New Developments on Iran’s Geopolitical Efforts in Africa–another challenge for democracy?

This Bloomberg/Business Week article, “Iran Arms Shipment May Deal Setback to Expansion of Africa Ties” , is worth a read.

Feb. 2 (Bloomberg) — A political wrangle over an Iranian arms shipment seized in Nigeria has set back the Persian Gulf nation’s efforts to cultivate links in Africa as it seeks to forestall diplomatic isolation over its nuclear program.

A United Nations team arrived in Nigeria Jan. 16 to probe the consignment of rockets, grenades and mortar shells that may have been destined for Gambia or Senegal in West Africa. Gambia cut ties with Iran in November and ordered its diplomats out of the country over the shipment. A month later, Senegal recalled its ambassador, citing “grave concern” about the weapons.

.  .  .  .

Zimbabwe, Uganda

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traveled to Africa at least three times last year. In April, he visited Zimbabwe to attend a trade fair, and then Uganda, where Iran is building a tractor-assembly plant and may invest in a proposed $2 billion oil refinery, according to Uganda’s Foreign Ministry. Three months later, he traveled to Nigeria, where Saipa, Iran’s second-biggest car manufacturer, signed an accord in November to jointly produce and market budget vehicles in Africa’s most- populous nation.

The commercial diplomacy has some parallel in Iran’s expanding trade and investment in Latin America, where Ahmadinejad has found ideological partners in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Brazil. Saipa and Iran Khodro, the country’s largest automaker, aim to quadruple production at a joint-venture car plant in Venezuela.

Economic Clout

In Africa, “their goal is to win votes in the UN and to increase the number of countries that support them there, to win economic points, to increase Iran’s economic clout in the region and in the world,” Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born Middle East analyst at Meepas, said in an interview on Nov. 11. “The Iranian leadership sees Iran as a superpower, and superpowers build alliances.” Meepas is a risk-analysis group based in Tel Aviv.

.  .  .  .

Iran is still a modest player in Africa compared with Turkey, which sold $10.2 billion worth of goods in the continent in 2009, according to the State Statistics Agency in Ankara. Brazil shipped $9.26 billion last year, 6.1 percent higher than in 2009, according to Brazilian Trade Ministry figures.

U.S. Interests

Even so, Iran’s efforts on the continent are a “big test” of U.S. influence, said Alex Vines, Africa analyst at Chatham House, the London-based research group.

“For the U.S., other emerging powers in Africa wouldn’t be such a concern, but Iran is kind of hard-wired to give American diplomats concerns,” he said. “That makes Iran different from a Turkey or even China.”

Expanding ties with Iran may cost African nations some of the $6.7 billion in annual aid the continent receives from the U.S. The Republican-led Congress plans to reassess all foreign development aid in the coming year, said Ed Royce, the ranking Republican for the Congressional subcommittee on nuclear proliferation.

“African governments forging close relationships with Iran are not the types of governments we want to do business with,” Royce said in an e-mailed response to questions on Nov. 24.

With the Uganda elections upcoming, Museveni will presumably do his best to play this to maximum advantage.  He attracted high level U.S. courting for his sanctions vote back in May as I discussed here at the time, along with the unsuccessful appeal to open up his Electoral Commission. See also, Uganda, Iran and the Security-Democracy Trade Space?

Yes, U.S. policy should consistently prioritize democracy, and the State Department’s diplomats should carry that priority forward.  But realistically diplomats will always have a full card, and frankly the norms of diplomacy are pre-democratic if not outright anti-democratic, as reflected in the degree to which the basic records of our policy are self-classified by the diplomats.  This is why U.S. democracy support or promotion as a development effort needs to be primarily centered elsewhere.

One thought on “New Developments on Iran’s Geopolitical Efforts in Africa–another challenge for democracy?

  1. Pingback: How will the Iran nuclear deal play out in East Africa? | AfriCommons Blog

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