NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Iran’s president on a rare visit to Africa on Wednesday sharply criticized Western nations’ support for homosexuality as one of the “dirtiest” episodes of human history.
President Ebrahim Raisi spoke in Uganda, which recently passed anti-gay legislation prescribing the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality,” to widespread international condemnation.
“I believe that this issue, and these strong attacks by the West against the establishment of families and against the culture of the nations, is another area of cooperation for Iran and Uganda,” Raisi said after a private meeting with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
“The Western countries try to identify homosexuality as an index of civilization, while this is one of the dirtiest things which have been done in human history,” Raisi said.
The African visit is the first by an Iranian leader in more than a decade as the country, which is under heavy U.S. economic sanctions, seeks more partnerships around the world. Raisi is also visiting Zimbabwe.
By emphasizing conservatism and anti-colonialism in his Uganda remarks, he appeared ready to bond with African countries on more than purely economic grounds.
At his first stop in Kenya, Iran’s leader called Africa a “continent of opportunities” and a great platform for Iranian products. “None of us is satisfied with the current volume of trade,” he said.
Raisi specifically mentioned Africa’s mineral resources and Iran’s petrochemical experience, but the memoranda of understanding signed by Iran and Kenya appeared not to address either one. Instead, they focused on information, communication and technology; fisheries; animal health and livestock production and investment promotion.
Kenyan President William Ruto called Iran a “critical strategic partner” and “global innovation powerhouse.” Tea accounts for the bulk of Kenya’s exports to Iran, but Ruto expressed interest in expanding the range of agricultural exports.
Iran intends to set up a manufacturing plant for Iranian vehicles in Kenya’s port city of Mombasa, Ruto added.
Raisi’s Africa visit is meant to “promote economic diplomacy, strengthen political relations with friendly and aligned countries, and diversify the export destinations,” Iran’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Last month, Iran’s leader made his first visit to Latin America, stopping in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. In March, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to re-establish diplomatic ties in a major diplomatic breakthrough.
Iran is in a growing standoff with Western nations over its nuclear program, which has made major advances in the five years since then-U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew his country from an international agreement that restricted it. Trump also restored sanctions on Iran that have contributed to a severe economic crisis.
The U.S. last month accused Iran of providing Russia with materials to build a drone manufacturing plant as Moscow seeks weaponry for its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Iran has said it provided drones to Russia before the start of the war but not since.
Kenya is East Africa’s economic hub and an ally of the U.S., with President Joe Biden’s wife, Jill, visiting the country early this year. Last year, the U.S. and Kenya signed a memorandum of understanding on “strategic civil nuclear cooperation.” Kenya has expressed interest in using nuclear power for energy production.
Kenya is struggling with debt and rising cost of living, with more deadly protests on Wednesday.
Uganda’s president, a U.S. ally on security matters, has previously voiced support for Iran’s nuclear program. During a 2010 visit by former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Museveni asserted that all sovereign countries had a right to pursue peaceful nuclear programs even as he urged the eradication of all nuclear arsenals.
Uganda is trying to set up a nuclear power plant that authorities this year said would be generating electricity by 2031. The plant, which is being developed with the technical support of the China National Nuclear Corporation, would exploit the East African country’s substantial deposits of uranium.
Like Iran, Zimbabwe is under U.S. sanctions. A ministerial delegation from Zimbabwe visited Tehran early this year and agreed to deepen cooperation in areas including petroleum trade.