Iran in Africa: Terrorism & Broken Promises

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Introduction 

 -view this clip about Iran in Africa.

Increasing political and economic isolation and a broader policy of “exporting the revolution” have led Iran to seek new allies around the world. In this way, Iran hopes to block diplomatic moves against it in the UN, expand into new markets and promote its radical agenda.

The clearest examples so far have been the members of a new anti-US alliance in Latin America.  But while this Latin American activism has been in the spotlight for some time, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his government have also been busy shuttling to Africa, speaking of a “new, just world order” and pledging to increase trade and to invest in development projects.

But while Tehran is handing out countless economic promises and talking about the “end of Western capitalism and colonialism,” the effects of an increasing Iranian presence in Africa are already becoming apparent. There, too, Iran takes advantage of its new “friends” to promote its anti-Western foreign policy and support radical militant groups.

Rhetoric of a “New World Order”

An editorial published in the Iranian conservative daily Iran claims that in contrast with the West, whose relations with African states are based on “furthering its own interests”, Iran is seeking relations that will prove mutually beneficial. Indeed, the main line in Tehran’s rhetoric about Africa is that the West is still looking to exploit African countries for its own gain, and Tehran often blames “colonialist powers” for Africa’s poverty and other problems. On a visit to Burkina Faso, Ghana and Togo,   Manouchehr Mottaki, then Iran’s foreign minister, stated that the nations of the world are no longer willing to be subjected to an “unfair system”. For this reason, Iran claims that “resistance against the colonialist powers is the sole way to achieve independence and economic progress”. In any event, according to repeated claims by Ahmadinejad, the “capitalist system” is on the verge of collapse.

But some leading officials in African countries are fully aware of the truth about the Iranian regime. During Ahmadinejad’s visit to Harara in April, Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai called the visit a “colossal political scandal”, and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) attacked Ahmadinejad over his record on human rights, saying, “He has made his reputation as a warmonger, a trampler of human rights, an executioner of those with dissenting voices and leader of questionable legitimacy.”

Even back in Iran Ahmadinejad’s doctrine is received with scepticism. A reformist newspaper recently warned that the president’s “unrealistic and impossible” view of a new world order only translates into large expenditures for the Iranian people.

It would be unrealistic of African countries to expect high benefits from developing their relations with Iran at the expense of their relations with Western countries, especially as Iran suffers from growing isolation. Furthermore, the modest truth behind Iran’s “big talk” is beginning to emerge.

Broken Promises in Africa and Around the World

Iran’s actions in Africa focus largely on economics with an emphasis on promises of aid to set up factories and various projects. These include, for example, projects linked to the supply of oil and water in Kenya, establishment of a joint investment corporation between Iran and Zimbabwe, construction of cement and asphalt production plants in Comoros, construction of an oil refinery, a tractor assembly plant and a beef cannery in Uganda, extension of a 120 million USD  line of credit from the Export Development Bank of Iran to Senegal for the purchase of Iranian tractors, and construction of Sierra Leone’s first dialysis center. During 2010, Tehran held an Iran-Africa Forum to boost economic and political cooperation, which was attended by representatives from over forty African nations.

However, Iran’s actions in the developing world seldom live up to its rhetoric. Signs of this are also beginning to emerge in Africa, and, according to several Iranian sources, twenty African nations threatened recently to close their embassies in Tehran following what they termed Ahmadinejad’s failure to live up to the promises he made during his trips to Africa. Here are a few examples:

Mali’s Hydroelectric Power Plant Fails to Materialize

In a June 2007 trip to Iran, Mali’s President Amadou Toumani Touré asked Ahmadinejad to help construct a dam and hydroelectric power plant in his West African country, a project that the Iranians seemed to take seriously. In April 2008, Iran announced that it had increased the money allocated for the project to 120 million EUR and that the funds would be handled by Bank Saderat, which was already under US sanctions at the time (and whose assets in the UK would be frozen in July 2010). The construction was to last four years and the risk would be guaranteed by an Iranian fund, apparently since Iranian companies would be involved in the construction to the fullest extent possible.

In March 2009, Manouchehr Mottaki, then Iran’s foreign minister, reiterated support for the project. However there is still no evidence that Iran has actually contributed any resources to getting  it started. But when recently a group of Malian parliamentarians met with Iranian consular officials, there was no word on the status of the project, but only vague nods to mutual support, platitudes regarding increased ties and cooperation, and the usual affirmation of Iran’s right to develop “peaceful nuclear technology”. In fact, there has been no mention of the Malian dam in the Iranian press for over a year, which suggests that Iran’s commitment to the project has flagged.

Senegal’s Refinery: Parties Still Far From Agreement

Senegal has in recent years served as “Iran’s gateway to Africa”, and the 16 million USD in exports to Senegal in 2009 constituted a greater volume of trade than that of Iran and all other West African countries combined.

Iran-Senegal relations have grown much stronger during Ahmadinejad’s term in office, with Iran building a chemical plant and constructing a car assembly factory, all of which seemed to have paid off diplomatically as Senegal’s delegation to the United Nations routinely votes against resolutions condemning Iran’s poor human rights record.

To date, Iran’s most ambitious commitment in Senegal has been to construct a refinery there for its crude oil. This could potentially be a serious boon to the Senegalese economy and transform the country into a net exporter of petroleum. Although the Iranians proposed the idea in the summer of 2007, a business source in June 2010 reported that Iran and Senegal were still in protracted talks regarding the project and seemed far from any agreement.

Towards the end of 2010 the relations between the countries suffered a setback after the capture of an arms shipment in Lagos, Nigeria which was suspected as heading to Senegal. Iranian Foreign Minister at that time, Manouchehr Mottaki rushed to Senegal in order to calm Dakar’s outrage  but was fired during the visit by President Ahmadinejad while still in Dakar.  Senegal reacted by recalling its ambassador from Teheran and relations were only mended after Salehi the new Iranian foreign minister went to Dakar and offered 200 million USD in aid.

On February 23, 2011 Senegal declared it would sever all diplomatic ties with Iran, accusing Tehran of supplying weapons to anti-government rebels. In a press statement explaining the matter, the Senegalese Foreign Ministry said that the weapons supplied by Iran to rebel militants in its southern Casamance region had caused the deaths of Senegalese soldiers.

Learning From the Experience of Others

Iran’s inability, or unwillingness, to back up its declarations with actions on the ground seems to be a familiar pattern. Iran has strewn a trail of unfulfilled promises across the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, as illustrated in the following examples.

Nicaragua: “Of the billions of dollars promised by Ahmadinejad, the Nicaraguans have yet to see a single cent”

Ahmadinejad has developed close ties with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega,  As the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Nicaragua is in dire need of massive investment in its economy, which is why, in the late summer of 2007, Ahmadinejad and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez announced a plan to build a deep water port for Nicaragua on its Pacific coast .

In a candid interview with the Washington Post in July 2009, an Ortega economic adviser by the name of Bayardo Arce expressed frustration that not only had the Iranians reneged on their promises of a port, hydroelectric dam and a tractor factory, the Iranian government had refused to forgive Nicaragua’s 160 million USD debt, citing the Koran as the reason for their inflexibility. “They haven’t invested anything. They haven’t built anything”, Arce said.

Asked to comment on Iranian policy in Latin America, former Costa Rican Vice President Kevin Roberto Casas Zamora described Iran’s failed commitments to Nicaragua even more starkly: “Of the billions of dollars in investments promised by Ahmadinejad, the Nicaraguans have yet to see a single cent.”

It appears that the Nicaraguans are no longer waiting for Iran. As of July 2010, two Korean firms were in negotiations with the Nicaraguan government to build a deep water port at Monkey Point.

UAE Crescent Seeks International Arbitration over Iran’s Failure to Fulfil Gas Contract

In 2001, a 25-year agreement was signed between the National Iranian Oil Corporation (NIOC) and Crescent Petroleum, based in the UAE. Because of rising prices, however, Iranian officials called for a reappraisal of the price-calculation system, leading to gas-supply delays.

In July 2009, Crescent appealed to international arbitration as a result of NIOC’s failure to comply with the agreement, coming out with the following statement:

“We did not want to take this step but some of our customers have lost patience and are demanding performance, leaving us with no option but to seek a determination on the legal obligation of NIOC to deliver gas, and also to seek indemnity from NIOC in respect of the claims of our customers.”

Early in 2010, it was announced that the NIOC had cancelled the agreement to supply gas to Crescent Petroleum. Crescent contradicted this by claiming that the agreement between the sides was still valid and was currently under international arbitration.

Wikileaks: Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline “Very Unlikely”; “Iran has Four Times Failed to Sign LNG Contracts at the Last Minute”

A US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks reveals that a multi-billion Iranian-Pakistani gas link project is unlikely to materialize, despite a signed deal between the two countries. Emphasizing Iran’s “unreliability”, the report further reads:

“During a panel discussion at the conference on the future prospects of Caspian gas, several commentators noted the difficulty of doing business in ‘unpredictable, overly bureaucratic’ Iran, and the alleged historical ‘unreliability’ of Iranian gas supply contracts previously reached with Turkey and Turkmenistan. For example, panelists recounted that, after long negotiations, Iran has four times failed to sign separate Liquefied Natural Gas contracts at the last minute. Two panelists claimed that Iran has repeatedly diverted gas supplies to meet domestic needs, thereby interrupting its contractual gas exports – and has not paid contractual penalties for these violations.”

Terrorism, Drugs and Destabilization

As in the economic sector, the experience of nations around the world in security-related matters does not bode well for Africa. Hezbollah in Lebanon, the aid being provided by Iran to anti-government Houthi insurgents in Yemen, Iran’s support for armed militias in Iraq, Iranian-supported terrorist cells in Latin America and in Egypt, all point to the same pattern.

In October 2010, Nigerian authorities in the port of Lagos intercepted an arms consignment from Iran, apparently destined for The Gambia. The consignment included rockets and grenades under the guise of construction materials, reportedly accompanied by two members of the Qods Force – the key arm through which Iran supports terrorist groups abroad. The presence of Qods Force members is no surprise, since senior officers of the Qods Force joined Ahmadinejad on at least one of his official visits to Africa and Latin America.

The then Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki tried to claim that a “private company” had sent the armaments and that the “misunderstanding had been settled” , but failed to convince Nigeria. As of today one Iranian national is on trial in Abuja (see photo) the other was released after heavy Iranian pressure.

The Nigerian government reported the incident to the UN Security Council and during January 2010 the UN “panel of experts” visited Nigeria to investigate the affair.  Nigeria also called off a friendly football match scheduled between the two countries.

The Gambia responded more forcefully. In November, it announced it was severing all ties with Iran and ordered Iranian diplomats to leave the country.

In another incident involving Iran, in December of 2010, Nigeria’s National Drug Law Enforcement Agency seized close to 130 kilograms of heroin, worth about USD 10 million, concealed in engine parts shipped from Iran.

Military Presence and Terrorist Training Camps

The Nigerian incident is by no means exceptional or unusual. As the Islamic Republic tries to establish military presence in strategic locations, it reaches out to relatively isolated African countries, or countries in a state of crisis, that possess important sea-ports or other strategic locations, and offers military cooperation, which includes the establishment of arms factories and military bases.

One example is Eritrea. Iran is paying special attention to the countries along the Red Sea coast, and in this context it is busy strengthening its ties with Eritrea. There have been reports that Iranian weapons, soldiers, ballistic missiles, submarines and naval vessels have been deployed to Assab in Eritrea. This development is causing considerable alarm in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. A Saudi newspaper article stated that “Sana’a fears an extensive plot aimed at turning the Red Sea region, especially the region near the Eritrean coast, into an area of Iranian influence, after a number of boats carrying arms intended for Houthi insurgents were captured”. According to some reports, Eritrea is also engaged in providing training to Houthi rebels, with the “support and supervision of Iran”, at training camps in several locations in the country.

Another example of Iran’s subversive activities in Africa, this time in the Sudan, was revealed in 2009 with the attack on a convoy of arms being transported from Iran to terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip. In an interview to the London-based Arab newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, in September 2009, Ghazi Salah al-Din, an advisor to the Sudanese president, admitted that Iran has arms factories in Sudan. Reports from May 2010 suggest that the Qods Force established a new arms factory in Sudan.During the 1990s it was estimated that there were at least ten training camps in Sudan, providing training to Hamas and other Iran-backed terrorist organizations.

In addition, a report on the Zimbabwe Mail from February 2010 quotes the Iranian ambassador to Zimbabwe, Rasoul Momeni, affirming Iran’s plan to establish a military base in Zimbabwe.

Shiitization: “The Aims of the Iranian Cultural Center are not Purely Humanitarian”    

In Africa, as in its operations elsewhere around the world, Iran is using the local Shiite population and Lebanese community. Not relying solely upon these groups, however, Iran is attempting to propagate its version of Shiite Islam in those African countries in which it operates through religious and cultural centres, working in cooperation with the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization (ICRO) . The stated aims of the ICRO are “revival and dissemination of Islamic tenets and thoughts with a view to reaching the true message of Islam to the people of the world”.

Such activity is a source of concern for African countries, no strangers to violent clashes between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

According to an investigative report by an Egyptian newspaper into Iran’s increasing interest in the Comoros, the spread of the Iranian-Shiite influence is arousing the opposition and wrath of Sunni clerics there. At the beginning of 2007, according to the report, Sunni clerics met in the capital city, Moroni, and warned against holding Shiite services on the island, after several local islanders held the first ever public event there commemorating the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali on Ashura Day. The newspaper reported that local clerics fear the activities of Iranian institutions on the island and have requested the foreign organisations and individuals preaching Shiite teachings be expelled. The Sunni clerics “are not convinced that the real motives of the centre are purely humanitarian”, said the report.

Iran paid Mauritania US$ 10 million and Promised to Complete an Israeli-Built Cancer Research Medical Centre in Return for the Severance of Relations with Israel

The Iranian regime was also behind Mauritania’s decision to sever its relations with Israel and order the Israeli diplomatic mission to leave Nouakchott. Reports say that Iran paid Mauritania US$ 10 million in return to the severance of relations. In addition, the Iranian regime promised to take over the “Israeli hospital”, as it is known by the locals — an Israeli project, funded by the Israeli government and the American Jewish Committee, to build a cancer research medical centre in Nouakchott.

Iran’s Uranium Procurement Efforts – the Zimbabwean Angle

Recent press reports have indicated that the Zimbabwean government intends to defy United Nations sanctions in a deal to sell uranium to Iran. A leaked intelligence report suggests Iran will be awarded with exclusive access to Zimbabwe’s uranium in return for providing the country with fuel.

The report – compiled by the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog – said Iran’s Foreign and Co-operative Ministers had visited Zimbabwe to strike a deal, and sent engineers to assess uranium deposits.

Experts say the move contradicts Iran’s claim that it now has enough domestic uranium supplies to sustain its nuclear energy ambitions. They say Zimbabwe’s defiance of sanctions and its support for the pariah state will scare those considering investing in its economy, which is only just starting to recover after years of hyperinflation.

Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, Zimbabwe’s foreign minister, said the sanctions – which prohibit member states from providing Iran with raw materials that it could use to make a nuclear weapon – were unfair and hypocritical.

He said that Zimbabwe, which is also the subject of sanctions over human rights abuses perpetrated by President Robert Mugabe’s supporters, would benefit economically from the agreement.

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