Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has commenced his first African tour, which Iran aims to use to expand political and economic relations across the continent.
Earlier, Raisi was scheduled to depart Tehran on Tuesday for a trip that would take him to Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe in the first by an Iranian president to Africa in 11 years, according to state-run media. The trip was delayed by one day.
On Tuesday, Kenya’s foreign ministry said that Raisi was scheduled to arrive, but a change was made to receive him on Wednesday in order to finalise memoranda of understanding that are expected to be signed. Raisi will proceed to the other African countries afterwards, Kenya said.
On Monday, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani told reporters that Africa was a “continent of opportunities” that wants to engage with Iran and Tehran is eager to reciprocate.”
“We can describe this trip as a new starting point to have a surge in economic and trade ties alongside boosting political and cultural relations with countries on this continent,” he said.
The ex-head of Iran’s Trade Promotion Organisation and now an agriculture ministry official, Alireza Peyman Pak, told state television last week that Iran had been “neglecting” opportunities in Africa in recent years as China and a number of Tehran’s neighbours, including Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, have strengthened their presence on the continent.
Pak noted that Iran had exported $1.2bn worth of goods and services – including petrochemical products, food, medicine, and engineering and technical services – to Africa last year. He added that the amount was still not high enough despite it being an improvement on recent years.
“An African dollar is the same as a European dollar. Interests are the same. The global economy requires us to interact with any opportunities on an international scale and improve our foreign currency incomes,” he said, adding that Iran could also exchange goods with African countries in circumstances in which banking systems are weak or sanctions present challenges.
In March, Raisi hosted a meeting with a group of representatives from West Africa, in which he pitched Iran as a different kind of partner when compared with countries in the West with colonial histories on the continent.
“The expansion of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s relations with Africa is not with an eye towards the wealth of this region but with the goal of progress and welfare for all nations,” he said.
The trip comes a month after Raisi embarked on a tour of Latin America, where he signed a host of agreements to boost ties with fellow US-sanctioned allies Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.
The nation has been looking to diversify its relations since the United States unilaterally abandoned the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018.