This article adopts the theoretical framework of complex realism to trace the evolution of the Islamic Republic of Iran's foreign policy and developmental activities in Africa between the 1980s and the 2000s. Contrary to common assumptions, the deradicalization of the Islamic Republic's foreign policy in Africa began not under the moderates in the early 1990s, but under the conservatives in the mid-1980s. This period marked the first time that the Islamic Republic instrumentalized development to advance its strategic interests in Africa—a policy that has continued despite the factionalization of Iran's political elite. Based on one year of archival research and interviews in Iran, this article is the first to investigate the history and activities of the Islamic Republic's rural development organization, Construction Jihad, in Africa. It posits that development, instead of arms or ideology, has enabled Iran to make the farthest inroads into the continent due to Africa's sizeable agrarian economies, widespread rural poverty, and formidable developmental challenges.
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