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What does the death of Iran’s President Mean for Africa?

What does the death of Iran’s President Mean for Africa?

Raisi’s tour of three African nations, almost a year before his untimely demise, was hailed as a new beginning for relations between Tehran and the continent. But now, the promise of this nascent relationship hangs in the balance

In the wake of President Ebrahim Raisi's sudden and tragic death in a helicopter crash, the geopolitical landscape between Iran and Africa stands on the precipice of uncertainty. Actually, things were already uncertain even before Raisi became President. Ever since America painted Iran as an international pariah, relationships between African states and Iran became complicated at best.

Raisi’s tour of three African nations, almost a year before his untimely demise, was hailed as a new beginning for relations between Tehran and the continent. But now, the promise of this nascent relationship hangs in the balance, casting a shadow over the ambitions he sought to champion during his tenure.

When Raisi stepped onto Kenyan soil in July 2023, he received a red-carpet welcome from President William Ruto. It was more than just a diplomatic gesture. It symbolized a defiant effort to forge new economic ties in the face of crippling US sanctions. Raisi’s visit, the first by an Iranian president to Africa in over a decade, marked a strategic pivot toward Africa. His tour encompassed Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, with a vision to diversify economic ties, enhance trade, and bolster cooperation in sectors like manufacturing, health, and the blue economy. It was a bold statement that Iran was eager to re-enter the African arena with renewed vigor.

In Kenya, five memorandums of understanding were signed, covering information technology, fisheries, livestock products, and investment promotion. The hope was palpable, the promises grand. Raisi envisioned a tenfold increase in bilateral trade, a dream painted in broad, optimistic strokes.

But amid the promises, the stark reality remained. Iran's trade ambitions with Africa, projected to reach $2 billion, paled in comparison to the $50 billion trade volume of the UAE or Turkey’s $35 billion. Moreover, the narrative of economic cooperation was marred by suspicions of ulterior motives – allegations of Iran seeking to expand its Shiite ideology or resources for its nuclear program, under the guise of fostering economic ties.

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni and Raisi signed further agreements, showcasing Iran's willingness to share expertise in oil refinery projects. This collaboration was framed as a stand against Western exploitation, a common refrain in Raisi’s rhetoric. He denounced ‘global arrogance’—a euphemism for US imperialism—and positioned Iran as a defender of sovereignty against Western pressures. This narrative found an audience in Africa, a continent with its own history of resisting colonial powers and neo-imperialist influences.

 

 

Now, with Raisi’s death, the fragility of these nascent ties is laid bare. The ambitions of a new dawn in Iran-Africa relations have been thrown into disarray. The meticulously planned visits, the grand gestures, the bold promises – all now teeter on the brink of unfulfilled potential. The red carpets are rolled up, the memorandums of understanding lie dormant, and the path forward is obscured by uncertainty.

Raisi's death is more than a personal tragedy; it is a geopolitical tremor with far-reaching implications. It disrupts a delicate balance, a fledgling partnership struggling to find its footing. For Africa, the loss of Raisi means the loss of a potential ally, however controversial. For Iran, it represents a setback in its strategic outreach, a pause in its quest to carve out a space on the African continent.

In the aftermath, the rhetoric of resilience will no doubt resurface, both in Tehran and in the African capitals that hosted Raisi. Yet, the reality remains stark: the promise of a new beginning has been abruptly interrupted. The path forward, once marked with cautious optimism, is now fraught with uncertainty. The challenge for both Iran and Africa will be to navigate this uncharted territory, to find new ways to connect, collaborate, and create a future that honors the ambitions that Raisi’s tour had kindled.

In light of Iran’s alleged and actual geopolitical misdeeds; in the face of unacceptable brutalities ensuing from these misdeeds, we must remember that Iran is home to roughly 90 million people. We must not paint them all with a singular broad stroke. They are fellow human beings who deserve our empathy and outreach.
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