Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi praised Niger’s post-coup government during a meeting with Nigerien Prime Minister Ali Lamine Zeine in Tehran Thursday as the Islamic Republic seeks to boost its relations with African states.

Raisi said Niger has a “brilliant future” and praised the West African country’s “path of independence and freedom,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Zeine arrived in Iran on Wednesday and was greeted by Iran’s First Vice-President Mohammad Mokhber. Officials from the two countries signed an agreement on political and economic cooperation and another on health following his arrival, according to the semiofficial Mehr News Agency.

Nigerien Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani led a coup in July, ousting Western-backed President Mohamed Bazoum. The Tchiani-led junta appointed Zeine as prime minister in August, and he remains in power.

The visit is Zeine’s first to Iran.

Why it matters: The visit demonstrates Iran’s efforts to build ties with Niger following the coup. In addition to the cooperation agreements, Mokhber said on Wednesday that Iran is willing to help Niger overcome punitive economic measures imposed by the West after the coup, saying his country is opposed to the “cruel sanctions which are imposed by the domination system,” Agence France-Presse reported.

“We will definitely share the experiences we have in this field with our brothers” from Niger, he added, per AFP.

Iran has been under heavy Western sanctions for years, while the Economic Community of West African States, known as ECOWAS, imposed sanctions on Niger following the coup. Per the sanctions, ECOWAS member states suspended commercial transactions with Niger and froze the country’s assets in the regional central bank, while Nigeria cut its power supply to the country. The US and EU also stopped assistance to Niger in response to the coup, and the World Bank suspended disbursements, according to Reuters.

Niger stands to benefit from increased cooperation with Iran as its ties fray with the West, especially France, following the coup.

Iran’s cooperation with Niger represents somewhat of a shift in posture toward the West African state’s internal crisis, with Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani initially calling for “calm and stability” as well as “internal dialogue” following the coup, the semiofficial Tasnim News Agency reported at the time.

A Raisi pivot: Unlike his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, who did not visit the African continent during his two-term tenure, President Ebrahim Raisi has sought to improve ties with a variety of African states. Raisi visited Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe in July. Iran’s trade with Africa has doubled since Raisi came to power in 2021. One reason Iran is seeking stronger relations with Africa is the competition with China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Al-Monitor’s correspondent in Tehran wrote in July.

As part of the pivot toward Africa, the Islamic Republic has affirmed support for coup leaders in Mali and Burkina Faso in addition to Niger. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian visited Mali in 2022, following a coup the year prior.

In September, Raisi hailed the “resistance of African countries in the face of colonialism and terrorism” during a visit by Burkina Faso’s Foreign Minister Olivia Rouamba, AFP reported at the time. Burkina Faso experienced a coup in 2022.

Arab Gulf states have invested heavily in sub-Saharan Africa in recent years, as has China. France, the former colonial power, has traditionally wielded significant power in West Africa, but anti-French sentiment in the region is rising, particularly in Niger. In December, France withdrew its military forces from Niger following a demand from the junta.

Russia has also moved to expand its influence in Niger and West Africa more broadly, filling the void left by France. Earlier this month, Russia and Niger pledged to boost military cooperation.

Increased cooperation between Iran and Niger could benefit both countries. Niger is one of the world’s biggest producers of uranium and is responsible for around 5% of global output. Iran needs uranium for its controversial nuclear program.

ECOWAS sanctions have been the most damaging for Niger, having cut off the country off from its main trading partners and worsened food insecurity, according to a December report from the International Crisis Group.

Source » al-monitor