Africa has become a new competing arena between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Both states have turned their focus to the continent, developing ties with a number of African states on both economic and security levels. As international focus remains centered on the Persian Gulf and the Levant, Africa’s importance in the regional rivalry is often overlooked. By focusing on key strategic issues found throughout the continent, including the formation of alliances in East and North Africa, as well as the role of ideological proxies in West Africa, this paper offers a holistic analysis of the role Africa plays in the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The implications of these issues are also examined to emphasize their effects on Saudi-Iranian relations, as well as stability in Africa.

Key Points

  • Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have distanced the Horn of Africa from Iran through financial incentives.
  • Iran is looking to expand its presence in West Africa through the formation of further Hezbollah-styled ideological proxy groups.
  • Both Saudi Arabia and Iran are deploying soft power to increase diplomatic ties with Sub-Saharan African states.
  • The exportation of conservative forms of Islam to the continent is increasing Islamic extremism and religious sectarianism throughout Africa.
  • African states that have benefitted from substantial financial investment from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are being drawn into Middle Eastern conflicts and disputes.

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