Iran’s Quest for Uranium in Africa

May 22, 2020

Jesutimilehin Akamo











Key Judgements


KJ1. It is highly likely that other uranium producers except those in Central Africa region will not be willing to trade with Iran for fear of sanctions


KJ2. There is a realistic probability that Uranium is being smuggled from Central Africa region to Iran in exchange for arms


KJ3. Iran’s attempt to purchase uranium from Central Africa threatens Israel


KJ4. There is a realistic probability that Iran’s attempt to establish a terror network in Central Africa shows an unannounced rivalry between Iran and Israel in the region. This also threatens American and European interest.



Fall of the Nuclear Deal


Iran’s nuclear technology was developed in the 1950s. It received technical assistance from the United States (US) through the U.S. Atoms for Peace program. This program collapsed after the 1979 Iranian revolution. Iran continued with its nuclear program and developed an extensive nuclear fuel cycle and its enrichment capabilities. This was the focus of negotiations and sanctions between Iran and the five Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council (P-5), and the European Union (EU). later signing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015.


Tension rose when the US, under President Donald J. Trump, withdrew from the peace deal and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. Iran’s immediate response and that of P-5 and the EU was to maintain the deal.  Since 2019, however, Iran violated the deal. It exceeded the specified operational limit, continues uranium enrichment, and increased the number of working centrifuges, among others. The nuclear deal is collapsing and the killing of Qasem Soleimani on 3 JAN, 2020 making a solution for de-escalation more complicated.





Implications for the Central Africa Region


Central Africa is unstable and conducive for smuggling. The black market for uranium trade can more easily succeed in such an environment. 4 countries in Central Africa have uranium reserves. They are Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Gabon. See the table below.



Countries may refuse to trade with Iran and Central Africa which is a likely alternative. The region is conducive for illegal mining, and shady deals with the governments or rebel groups. This explains the attempt to smuggle uranium (U-238) through Tanzania. Tanzanian authorities seized the U-238 and announced it but did not confirm Iran its link with the seizure. Iran may help strengthen smuggling and trafficking routes to feed its nuclear need. Therefore, it may trade uranium for arms with rebel groups or governments.


The most likely route option of the seized U-238 headed for Iran is below:



Tel Aviv’s Concern


Iran’s uranium enrichment threatens Israel. Thus, Israel monitors and try to disrupt supply. Based on Grey Dynamics Africa Intelligence report shows that Israel considers Iran a rogue state. Allowing a ‘rogue state’ to enrich is unwise and Israel may have known, hence its attempt to strengthen its relationship with Africa. This may lead to a proxy war between Iran and Israel in Central Africa. One party may support governments while the other supports rebel groups. An Israeli-Iran rivalry in Central Africa will worsen the situation in Central Africa. Based on Grey Dynamics African Intelligence Report, CAR may be the first to experience it. This is because of the religious undertone between Christians and Muslims who happen to be of different ethnicities.




Image: Sepah News

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