, which embody a managed confrontation with the U.S. and a willingness to revive the JCPOA for the sake of financial stability. Nevertheless, Iran will intensify efforts to pivot to non-Western international locations, and Africa is more likely to be an more and more essential a part of this effort. Within the minds of officers in Tehran, the growth of ties with African international locations relies on a sensible worldview, enabling the Islamic Republic to defend its pursuits in opposition to regional and international enemies. Whereas the U.S. has focused Iran economically twice inside a decade, the presidency of Raisi — a loyalist to the important thing facilities of energy within the Islamic Republic — will present Tehran with the prospect to pursue its financial, political, and safety pursuits from what it hopes will likely be its African strategic depth. Certainly, Iranian officers imagine Africa is a chance for Tehran to reject the dominant world order, which the Islamic Republic acknowledges as a risk to its identification and discourse.
Throughout the Ahmadinejad administration, Iran pursued an analogous African coverage with unsatisfactory outcomes. Again then, African international locations, on account of strain from the West, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, demonstrated a robust disinclination to develop their strategic ties with Iran. This illustrates the hole between Africa’s actual potential for Iran and what Tehran envisions. Nonetheless, the Raisi administration might want to promote an African orientation in its international coverage to persuade worldwide and notably home audiences that the county has options. This highlights the significance of the worldview that the “world will not be restricted to the West,” whatever the outcomes. The opposite probability for the brand new administration can be the revival of the JCPOA; Raisi has proven his inclination and it appear Tehran will inevitably want the JCPOA talks to scale back U.S. strain, which might permit the brand new president to pursue his coverage towards Africa. Whereas Rouhani was involved in reviving the deal as a method to enhance Iran’s relationship with the West, the brand new administration goals to make the most of the JCPOA to spend money on non-Western international locations to additional defend itself in opposition to the West.
Amin Naeni is a Challenge Researcher on the College of Tehran’s Division of Regional Research. He holds an M.A. in Center East and North Africa Research from the College of Tehran. You’ll be able to observe him on Twitter. The views expressed on this piece are his personal.
Photograph by Meghdad Madadi/ATPImages/Getty Pictures
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