The inauguration final week of Iran’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi, has been heralded as the arrival of a “New Iran” by the ultra-conservative camp. Following the failure of the 2015 nuclear deal underneath his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, the Islamic Republic’s heart of energy is keen to deliver 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 give attention to thwarting the sanctions as an alternative of making an attempt to carry them by the use of political negotiations. The focus of this worldview is the enlargement of relations with non-Western international locations, and Africa performs a central position on this effort. Raisi 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 necessary for the resistance discourse and whether or not the continent gives as a lot potential as Tehran thinks it does.
“Axis of resistance”
Whereas Iran has lengthy been a serious Center Jap energy, underneath the Islamic Republic it has extra lately been often called a part of the so-called “axis of resistance.” This idea got here out of a discourse primarily based on the assumption 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 consider this construction has been constructed and imposed by the U.S., which poses an existential menace 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 primary menace.
Nevertheless, Iran’s geopolitical orbit is just not 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 primarily based 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 sure 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 “International South.” Each are designed to spice up Iran’s total deterrence functionality in opposition to the specter of regime change.
Concentrate on Africa
Africa has been designated as one of many essential targets for Tehran because it appears to be like to broaden 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 provision of Iranian oil was a very powerful chip in Ahmadinejad’s palms, 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 wherein 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 financial 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 give attention to dialogue with the West in an effort to finish the impasse over Iran’s nuclear program. This was in step with the standard 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 primarily based on the roadmap of “resistance” that the supreme chief has laid out for empowering the Islamic Republic. This framework will probably see the Raisi administration revive Ahmadinejad’s Africa coverage, updating and reinforcing it to mirror altering circumstances in Iran and the worldwide atmosphere. There are three essential drivers behind this probably renewed give attention to Africa underneath the brand new president.
“The world is just not restricted to the West”
Iranian authorities have continuously emphasised the slogan “the world is just not restricted to the West,” i.e. the U.S. and Europe. In truth, it’s a point of interest within the Islamic Republic’s essential discourse that Shi’a refuse to just accept stress imposed by the “dominant powers.” With the failure of the nuclear deal underneath 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 could be anticipated to extend underneath 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 think about 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 enlargement 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 corresponding to China, Russia, and India have been recognized by Iran’s management as a serious 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 endeavor substantial engagement in Africa throughout his administration. On this vein, Ahmadinejad mentioned that “in depth and profound cooperation between Iran and Africa will go a protracted technique to modify worldwide relations and regional stability.” He elevated the variety of Iranian embassies in Africa and traveled to the continent extra typically than any earlier president. Even Iranian automobile producers discovered a market to export their merchandise to in Africa. At the moment, whereas the West was making use of elevated stress on Iran, Africa was seen as a possibility for Tehran to make political and financial beneficial properties. 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. Normal 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 primary framework of the international coverage of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Nevertheless, this modified underneath 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 primarily based 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 prompt a change of geopolitical priorities underneath Raisi, stating that “a very powerful choice of Raisi will likely be altering the international coverage of the Rouhani administration that was primarily based on interplay with the West.”
In different phrases, the maxim “the world is just not 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 help 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, harassed that “Iran’s parliament emphasizes strengthening cooperation on the necessary 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. However, the crippling sanctions imposed underneath each the Obama and Trump administrations had been a recreation changer, with Tehran’s financial pursuits being undermined by regional rivals corresponding to Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
This led to a brand new coverage, with Iranian authorities deciding to put money into clusters of knowledge-based corporations (often called Danesh Bonyan) and initiatives to bypass sanctions. These corporations are often 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 said 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 position of knowledge-based corporations in circumventing sanctions has gained better significance. As Africa is sort of an untapped market in these areas and lots 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.
For example, in January, the Iran Home of Innovation and Know-how (iHit) opened in Kenya, and Tehran additionally goals to determine an financial zone within the nation by the tip of this yr. 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 come back to the DRC. Tehran College of Medical Sciences has signed an settlement with the African Well being Improvement Heart, situated in Ghana, to cooperate within the discipline of medical nanotechnology. And referring to a grant of €200 million ($235 million) to help exports to Africa, Farzad Piltan, the director-general of the Iranian Commerce Promotion Group’s Workplace of Arabian and African Nations, mentioned, “In a three-year plan, we are going to enhance 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 broaden relations with non-Western actors, it’s more likely to help a better Iranian presence in Africa. Whereas the sanctions have little affect on the businesses concerned, their enlargement on the continent will probably be a precedence for the brand new administration. In early July, Raisi mentioned that one of many circumstances 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 powerful place within the huge African marketplace for its oil and the merchandise of larger corporations, following any additional easing of sanctions underneath the Biden administration.
Increasing the geography of resistance
The Iranian authorities consider that what has turned the Islamic Republic right into a regional energy is their “resistance coverage,” and thus they should broaden it past the Center East. Though Iran has sought to deepen its affect in Africa over the past 20 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 Pressure, 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 massively broaden sooner or later. Tasnim, a information company near the IRGC, revealed a chunk simply after Soleimani’s loss of life, stressing that if the Quds Pressure could make Africa a part of Iran’s strategic depth, Tehran will be capable 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 searching for 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 boost its affect throughout the continent. On this vein, Iran has targeted on Nigeria, Senegal, and Tanzania, an effort which can probably be maintained and strengthened underneath the Raisi administration.
Moreover, one of many essential drivers of Iran’s geopolitical orientation is to affect international locations the place the individuals or governments have already got cultural antagonism with the West. Anti-colonial sentiment in components of Africa might pave the way in which for Iran and a few African international locations to achieve a typical perspective, which might in flip enlarge Iran’s position 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, underneath President Raisi, the resistance technique — as Tehran’s essential software in counterbalancing the dominant world order — will achieve full help 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 necessary a part of this effort. Within the minds of officers in Tehran, the enlargement of ties with African international locations relies on a practical worldview, enabling the Islamic Republic to defend its pursuits in opposition to regional and world 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 possibility to pursue its financial, political, and safety pursuits from what it hopes will likely be its African strategic depth. Certainly, Iranian officers consider Africa is a chance for Tehran to reject the dominant world order, which the Islamic Republic acknowledges as a menace to its identification and discourse.
Throughout the Ahmadinejad administration, Iran pursued the same African coverage with unsatisfactory outcomes. Again then, African international locations, on account of stress from the West, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, demonstrated a powerful disinclination to broaden their strategic ties with Iran. This illustrates the hole between Africa’s actual potential for Iran and what Tehran envisions. However, 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 alternate options. This highlights the significance of the worldview that the “world is just not 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. stress, which might permit the brand new president to pursue his coverage towards Africa. Whereas Rouhani was fascinated by 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 put money into non-Western international locations to additional shield itself in opposition to the West.
Amin Naeni is a Undertaking 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 possibly can comply with him on Twitter. The views expressed on this piece are his personal.
Picture by Meghdad Madadi/ATPImages/Getty Photos
 Soltaninejad, Mohammad. 2018. “Coalition-Constructing in Iran’s Overseas Coverage: Understanding the ‘Axis of Resistance’.” Journal of Balkan and Close to Jap Research.
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