|Shunned by the world's major powers, Iran is looking to strengthen ties with Africa [GALLO/GETTY]
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian President says he sees a bright future for Iran-Africa ties, saying there is no limit to the expansion of cooperation between Tehran and African countries.
In an opening speech to the Iran-Africa summit on Tuesday in Tehran, President Ahmadinejad said Iran and Africa share similar ideals, “Rich culture, a history full of ups and downs, and an aspiration for a bright future for the human kind are part of commonalities of Iran and Africa.”
The two-day Iran-Africa summit is aimed at exploring ways of expanding political and economic ties between Iran and African states.
The Iranian chief executive said that his country and the African nations call for a new world order based on "justices, respect for nations' rights and dignity, and brotherhood."
Representatives from governments and private sectors of over 40 African nations including the presidents of Senegal and Malawi are attending the conference.
Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika said he envisioned a speedy development of relations between Iran and Africa over the next five years, “We will soon witness the installation of many Iranian industries in Africa.”
Investing in Africa
Iran has made an effort to strengthen ties with African countries in recent years by investing in Senegal, Nigeria, and Sudan.
Iran’s biggest car manufacturer, Khodro opened an assembly line in Senegal in 2007 while with Nigeria it has agreed to share nuclear technology for the production of electricity. Iran also has good relations with South Africa as its support of the African National Congress (ANC) during the apartheid era has meant that South Africa has remained a close friend.
Although Iran has primarily focused on economic and developmental projects in African countries, there is a political incentive for the state that has had a fourth set of sanctions imposed on it, further isolating it from the west. So as it continues to promote bilateral ties with African nations, Iran also hopes to count on their support in the United Nations.
Special relationship with Sudan
Out of all the African countries, it is with Sudan that Iran has the strongest ties. The two countries share a stand against ‘western imperialism’ and Sudan openly supports Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
As Sudan saw a downward shift in military assistance from China and Russia, it turned to Iran and signed a bilateral agreement in 2008 that includes military cooperation with its ally.
According to Iran’s Press TV, in a bid to further economic cooperation, Iran’s second-largest auto manufacturer, Saipa, has signed a contract to open a factory in Sudan. It will produce about 35,000 cars over the next five years.
Nematollah Poustindouz, Saipa’s Chief Executive Officer has said that the company plans to expand into the nine countries that border Sudan.
Following concerns by the United States and European Union states that Iran may be disguising the development of weapons, the country is under four sets of United Nations’ economic sanctions over its nuclear program.
In a bid to gain more relevance in global affairs and trying to overcome its defacto isolation from the western world over its nuclear programme, Iran continues to focus on its relations with not just Africa but also China.
Sir Richard Dalton, an Iran expert from Chatham House in UK says that Iran has never been very interested in the West and has always been a challenging country for western investors, “It is a continuation of President Ahmadenijad’s policy to become the centre of an informal alliance which would challenge the western management of the globe.”
China has supported U.N. Security Council resolutions urging Iran to abandon disputed nuclear activities.
Mahdi Ahouie, Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Research and Dialogue in Geneva says that, "Iran-China relationship is based on China’s increasing need for Iran’s oil and gas resources, and on Iran’s need for China’s technological support. Over the past thirty-five years, the volume of trade between Iran and China has grown about 3000%, from $5.9 million in 1971 to more than $17 billion in 2009."
Following the June 2010 UN sanctions on Iran, despite the fact that the US and European Union (EU) states have distanced themselves from Iran, China has been pursuing its trade links with the country.
Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang told the visiting Iranian oil minister last month that Beijing would maintain cooperation with Tehran on existing projects.
Western governments have pressed China to cut its energy and economic ties with Iran, which they see as protecting Iran from international pressure. But China has condemned unilateral U.S. and E.U. sanctions aimed at Iran's energy sector.
Earlier this month, at the end of an official visit to China, Catherine Ashton, European Union's foreign policy chief, said she told Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi that observing sanctions placed on Iran was vital.
"We expected that we would all work together in a way that would be effective but that we would stand together. My message was meant to be very clear that we would expect that we wouldn't see 'backfill'.”
South Korea bans exports
As part of South Korea’s government sanctions over Iran's suspected nuclear weapons programme, the country’s car manufacturers, Kia Motors, has suspended exports to the Iran.
According to Kia, its small hatchback, Pride, accounts for 30 - 40 percent of all vehicles on Iran's roads. The firm exported 4,210 complete vehicles to Iran and 17,040 cars in kit form for local assembly, last year.
There are also restrictions on new investment in Iran's oil and gas industry, but no ban on oil imports, which provide 10 percent of South Korea's needs.