Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe Roll Out Red Carpet for ‘Brother’ Iran’s Official Visit

Iran’s President, Ebrahim Raisi has wrapped up a short official visit to Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The three African states signed deals with a “critical strategic partner” while Iran boosted diplomatic and economic ties with what Raisi called a “continent of opportunities”.

Sayyid Ebrahim Raisolsadati (Raisi), President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, completed his three-country African tour earlier this week. The last official visit of an Iranian leader was 11 years ago by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

‘Turning point’?

For Raisi, Africa is a “continent of opportunities” as well as a lucrative market for Iranian products. “None of us are satisfied with the volume of trade,” he said.

Iran described the tour as “a new turning point” to promote economic diplomacy and strengthen political relations.

“Iran wants to prove that, as opposed to what is being said, it is not isolated,” Thierry Coville, researcher at IRIS , the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, told RFI’s Houda Ibrahim.

“That’s why it has re-established diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia in March, normalised tensed relations with Egypt and Morocco.”

Latin America was also a recent destination for his first visit last June. Then, Raisi stopped in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.

“All three countries – Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe – are struggling with debts and are certainly notable as they appear unusual for an Iranian delegation to visit,” said Marc Howard, deputy editor of the publication African Energy.

The tour started with Kenya on Wednesday 12 July and ended with Zimbabwe on Thursday 13 July.

Friends in Zimbabwe

“I am happy you have come to show solidarity,” Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa told his Iranian counterpart. “When we went to war [against Great Britain], Iran was our friend.”

ZANUPF supporters at Robert Mugabe International Airport wait for the arrival of President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi. #sabcnews— Sophie Mokoena (@Sophie_Mokoena) July 13, 2023

Twelve agreements were signed, in Harare, on topics ranging from energy to telecommunications.

Both countries are isolated from Western powers and under sanctions from the United States.

“It wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibilities to imagine some sort of bartering deal being struck between Iran and Zimbabwe,” Howard told RFI.

“Zimbabwe imports all of its hydrocarbons and that represents an enormous strain on its balance of payments.

“On the other hand, Iran has hydrocarbon to offer but it is clearly short of other resources while Zimbabwe is a significant producer of critical and transitional minerals, not limited to lithium and platinum group metals along with gold.”

Tehran said that it shares “common political views” with the three African countries. The anti-West rhetoric is one of them.

“Western colonialism seeks to exert pressure on sovereign nations by exploiting the human rights issue, using it as a political tool and applying double standards,” Raisi said. “We are the true advocates of human rights.”

Ugandan oil expertise

In Uganda, Raisi said that Iran would offer its expertise in both oil exploration and refining.

This partnership with Iran will boost Uganda’s Oil and Gas Industry. Thanks to H.E. President @KagutaMuseveni for his visionary leadership.#SupportEACOP— Stella Aringo (@StellaFavour8) July 13, 2023

“Recognising the significance of establishing an oil refinery, we are eager to lend our knowledge and experience to help Uganda tap into its oil resources,” he told Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

According to Howard, oil-refining projects being developed by western partners in Uganda have stalled.

“There has been a long delayed 60 thousand barrels per day refinery project that has struggled to get off the ground. There is a major 10 billion dollar Lake Albert oil project which may set Uganda to become an oil exporter in the near future with production set for 2025,” he added.

Raisi and Museveni, both, criticise Western support for homosexuality. A position described as “another area of cooperation for Iran and Uganda” by Raisi.