Time to revitalise Tehran-Windhoek relations

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• Seyyed Mehdi Parsaei

Relations between Iran and Namibia are rooted in Namibia’s struggle for liberation during the Cold War era, when foreign policies of almost all states were according to their dependence on either the Western or Eastern Bloc.

At that time, Iran as a revolutionary state and also a member of the Non-Aligned Movement was among few countries which supported Namibians’ right to self-determination. Swapo opened an office in Tehran and Namibian fighters like Founding Father Dr Sam Nujoma had access to Iranian high-ranking officials. Iran was very supportive of Namibia in international organisations and diplomatic fora.

At the time, Namibian fighters were in the field of combat and diplomacy to gain independence and freedom for their country. It was a very sensitive and fateful period that Iranian friends of Namibian fighters had passed such an exam in the 1960s and 1970s to overthrow a regime that was dependent on the West for support of all kinds.
This historical background is a key foundation to current and future Iran-Namibia relations.

Iran and Namibia have similar pasts. They were both denied independence and they paid dearly to achieve it. Although Iran was never fully colonised by a foreign country, they were for nearly a century a semi-colonial state. Thus, both countries carried bitter and painful memories of history in their collective histories.

Yesteryear’s bitter memories play a critical role on the domestic scene, and national identity and socio-political cohesion of the country today, and also as the guiding light in the foreign arena. Pursuing a non-aligned foreign policy has meaning in such a framework.

At present, Iran and Namibia have relatively similar circumstances and conditions. For both, protection of their main historical achievements, which is independence, remains a priority. And in this way they have to work hard, be strong and intelligent in the current turbulent world to survive and maintain national security. It is very difficult to achieve this goal.

Iran in recent decades has paid a heavy price for this. From more than three hundred thousand martyrs in the Iraqi-imposed war during Saddam Hussein’s era to the assassination of nuclear scientists and tolerating illegal and unjust so-called international society’s sanctions.

These are just glimpses of the costs of a courageous nation that wants independence and territorial integrity within the framework of international law and the right to use peaceful technology. Both countries also have similar problems and challenges such as environmental problems, water shortage and reduced levels of rainfall.

On a global level, the international system is now in a transition period. Therefore it is the right time to influence international structures, trends and processes and help shape the next international system. As Dr Javad Zarif, Iran’s minister of foreign affairs argued in his new book, ‘Transition in International Relations of Post-Western World’, developments in the time of transition do not merely occur in the West and are not merely caused by the West. We should admit that the world is not just the West, neither is it formed by the West.

So within this context and landscape, both Iran and Namibia have the normative power and the potential and capacity to influence regional and international trends and processes and discourse. This situation requires that Iran and Namibia, with roughly the same historical background and current challenges, must build their relationship in a way that helps them play a greater role in the changing world at the regional and international spheres.

In the era of a post-nuclear deal, the Islamic Republic of Iran is eager to begin a new chapter in its relations with Namibia. A one-dimensional relations between the two sides in recent years which has mainly been limited to diplomatic and political relations should be changed into a multi-dimensions relationship with strong focus on trade, investment and business. New regional and international atmosphere requirements as well as internal necessities approve this change.

Fortunately, the two countries’ economic systems are more or less complementary to each other. So the Islamic Republic of Iran will be able to provide Namibia in the field of oil and non-oil products and services, specially in the areas of infrastructure and technological assistance. So Namibia can count on Iran to develop their infrastructure in road construction, fuel supply, industry, oil, bitumen and asphalt. Also in the field of engineering, watershed management, dams and so on. Namibia also could help Iran in many areas like meat, fish, minerals, energy and so on and because of such mutual interdependencies Iran reopened her embassy in 2013.

While the two countries have common ground politically and internationally as a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, supporting the Palestinian issue, we strongly believe that after Iran and the 5+1 atomic agreement and abovementioned similarities regarding past, present and future, a new chapter of Iran foreign policy is started and this new atmosphere could dramatically start a new chapter in Tehran-Windhoek relations too.

* Seyyed Mehdi Parsaei is a diplomatic attaché of the embassy of Iran in Windhoek.

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