July 7, 2016
Iran’s influence in Sierra Leone has risen over the last few years. To increase its influence in this poor African county and avoid US-led UN economic sanctions imposed since 1990s, the Islamic Republic of Iran has targeted economic development projects in this West African county such as those related to agriculture, health and education. Iran has been successful in its interventions in Sierra Leone because its projects are largely considered humanitarian and they seem to have strengthened relations with the Republic of Sierra Leone.
In the area of agriculture, the Iranian Embassy supported the Government of Sierra Leone’s Tractorization Programme which aims at mechanizing the country’s age-old use of hand implements. The Iranian Government, through its Embassy supported the government with quantities of tractors and power tillers that were distributed across farming communities across the country.
Iranian women clinic in Sierra Leone. (TrackPersia)
Iran has attempted to spread its version of Shi’i Islam in Sierra Leone through education. Al-Mustapha International University in Iran has supported the establishment of the International Institute of Islamic Studies in Freetown. The college, which has a yearly enrolment of 300 students, offers free education for young Sierra Leoneans in religious studies, in addition to human (women) rights and clerical studies including computer technology etc., for which it offers certificates and diplomas. This college is now seeking upgrading to a university status. The college also provides free hostels, feeding and text books for its students.
Al-Mustapha International University in Sierra Leone. (TrackPersia)
The Islamic Republic of Iran has also targeted health sector in Sierra Leone. In collaboration with the Government of Sierra Leone, a team of Iranian medics have been providing healthcare service delivery to thousands of Sierra Leoneans, mostly pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under five years, at the Satellite Hospital at Macaulay Street in the East End of the Capital of Freetown.
The Iranian Red Crescent Health and Rehabilitation Division a cost recovery hospital, also attends to different health areas, like antenatal, maternity, dental care and children under five as these are the emerging health areas of the people of Freetown and its environs. .
For almost 15 years, the Iranian Chamber of Commerce together and their Sierra Leonean counterpart organisation, the Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce have been organising an Iranian Trade Fair and Exhibition, which aims at exposing the people of Sierra Leone to Iranian products. Over 10 Iranian manufacturing companies display for sale a variety of their wares over a period ranging from two weeks to one month.
The Coordinator of the Trade Fair, Rahim Jabbani, explains that the trade fair is an opportunity for Iranian manufacturing companies to invest in Sierra Leone. He however noted that this is yet to be achieved because of the low level of sales experienced by the companies during the trade fair. Nonetheless, Iranian investment is expected to increase in Sierra Leone in the wide range of investment portfolios available in the country demanding investment.
Similar to what it has done in the Middle East, North and Latin Americas and Europe, Iran has used its proxy Lebanese Hezbollah organisation to exploit and increase its influence in Africa including Sierra Leone. Hezbollah has gained a foothold in West Africa through the Lebanese diaspora business community. The Shi’i organisation has long-maintained a presence for financial reasons, among others.
In addition to donations and religious taxes Hezbollah receives funds from the Lebanese communities in Sierra Leone. It also receives funds through Lebanese charities and social providers, many of which are run by or give their money to this terrorist organisation. Imad Mughniyeh, late Hezbollah leading figure, was reported to be among the organisation members involved in fundraising in Africa.
One of the most important sources of funding that Hezbollah uses in Africa/ Sierra Leone, is what is known as “blood diamonds”. In Sierra Leone, Hezbollah members are famous for working in the diamond trade and being diamond buyers.