No concern over 4 African states cutting ties with Iran: IAECC director

January 17, 2016

The execution of Saudi Shiite cleric and political activist Nimr al-Nimr has escalated hostilities in the Middle East particularly between Iran and Saudi Arabia to new levels more than ever.

Shortly after the Saudis’ inhuman behavior, unruly mobs stormed Saudi political posts in Iran, causing Saudi Arabia to sever ties with Iran though some speculations say the decision had been in the cards far before the complication.
Tensions are running even higher in light of Iran’s decision to sue Saudi Arabia in the United Nation for damage to Iran’s embassy in Yemen due to air raids by Saudi air force. In the mid of a war of words between the two sides, Saudi Arabia has been restlessly striving to enlist the help of regional countries.
However, to Saudis’ disappointment, only Somalia, Sudan, Djibouti, and Comoros stepped into Saudi Arabia’s shoes, breaking off their ties with Iran. Meanwhile, other countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Kuwait downgraded their ties.
To Saudis, this can work as a political, economic leverage against Iran and so, they have been highlighting it in the media and in all other gatherings they wind up. In order to shed more light on how big the impact can be on Iran’s economy, the Tehran Times has talked face-to-face with Hassan Khosrowjerdi, the managing director of Iran and Africa Council for Economic Cooperation (IAECC). In what follows, the interview transcript has been given.
Q: How do you analyze the four African countries’ decision to break off ties with Iran?
A: It’s much better if we start with Saudi Arabia. Over the past three years, the country has been losing ground to Iran in the region and they simply can’t tolerate it. So, by adopting such policies, they aim to cover their fiascoes. They executed Sheikh Nimr and weren’t expecting such reaction. Many countries blamed Saudis for the execution and in such a situation they had to do something. That’s why Saudis turned to the African countries and bought them off.
Regarding the four countries, I start with Sudan. Almost 60 percent of the Sudanese have revolutionary thoughts and are more or less pro-Iranian. With the help of these groups and Iran, Omar al-Bashir was trying to save the country from domestic violence, which was impossible without Iran’s military help to the country. But, when the crisis was over, the country halved. Financial resources dried out and they expected Iran to help them. Even, Bashir asked for a 2-billion dollar loan from Iran, but given Iran’s situation at the time, we couldn’t give the loan. They turned to Saudi Arabia in turn. The relationship grew more strongly as many Sudanese were leaving in Saudi Arabia. Many of them were university professors, teachers, etc., and so, through them a pro-Saudi Arabia movement formed in Sudan. The movement was backed by Saudi Wahhabis, putting a lot of pressure on Bashir. Even now, the country’s budget is heavily influenced by Saudis’ petro-dollars. Bashir, in fact, had no other choice because he needed money and economic help to run his country.
As to Djibouti, I should say that the country is like a big warehouse for Ethiopia to import goods from Iran and is not of strategic importance for Iran. We couldn’t expect Ethiopia to put pressure on Djibouti since Ethiopians think Iran has not been committed to its promises in the country.
Regarding Somalia, I should say that the country has no centralized, powerful government and has been and continues to be dependent on Saudi Arabia. Our economic ties with the country are mostly with those Somalis who are doing business outside the country. It is so natural that the country broke off its ties with Iran since it is Saudi Arabia that supports the country financially.
But among these countries, the surprise one was Comoros. The country’s president is pro-Iranian since Iran has helped the country to restore stability. The country doesn’t have an army in a strict sense. Even the president has studied in Iran. But the country has a changed mind towards Iran because the officials think the current Iranian government sympathize more with the West and is less concerned with African countries. Even I have heard that the president has been having death threats. Therefore, he had no other alternative.
Last point is that the present Iranian government look at Africa strategically and has taken practical steps to keep a good, close relationship with all African countries. We should remember not to do something which makes them feel that Iran can’t help them economically.
Q: Do the countries play a key economic role regionally and internationally?
A: Not at all; none of the countries is a major regional or international economic player and we shouldn’t be worried about the current situation. The countries, instead, should be worried as they need our helps and exports and Iran would face no economic challenge without them.
Q: How big is trade balance between Iran and the countries?
A: Formally, Iran exports commodities worth of a little more than $700 million to all African countries. But, if re-export activities through a third country such as the United Arab Emirates or Oman are also taken into account, that amount will go up to almost $3.5 billion. The countries import commodities such as cement from Iran and then export them to African countries. Among the four African countries Sudan is more important as we have direct economic ties with. But, even the trade is so meager, amounting to $60 million at most. The country imports from Iran items such as cement and tar. But I think even this level of trade is not damaged by the political stalemate since their needs are still there and so, I recommend private sectors cooperating with Somali companies continue their activities without no concern.
As I said earlier, Djibouti is like a warehouse where Iran’s exports to Ethiopia pass through the country. So, the country can’t create problems as Ethiopia needs our exports. Regarding Somalia, we don’t have direct economic links with Somalia because of security issues.

Highlight:
Not at all, none of the countries [Somalia, Sudan, Djibouti, and Comoros] are major regional or international economic players and we shouldn’t be worried about the current situation. The countries, instead, should be worried as they need our helps and exports and Iran would face no economic challenge without them.