Revolutionary Iran’s Africa Policy

Banafsheh Keynoush

Iran has built piecemeal influence in Africa through frequent diplomatic, political, security, maritime, commercial and cultural exchanges. Its policy towards the continent was historically driven by expediency and aspirations to export its revolutionary worldview; however, its adoption of an Africa pivot policy was also in response to the need to fight sanctions and isolation – by building partnerships with state, sub-state and non-state actors on the continent. Iran’s Africa policy has led to a host of policies both constructive and divisive; the purpose of this report is to investigate how the continent views its ties with the Islamic republic and identify challenges that impede strong Iran-Africa relations. It is the first comprehensive study of bilateral relations between Iran and the fifty-four African states, and Iran’s major policy initiatives in Africa – in the diplomatic, political, security, naval, maritime, economic, and cultural arenas. It is the culmination of research based on primary sources in Iran, and is supported by the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies as part of a larger project series on Africa. The report examines multiple phases of Iran’s Africa policy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution to the present time and offers details of Iran’s cultural, religious, scientific and technological activities in Africa – which involve key institutions, including the Bonyad-e Mostazafan, Jihad- e-Sazandegi, Danesh Bonyan, the Iranian Red Crescent Society, the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee, the Ahl al-Bayt World Assembly, and branches of the Al-Mustafa University. It examines Iran’s economic and commercial operations in Africa, including trade and investment volumes, banking, insurance, transportation, and port activities. Iran’s strategic interests and geopolitical maneuvering in Africa, including on the issue of terrorism, are explored at length. The republic’s key security operations are led by a realist defensive strategy to project power, and include a borderless naval force, blue water missions, and a long-arm strategy of distant defense. A host of actors advance these operations, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy, the Iran Army’s Navy Engineering and Preemptive Defense, the naval fleet of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and the Quds Force.