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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.

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"I would not be a bit surprised if that organization collapses," former US ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn told Bloomberg News. "Assuming Qaddafi is finished, you’re going to have a very different role that Libya plays – whoever is in charge – vis-a-vis the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. Libya will become over the next couple of years a very modest player in African affairs.”

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And then there's Iran.

The Persian Gulf nation had recently worked out a nuclear know-how exchange with Nigeria, and had gotten an unlikely vote of support for its nuclear program from Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade.

But last month, Senegal cut ties with Iran after a forensic study found that Iranian weapons have been used to kill Senegalese soldiers fighting to put down a rebellion in the country's casamance province.

In October, the Persian Gulf nation was caught shipping 13 containers of ballistic arms – rocket launchers, grenades, guns – through Nigeria's Lagos port, on their way to Senegal or neighboring Gambia.

Iran watchers say the discovery wasn't necessarily a surprise. Iran is infamous for arming insurgent groups in forgotten corners of the globe.

But the move cost Iran its budding relationship with one of the region's top economies, Senegal. Gambia – where Iran had invested $2 billion in aid since 2005 – has also broken ties with Iran. And now Nigeria is waiting for the results of a United Nations investigation on the matter before possibly downgrading ties with Iran.

Meanwhile, Israel is planning on opening embassies in Ghana within the next six months, and "looking into possibilities elsewhere in Africa," its Ambassador to Senegal Gideon Behar told me last week.

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