Isolated on the world diplomatic scene, Iran is celebrating the 45th anniversary of the revolution on February 11. An Islamic revolution based on an extreme following of Islam in political and religious matters. For four decades, this diplomacy has multiplied agreements and actions on the African continent and launched a new offensive in recent months, particularly in the Sahel. Interview with Alhaji Bouba Nouhou, professor and researcher at Michel de Montaigne University in Bordeaux, who is interested in relations between Iran and the continent since the 1975 revolution.
RFI : Iran has recently moved closer to Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. They too are under sanction. Iranian President Ebrahim Raïssi praised the resistance of these countries to European hegemonic policies. Has Iran really found new allies? ?
Alhaji Bouba Nouhou : Iran promised its aid to the countries of the Sahel, including the visit of the Prime Minister of Niger in Tehran, Burkina Faso also expressed its willingness to cooperate. So, we see very clearly that, here, Iran is finding new partners in the Sahelian zone where until now Tehran was absent.
Concretely, what can Iran contribute, particularly on these military issues? ? Many specialists talk about the quality of Iranian drones.
Yes, in fact, Iran considers these countries as also a gateway to particularly export its technology. We can clearly see that Iran in Africa is considered a country that has drones and that these drones have been the talk of the town with the delivery of drones to Russia. And therefore, African states may be interested in its Iranian drones to defend their interests. This is already a very good thing.
Read alsoIran supplies drones to Sudanese army, Bloomberg reports
Economically, we know, Niger has 8% of the world’s uranium reserves, is Iran also seeking access to its resources for its nuclear program? ?
I am not saying that Iran is not interested in uranium, but Iran is also a producer of uranium. I think more about positioning, Iran is positioning itself. Let’s not forget, next to Niger for example, you have Nigeria, Nigeria which is a major partner of Iran in Africa. Trade with Nigeria increased to approximately $150 million in 2023. And so, today, Iran wants to position itself in Africa as a power in all areas, in the economic field but also in the security domain.
This Iranian diplomatic offensive is also coordinated with Russia ?
So no, no, it is not coordinated with Russia. It is independent of the Russian diplomatic offensive. It’s really two different projects, two different approaches. In Africa, Iran conducts its own diplomacy.
Iran, and this is nothing new, is playing the proselytism card. Why, precisely, do the Iranian authorities consider that it is essential to integrate the African continent, the Muslim countries, you cited Nigeria, through this religious prism ?
Because with Nigeria, Iran became interested in religious groups from the 1980s and particularly with the Islamic movement of Ibrahim Zakzaky. And so, Iran is seeing the birth of a small Shiite religious community in this country. Because the majority of the Nigerian population is rather Sunni, Malikite, and this Shiite community is in phase with Iran. Iran also ultimately sees this religious influence as an asset to the extent that, until now, we did not have a Shiite community in Africa and especially indigenous communities.
How Iranian authorities enter diplomatically » in Africa ?
It starts with cooperation agreements in various areas, because Iran is also involved in technology, for example agricultural and so on, and so on. So, it is through this that Iran ultimately manages to create networks. And we shouldn’t really focus on Sahelian Africa because Iran is also present in East Africa with Zimbabwe, but also Zambia, Kenya, Iran has investments in these countries. .
Also in South Africa the link is very old.
Yes, with South Africa, the link is very old. The link dates back to apartheid because Iran supported the ANC’s fight. Iran is now a member Brics, which strengthens relations not only between Iran and South Africa, but also between Iran and two other African states, Ethiopia and Egypt, which have joined the Brics. So Iran, today, is back on the international scene. We can clearly see that Iran has renewed its diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. So, relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran will ultimately also favor this return of Iran which will no longer be perceived, quote, “as an enemy”, but rather as an ally. And so, we see it very clearly: this return is only accelerating on the continent.
Read alsoThe Islamic Republic of Iran, 45 years of a permanent state of war