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GIGA Focus Nahost

Yet Another Scramble: Why Middle Eastern Powers Are Reaching Out to Africa

Number: 5 | 11/2018 | ISSN: 1862-3611

The recent endeavours of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey in the Horn of Africa have raised fears that the Middle Eastern struggle for hegemony will be repeated in a region of vast geostrategic importance. Yet these countries’ interest in Africa is neither new nor limited to the Horn. To anticipate the impact of their contest for influence in Africa, it is key to understand the preferences underlying their efforts.

  • The upgrading of relations between Middle Eastern powers and African states dates back several decades. Iran intensified relations with African states as a result of the sanctions imposed on the regime following the Islamic Revolution. Turkey’s Africa policy gained momentum with the Justice and Development Party’s rise to power. Saudi Arabia established initial contacts with African states in the wake of the 1967 Arab–Israeli War but only recently rediscovered its strategic interest in the continent.

  • While their Africa policies have also been driven by particular interests, Ankara, Riyadh, and Tehran have long been primarily interested in prospective economic gains on the one hand and the continent’s potential as a source of international allies on the other.

  • Unlike the case in past periods of recurring strategic neglect, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey today view Africa as a region of considerable importance for the achievement of their political objectives in and beyond the Middle East. Their competition for influence in the Horn of Africa and the increasing militarisation of the Red Sea are just two of the most visible indications of this.

Policy Implications

The policies of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey will have significant effects on events in Africa and contradict the aims of the EU’s foreign policies in many respects, particularly in terms of security and migration. The EU should also be aware that these states are presenting themselves as a viable alternative to it and should thus seek to further mend its strained relationships with African partners.


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The German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA) – Leibniz-Institut für Globale und Regionale Studien in Hamburg publishes the Focus series on Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and global issues. The GIGA Focus is edited and published by the GIGA. The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the institute. Authors alone are responsible for the content of their articles. GIGA and the authors cannot be held liable for any errors and omissions, or for any consequences arising from the use of the information provided.

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