Iran’s president has begun a rare visit to Africa as the country, which is under heavy US economic sanctions, seeks to deepen partnerships around the world.
President Ebrahim Raisi’s visit to Kenya on Wednesday is the first to the African continent by an Iranian leader in more than a decade. He is also expected to visit Uganda and Zimbabwe and meet with the presidents of all three countries.
Raisi’s visit is meant to “promote economic diplomacy, strengthen political relations with friendly and aligned countries, and diversify the export destinations,” Iran’s foreign ministry said in a statement upon his arrival.
Last month, Iran’s leader made his first visit to Latin America, stopping in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.
In March, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to re-establish diplomatic ties in a major diplomatic breakthrough.
Iran is in a growing standoff with Western nations over its nuclear programme, which has made major advances in the five years since then-US President Donald Trump withdrew his country from an international agreement that restricted it. Trump also restored sanctions on Iran that have contributed to a severe economic crisis.
The US last month accused Iran of providing Russia with materials to build a drone manufacturing plant as Moscow seeks weaponry for its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Iran has said it provided drones to Russia before the start of the war but not since.
Kenya is East Africa’s economic hub and an ally of the US, with President Joe Biden’s wife, Jill, visiting the country early this year.
Under new President William Ruto, Kenya is struggling with debt and rising cost of living, with more protests expected on Wednesday in the capital, Nairobi, and elsewhere.
Few details have been released about the Iranian leader’s visit to Uganda and Zimbabwe.
Last month, the US imposed visa restrictions on some officials in Uganda after the passage of a widely criticised anti-LGBTQ+ law.
Zimbabwe, like Iran, is under US sanctions.