Iran in Africa: Ideology comes at the expense of diplomacy and business

By Sara Saïdi
Posted on Thursday, 7 January 2021 17:46, updated on Monday, 23 August 2021 07:21

Tohid Afzali (R), head of the political department from the Iranian embassy in Kenya, and Mahmoud Majlesain Cultural counsellor from the Iranian embassy in Kenya attend a news conference at Iran's cultural council in Nairobi, Kenya, 8 January 2020. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Since 1979, Iran’s presence on the African continent has been driven by anti-Americanism and efforts to spread Shiite ideology, damaging economic and political relations in the process.

Relations between Iran and Africa were stepped up under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s (1941-1979) rule. As the Cold War raged on in the 1970s, the Shah, allied with the West, hoped to stem the spread of communism in the recently decolonised continent. Pahlavi thus broadened Iran’s ties with a number of African countries, including Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and South Africa.

Benefiting from the first oil shock and looking to expand its influence, Iran provided financial and economic assistance to Ethiopia, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan and Zaire. “Africa was however just one aspect of the Pahlavi regime’s foreign policy and not a priority,” says Clément Therme, a post-doctoral research fellow at Sciences Po Paris and an Iran expert.