Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi has received a red carpet welcome from Kenyan counterpart William Ruto as he began a three-country tour of Africa on Wednesday that Tehran has touted as a “new beginning” in relations with the continent.
Raisi’s trip to Africa, which will also take him to Uganda and Zimbabwe, is the first by an Iranian president in more than a decade, a bid to diversify economic ties in the face of crippling sanctions from the United States.
The trip, which was due to begin on Tuesday, was delayed by a day to finalise memorandums of understanding which Raisi and Ruto were to sign, according to Kenya’s foreign ministry.
Iranian and Kenyan ministers signed five memorandums of understanding on Wednesday related to information technology, fisheries, livestock products and investment promotion, the governments announced.
At a press briefing after meeting Ruto, Raisi, who has previously described Africa as a “continent of opportunities”, said he wanted to boost commercial ties with African countries.
“None of us are satisfied with the current volume of trade and the current economic exchange between countries,” he said.
Iran’s foreign ministry said on Saturday that it expects trade with African countries to increase to more than $2bn this year, without providing a comparative figure for 2022.
The Kenyan president said he had sought Raisi’s commitment to facilitate the export of more Kenyan tea, meat and other agricultural products to Iran and via Iran to Central Asian countries.
Under Ruto, Kenya is struggling with debt and rising living costs, with protests expected to continue on Wednesday in the capital, Nairobi, and elsewhere.
Iran stepped up its diplomatic outreach to developing world countries after then-US President Donald Trump ditched a nuclear pact in 2018 and reimposed sanctions. In June, Raisi visited Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua to shore up support with allies also saddled with US sanctions.
Raisi is expected to next fly to Uganda to discuss trade and bilateral relations with President Yoweri Museveni, and then to Zimbabwe.
The last visit by an Iranian leader to Africa was by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2013.