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West Africa Rising: Regional ties to Iran, Libya may be on the wane

Since the unrest that has swept the Arab world began in January, many of West Africa's leader nations have been distancing themselves from the crumbling regimes to their north.

By Drew HinshawCorrespondent / March 8, 2011



Dakar, Senegal

West Africa Rising is a weekly look at business, investment, and development trends.

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Diplomatically, West Africa may be moving closer to the West as two of its most controversial trading partners – Iran and Libya – suffer setbacks and instability.

This region has long been a place where rogue nations, isolated in the world, could court local leaders who lack the resources, geopolitical clout – or, sometimes, the scruples – to turn down an investment or high-profile visit from a shady world figure.

But since the unrest that has swept the Arab world began in January, many of West Africa's leader nations have been distancing themselves from the crumbling regimes to their north.

The obvious case in point is Libya, an oil-fiefdom with historical trans-Saharan ties to its southern neighbors. The country of 5 million has exerted entirely outsized influenced below its borders since its eccentric leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi abandoned his failed Arab Unity project for the dream of a United States of Africa.

The man who calls himself "King of Kings" of Africa has advocated a single passport, currency, and nationality for Africa's 900 million residents, and can rightfully reap credit for keeping the vision on the table when other leaders balked – in part because his government pays more than its share of the African Union's operating budget.

The state also funds some $5 billion worth of often undertakings through its Libya Africa Investment Portfolio. The portfolio includes earmarks for a luxury hotels in Gambia, tobacco farms in Mali, telecoms in Niger, and a chicken farm in Madagascar.

The nation also planned its own Olympics for the 28-nation "Community of Sahel-Saharan States" that Gaddafi founded in 1998.

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