May 09, 2010
Zimbabwe-Iran Foreign Relations
In November 2009, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe voiced his support for Iran’s nuclear program, saying that only countries without nuclear weapons could make an informed decision about Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities.
Iran and Zimbabwe have developed bilateral economic and political ties in recent years. In 2005, the countries signed multiple cooperation agreements covering political ties and economic relations in the technology and infrastructure fields. The strengthening of economic ties between Harare and Tehran continued in 2006 when Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe returned to Iran and signed six accords with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. These agreements clarified high-level cooperation between the two countries in agriculture, the oil industry, education, and humanitarian aid. Zimbabwe and Iran also confirmed their intention to increase cooperation between their private sectors and facilitate trade between the two nations.
Tehran and Harare signed a joint venture deal to manufacture tractors in the African country in March 2008. According to the agreement, Iran’s Foreign Investment Company would control 55 percent of the venture whereas Zimbabwe’s Industrial Development Corporation maintained the balance. Target production was 5,000 tractors per year with the expectation that the product would expand to regional markets in the years to come. Components would be imported from Iran and later be substituted by Zimbabwean domestic components. Iran invested US$ 4 million in the deal.
A lack of domestic energy sources and oil refining capabilities has a major effect on Zimbabwe’s economic policy in the 2000’s. Due to a deficiency of foreign currency, Zimbabwe could not purchase imports essential to maintaining a stable fuel supply in 2006. That year, Tehran pledged to send fuel technicians to Harare to investigate the possibility of revamping the country’s only oil refinery, a facility originally built to refine Iranian crude oil. Zimbabwe's Minister of Energy, Mike Nyambuya, said the Iranians made a number of proposals to meet Zimbabwe's needs in fuel and oil products. Zimbabwe entered 2009 under the weight of near-total economic collapse and economic sanctions. President Mugabe sought economic aid from several countries, including Iran. The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding to renovate Zimbabwe’s oil refinery and offer long-term fuel supplies in exchange for giving Iran exclusive mining rights of “strategic” minerals in the African country. Additionally, Zimbabwe allowed Iran to construct a gas power plant within its borders.
In January 2010, Mr. Mohammad Assadi, Head of the Cultural Center of the Zimbabwean Embassy of Iran, stated Iran’s concern over the sanctions placed on Zimbabwe by Britain and her allies. That same month, Iran’s deputy ambassador to Zimbabwe, Javad Dehghan, announced the Islamic Republic’s intention to offer humanitarian assistance to Zimbabwe. Iran donated food hampers comprising cooking oil, meal and salt, and cash to secure 250kg of maize seed for the Zunde Ramambo project under Chief Mashayamombe as part of its efforts to assist the less privileged members of the society.
Iran has been recorded as giving Zimbabwe humanitarian aid on at 93 least separate occasions. Recently, Zimbabwe received Iranian assistance in the mechanization of the agricultural sector, updating the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings’ equipment, and is currently discussing partnerships in tourism and other economic sectors.
In March 2010, Iranian and Zimbabwean officials announced plans to collaborate in the energy sector. Zimbabwean Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Didymus Mustasa met with Iranian Oil Minister Masoud Mir Kazemi in the wake of the extension of United States sanctions against Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s administration. Iran offered oil supplies and upgrades to Zimbabwean oil refineries as part of a larger initiative to gain an energy partner in Zimbabwe.Following this display of economic cooperation, Mugabe invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to open a trade exhibition in Bulawayo on April 23, 2010. Several Zimbabwean human rights groups condemned the invitation and planned protests of the exhibition.
During the late 2000’s, Robert Mugabe initiated a diplomatic initiative known as a “Look East” policy. He sought to strengthen ties with Asian and Middle Eastern nations, including Iran. In November 2006, Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe participated in talks with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran. Mr. Mugabe pledged his support for Iran and denounced Western intervention in Iranian affairs, saying that Non-Aligned countries must, "have a fight to put up against these evil men and their evil systems," Mugabe said. "Countries who think alike must come together and work out mechanisms to defend ourselves." In September 2007, President Mugabe met with President Ahmadinejad outside of a United Nations General Assembly to discuss their shared opinion that developing nations unite against Western “domination” and United States and British neocolonialism. The Iranian president expressed appreciation for Zimbabwe’s participation in the Non-Aligned Movement ministerial session on human rights held in Tehran the same year.Zimbabwe and Iran came together later that week to announce their collaborative “coalition of peace” following negative statements about the two regimes from US President George W. Bush. Presidents Mugabe and Ahmadinejad discussed the idea as a, “need to come up with a coalition for peace in response to the aggression of global bullies.”
Cultural interests and humanitarian aid comprise a significant component of Iran-Zimbabwe relations. In November 2006, Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Ahmadinejad issued a joint communiqué signed following their Fifth Joint Commission meeting where both countries emphasized their goal of expanding political, economic, and cultural cooperation and developing unified positions on issues of mutal interest. In December 2007, Iran opened a library at its cultural center in Harare as a gesture of cultural cooperation. Iran's ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr. Rasoul Momeni commended the library’s opening, saying , "I hope cultural exchanges between the two countries will be further consolidated and the two will overcome their difficulties under the auspices of their mutual cooperation […]We also want to attract the attention of the interested readers towards the books on culture and customs of Iran in order to familiarize the people of Zimbabwe and through this build a bridge in the way of the enhancement of relations between the two countries." In January 2010, Iran announced its intention to offer humanitarian assistance to Zimbabwe to demonstrate Tehran’s commitment to expanding areas of cooperation. Iran’s deputy ambassador to Zimbabwe Javad Dehghan specified that Iran would provide 80 wheelchairs, 25 boxes of vitamin supplementary tablets, maternity kits, and food hampers to nine clinics for disabled Zimbabweans. The Iranian embassy also donated funds to Chief Mashayamombe’s Zunde Ramambo Project for the purchase 250 kilograms of maize seeds. This project is part of an effort to feed the poor. Ambassador Dehghan stated that humanitarian efforts contributed to the, “strengthening the brotherly relations between our nations, we have also made donations to several constituencies in Zimbabwe and this donation today is a further demonstration of the solidarity between our countries."
Speaking at a January 2010 charity event, the Zimbabwean Minister of State in Vice President Mujuru's office, Cde Sylvester Nguni, hailed Iran's stance in supporting Zimbabwe politically, economically and socially as demonstrated in its quick response to the country's distress calls in the face of natural calamities like floods. Minister Nguni also added that Iran had shown its support by defending Zimbabwe at various UN meetings. Also present at the event, Iran’s deputy ambassador to Zimbabwe, Javad Dehghan, added that, “In our desire to further expand the already existing relations between our two countries in all areas of co-operation based on the famous saying "a friend in need is a friend in deed my embassy is once again extending the hand of friendship to the people of Mhondoro-Mubaira.”