Spreading Shiite Islam, especially in poor countries, is Iran’s tool to influence these countries. African countries fall at the heart of Iran’s strategies in this regard.
Almost half of Africa’s population of 1.2 billion adheres to Islam. This makes the likelihood of the spread of Shiite Islam among them very high, especially because of rampant poverty, ignorance, unemployment and deteriorating security conditions.
Following the downfall of the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979, Shiites controlled the rule of Iran. The new rulers then spread Shiite Islam among the Lebanese immigrants who settled down in West Africa after the civil war in Lebanon.
Ghana was the first African country to receive Iranian influences, according to researcher Abdelmalek Ali al-Hamdi.
He said Iran succeeded in converting Sunnis in this African country to Shiite Islam by offering them aid, at a time nobody else presented this aid.
Shiite religious celebrations started to be held in Ghana with the rise in the number of Lebanese migrants in the country, al-Hamdi said.
There are now 1.2 million Shiites in Ghana, and between 5 and 10 million Shiites in Nigeria.
West Africa is an exemplary place for Iranian policies to succeed. Most of the countries of the region suffer political unrest and poor security conditions.
In maintaining presence in this region, Iran capitalizes on the absence of Sunni powers in the same region. Helping Iran make success was the growing defamation of Sunni Islam at the hands of terrorist organizations, most of which boasted of being Sunni.
The Islamic Republic also used the aid it offered to poor people in these countries to spread Shiite Islam among them.
In 2012, 43% of the population of Africa lived in poverty, according to the World Bank. In Ghana, 21% of the population is poor. This shows that Africa, especially its western parts, is a fertile soil for Iranian strategies to succeed.
By spreading Shiite Islam, Iran aims to create the necessary base of support to it, according to Al-Mezmaah Studies and Research Center.
It says the presence of this support base helps Iran have a strong negotiating position against Arab and Western powers.
Iran started turning to Africa in 1989 when it started pouring investments in the continent, according to the International Institute for Iranian Studies.
In 2007, Iran founded a car factory in Senegal. The factory sells its output in other African countries.