Iran’s ambitions… Why the Dark Continent?!

Iran’s ambitions… Why the Dark Continent?!

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Shatha Khalil *
Through its legitimate channels… Iran penetrates into Africa
Since the Iranian revolution and the Dark Continent – Africa – has been an important axis in the priorities of Iran’s expansionist policy, a broad and fruitful arena for its political and economic activities, and an important strategic center to reach the Arab countries in North Africa, and control their systems.

Iran’s policy in African countries is consistent with its policy in the Arab region, which focuses on the ideological religious dimension that it justified its interference in the internal affairs of these countries, as in a record period, Iran has established a strong position in Africa and an economic and political influence, and to have a foothold in countries such as Nigeria, Senegal, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Angola and the Congo.
The economic level is one of the most important pillars of Iranian penetration in the African continent noting that Iran has paid great attention to building bridges of economic cooperation in its foreign policy with African countries and attracting foreign investments such as the establishment of the Iranian Khodro Auto Plant in Senegal in 2007, the first of its kind in Senegal and the conclusion of agreements with Ethiopia in the areas of gas and agriculture, building nuclear plants in Kenya, concluding cooperation agreements in the fields of agriculture, equipment and energy with it , and concluding oil agreements with Angola and South Africa, which have very strong ties with Iran in several areas.
The interest, whether religious or economic, is a determiner to Iran’s foreign policy, even if it contradicts its international positions, such as its position on Israel. For example, although Ethiopia is Israel’s strategic ally in the Horn of Africa, it maintains strong ties with Iran , the latter ,which has penetrated into the Ahbash community, has been able to spread its religious creed , and thus can have a political influence on decision-makers in Ethiopia.
Iran continues obviously to gain influence in the Horn of Africa and to threaten the international shipping in the Red Sea from the Bab al-Mandab Strait, which was the most significant threat, which requires deliberate intervention to curb Iran’s plans and put an end to it in the long term. African continent has many incentives that have tempted Iran noting that the relatively small amount of uranium in Iranian territory, abundant in many African countries, could help Iran to escape international censorship and sanctions imposed on it because the needs of its nuclear program exceed its reserves, thus, the republic of Niger is the focus of the ambitions of Iran, being considered the fourth country in the world in terms of stockpiles of uranium ore.

Therefore, Iran has exploited the cultural, social and political vacuum created by the Arab turning a way from of the African arena by taking advantage of one of the most important principles of the revolution, namely, the lie of “supporting the weak” in various parts of the world finding in some African countries such as Sudan and Nigeria, a fertile land to establish its foothold which reflect one of its most important strategies in this continent to achieve other goals as follows :
1. Export the revolution.
2. Exit from international isolation imposed before and after the nuclear agreement.
3. Achieve a lot of economic gains.
4. The exercise of intelligence activity in the continent by sending elements of the Revolutionary Guard and the Iranian intelligence to a number of African countries in the form of businessmen and investors.

Iran’s ambitions in Sudan and Nigeria:
Because of Sudan’s geo-strategic location, Iran has given this country great importance, because it is located in the backyard of the Arab world. At the same time, Sudan is the eastern gateway to Africa, so Iran has sought to make it a starting point for its influence over the rest of Africa and deceived the world Or tried to deceive – that what brings it together with Sudan and Nigeria – which is actually the meeting points of Iran’s Sunygiri – can be summarized as follows:
• Iran and Sudan stand in the same square in the face of American pressure.
• After the victory of the so-called “Salvation Revolution” in Sudan in 1989 and the coming of Omar al-Bashir to power, reveal to the world the Islamic orientation of the new regime in Sudan, so Iran sought to support it as a similar Islamic regime in the orientation , despite the different doctrines, thus , Iran has found the regime of Omar al-Bashir the only Arab ally who shares ideological views that has reached a strategic alliance in many issues.
• Nigeria is particularly important in Iran’s relations with West African countries, Nigeria has a high population density, more than half of its population is Muslim, and has strategic and economic importance as one of the most important oil producing countries on the continent.
• In Nigeria, there are supporters and sympathizers of the Iranian regime, and the presence of thousands of Shiites who were influenced by the Shiite movement adopted by Iran after the victory of the revolution.

First: Iranian infiltration in Sudan:
• Iran seeks economic control through the spread of the Iranian creed in Sudan and Nigeria through embassies, the opening of cultural centers, the Revolutionary Guard, companies and institutions, and clergy.

. In Iran’s view, Sudan is a gateway to African and Arab countries. Iranian officials have always asserted in their statements about Sudan that it is the gateway to export the revolution. Former Iranian Defense Minister Mustafa Mohammad Najjar described Sudan as the “cornerstone” of the Iranian strategy in the African continent.

• Despite the conflict between the jurisprudential and historical reference of the two countries, the Sudanese government was forced to engage pragmatically in its foreign policy towards Iran because of its need for military, political and financial aid.

Therefore, the real factor that imposed on the Sudan at the time dealing with Iran was the external targeting of American and European pressure on the government of Bashir, as the Sudanese regime believes that Iran is a lifeline in the shadow of the economic and political embargo imposed on him.

And because of Sudan’s civil war, Bashir’s government sought to benefit from Iranian military expertise instead of using Russian weapons, as well as his ambition to take advantage of Iran’s support in alleviating external debt. But later, Sudan’s debt to Iran became Tehran’s biggest means of pressuring Khartoum. In order to achieve its objectives.

These debts have remained a major obstacle to a balanced economic relationship. Sudan has been reluctant to pay the debts and has tried to schedule them and repay them. However, Tehran has been required to pay these debts before implementing any new projects.
Since the beginning of its openness to Sudan, Iran has worked to spread religious belief as a priority for its strategy in this country through its religious institutions and cultural centers in Khartoum.
The role of cultural attachés and centers in the fields of arts and literature is to define the country, its culture, its heritage, and its tourist and cultural features. However, Iran has deviated from its diplomatic and cultural purpose. It has become a platform for promoting its creed in schools, universities, public libraries and the Ministry of Guidance and Endowments. These centers managed to gain customs exemptions taking advantage from the agreements concluded between the two countries, to introduce their ideas in various ways in Sudan.
In order to strengthen relations of cooperation with the Sudanese government, Iran provided military assistance and concluded a number of agreements with the Government of Al-Bashir , and the heavy military cooperation between the two countries reached the signing of a military cooperation agreement in 2008 and the construction of an arms and ammunition production plant in Sudan in Iranian exploitation of the Sudanese government ‘s need for weapons in its war against armed movements in southern Sudan (before the separation), Darfur and the Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions.
At the level of the agreements in the fields of oil and gas industry, the idea of establishing a joint fund for investment of 200 million dollars was agreed upon. Iran also announced its readiness to cooperate in the fields of agriculture, energy, construction of thermal stations, the implementation of water and health projects, the Sudanese auto industry and transportation, assembly of Iranian cars and tractors in the Sudanese Giad factory for auto industry .
For its part, Sudan has not benefited economically from opening the door wide to Iran, most of these agreements have not been implemented on the ground, and Iran has only implemented a limited number of agreements that serve its interests and objectives in Sudan.
This limited economic cooperation was not a concern for the Arab countries more than the security and cultural cooperation which has widened considerably in recent years. This period witnessed the anchoring of Iranian warships in the Sudanese ports under the pretext of exchanging experiences with the Sudanese naval forces as well as Iran’s endeavor to establish defense platform on the Sudanese coast. This step was considered by many circles as an Iranian attempt to review its power and send negative and provocative messages to the Arab countries, which negatively affected the Bashir government and increased its Arab isolation.
The turning point in the relationship between the two countries was after Sudan expelled the Iranian cultural attaché and the closure of Iranian cultural centers on the grounds that these centers are spreading the Iranian creed among its citizens. The Sudanese Foreign Ministry declared that these centers exceeded the permits granted to them considered them as a threat to Intellectual and social security in Sudan “.
This came after the Sudanese government realized that the Iranian presence in the country has become a real threat to the social fabric of the country.
It should be recalled that Israeli fighter jets destroyed an important factory linked to Iran in Sudan in October 2012.

Second: Iranian infiltration in Nigeria:
The Iranian-Nigerian relations are not very different from the latter’s relations with Sudan. Iran has worked on a number of deals with successive Nigerian governments, focusing on the cultural dimension of building mosques and building religious schools as in an effort to create the ground for its main goal, spreading the Iranian creed in the midst of Nigerian society by activating its direct and hidden arms, exploiting its loyalists and sympathizers from the Nigerians.
But the role of Africa is not limited to “charitable and educational” aspects, but Iran’s most important role is to take a platform to send missiles and weapons to pro-Iranian fighter organizations.
Djibouti, west of Yemen and Saudi Arabia, was one of Tehran’s most important allies, which spent tens of millions of dollars to establish its parliament and trade center there in return for its ports.
Thanks to Djibouti’s ideal location, Iran succeeded in securing the best route for the delivery of weapons to the Houthis by virtue of its proximity to Bab al-Mandab, which links the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

Iran exploits Africa for money laundering:
African and American governments have often uncovered cells belonging to Hezbollah, which launder money and engage in smuggling, arms and drugs.
The exploitation of Africa has played a prominent role in the strides made by Tehran in its dangerous nuclear program, by virtue of the shipments of uranium extracted from the mines of Namibia and Malawi, especially Niger, which was distinguished by the first visit of the former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, followed by another visit by Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif , last year .
The overthrow of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has revealed the extent of his financial ties to Iran, which are facing difficulties there after he leaves office.
More dangerous than this is the opening of educational institutions that teach the Iranian doctrine:
In sub-Saharan Africa, tens of millions of people are in urgent need of basic services, including education. Al-Mustapha University plays the role of Iran’s educational arm under the banner of imams training on Iranian doctrine.
The university, which is headquartered in Qom and is under the direct supervision of Iranian leader Ali Khamenei, has branches in at least 60 countries across the world, through which it teaches at least 40,000 imams, and about forty five thousand students have graduated from this university in the last ten years, from within its branches in Iran and abroad.
The main branches of the university are located in seventeen African countries, supported by secondary branches in 30 countries, which together provide 100 educational institutions, between schools and Islamic centers. Six thousand African clerics are currently undergoing classes and training courses at the branches of the University of Mustafa in Iran and abroad.

In the light of this persistent Iranian action on the African scene, and with the continued state of Arab absence, we can say that the Arab vision of its national security, which depends on protecting the political system from collapse, and maintaining at the very minimum the securing of direct borders with its neighbors, the Iranian vision seems quite different.

We conclude from this that Iran is operating according to an expansive strategic plan in many parts of the world to realize the dream of the great Persian Empire, which wants to end in West Africa from the Arab Maghreb and overlook the Atlantic Ocean.

This danger is in the process of increasing and escalating, which requires the need to move and plan to stop the expansion of Iran, through a series of measures, including:
– Support the efforts of the Arab coalition countries to reduce this threat, especially at the diplomatic level.
– Develop a comprehensive plan to address the Iranian ideology, in addition to the security and military aspects.
– Urge Iran to respect international legitimacy by reviewing and completing the nuclear agreement, especially on the ballistic missile program in Iran, the need to link the nuclear agreement with Iran beyond 2025, and address Iran’s missile program.

Economic Studies Unit
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies