March 3, 2018

Morocco’s Return to the African Union: Prospects for Cooperation



There can be no question that there are serious challenges still facing Africa, in an era of swelling conflicts in different parts of the continent. The growing tensions in many African countries are reductively approached as threats to the political stability of states per se, ignoring the fact that these tensions have far reaching impacts on the world, not only in terms of geopolitical calculations. Peace crises lead to shortages in resources, and generate appalling situations of poverty, starvation and famine. They derail all initiatives taken to enhance cooperation, as it goes without saying that food security of the globe, an example among others, is inextricably contingent to the future Africa. A flagrant example is of the emergent failed states in north Africa and elsewhere (Libya, Syria…), and how these countries mired in violence and terrorism contaminate all the region. There is an urgent need for solid frameworks for cooperation to face these challenges, and to ensure that African resources are used for Africa’s development, which unquestionably needs a trust-based unity between African nations. Africa needs to go beyond its colonial legacy and learn to stand on its own feet, the same as African peoples need the reinforcement of the democratic choices and the strengthening of human rights protection, notably in the framework of the current world system pushing states into disharmony.

Development is the answer to what peoples need, especially after the growth of violent extremism that threatens the continent (AQIM, ISIS, Boko Haram…). Africa today has all that is needed to emerge as a global growth hub, with its abundant natural resources and immense lands, not to ignore the demographic transition that witness the widening scope of skilled youth and a growing middle class, as well as the improving governance structures in many African countries with emergent democratic practices among Africans. However, the continent continues to be overwhelmed by community conflicts and geopolitical rivalries between states, any of which still subsist under the shackles of neocolonialism.

Morocco has left the Organization of African Unity under very specific circumstances. However, these circumstances have changed, and we are no longer in the context of the Cold War with the confrontation of two blocs and the logic of alliances in Africa. We have new African elites, much more pragmatic, realistic, and open to the future. We now have African States which act with respect for their interests, and peoples that look ahead to enhance development and peace continent-wide. We are no longer in the logic of large and small states, as there is a new context in which dialogue can be established in a new cultural, political and international context.

The Kingdom has regained its natural place within its African family, and this return is the culmination of a diplomatic action carried out by the Kingdom in Anglophone Africa, reflecting a far-sighted dynamic that acts locally in Africa and thinks globally. Morocco rejoins the African Union in an international context characterized by a deadlock situation faced by the international community, and the development of a feeling Impotence and uncertainty in tackling various challenges. Morocco has made a pragmatic and realistic choice, with regard to the fact that the political, economic, strategic and geopolitical conditions in Africa which led Morocco to leave the Organization of African Unity in 1984 have changed.

Morocco has succeeded in strengthening its resilience in the face of unremitting terrorist threats and the instability that plagues the region. Morocco’s political and democratic advances are welcomed by the international community, and the Kingdom is continuing its efforts to strengthen the foundations of democratic practices, noting that important efforts have been deployed in areas such as agriculture and food security, sustainable development and renewable energy, which are all relevant in the African context. In this regard, the country can contribute much to the continent in terms of knowledge, expertise and human capital.

South-south cooperation: Morocco’s approach

Morocco leads an approach for south-south cooperation in Africa with a visionary strategy that believes in co-development as a key solution many of the African problems, and with a deep conviction that Africa should make the fertile grounds for its human capital to blossom.

Put in more concrete terms, Morocco’s unwavering orientation has been initiated through the important involvement of Moroccan operators and their strong engagement in the areas of banking, insurance, air transport, telecommunications and housing, with which the kingdom is now the number one investor in West Africa.

Morocco is now the second largest investor on the continent and the ambition is to be ranked first. Various indicators prove the tremendous investment efforts of the kingdom in Africa:

  1. Royal Air Maroc, the national air carrier, has expanded its network across the continent over the past decade, as it has increased its flights to African destinations from 14 in 2007 to 32 in 2016.
  2. Over the 10-year period starting in 2004, Morocco’s trade with the rest of the continent grew by an annual average of 13% ($3.7 billion) in 2014, 42% of which was with sub-Saharan Africa.
  3. Over the decade ending in 2016, Morocco’s investment in sub-Saharan Africa represented 85% of its overall foreign direct investment (FDI) stocks, according to the African Development Bank.
  4. The country’s leading bank, the Attijariwafa Bank Group, and part of the kingdom’s holding company Société nationale d’investissement (SNI):
  5. with 7.4 million customers and more than 16,000 employees,
  6. operates in 10 sub-Saharan African countries: Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Togo.
  7. The Banque Marocaine du Commerce Extérieur (BMCE) group has a network of 18 country operations, mostly in West, Central and East Africa through Bank of Africa, its subsidiary.
  8. Maroc Telecom, the leading national telephone company, operates in 11 African countries, such as Burkina Faso and Mali, under different names, including Moov in francophone West Africa.

This process has been consolidated by the endeavors taken by Morocco to widen the scope of its presence in Africa, by launching a promising large-scale investment in Ethiopia, with the plans to set up a new fertilizer plant that would amount to an investment of US$3.7 billion.  This plant, using Moroccan phosphate, is destined to provide Ethiopia’s fast-growing agriculture industry with all the fertilizers it needs and would be Morocco’s biggest investment outside the country. Another resourceful project led through a partnership between Morocco and Nigeria is the gas pipeline that will connect twelve west African countries, with the prospects to speed up electrification projects in the whole region. This promising project serves as a basis to set up a competitive regional market for electricity, likely to be linked to the European market of energy, noting that it will countries of the region to develop integrated industrial hubs in sectors as industry, food-processing and fertilizers. Beside its role in enhancing peacebuilding endeavors in the region by ensuring access of local communities to decent services and serving as a tool for conflict prevention,  the pipeline will will spur local transformation of natural resources available for national and international markets.

Morocco’s strategic orientation for African development seems to be grounded in a sustainable development vision, with a win-win approach involving all African countries. Worth mentioning that Morocco’s significant engagement in trade and investments in Africa will be boosted by its geostrategic location linking Africa with Europe and the Atlantic with the Mediterranean.

“Africa must trust Africa”. This sentence, drawn from the famous speech made by the Sovereign in 2014 in Abidjan, summarizes the approach of the Kingdom. An approach that is part of a partnership approach that places the development of the African population at the heart of any cooperation project. This audacious and unprecedented vision constitutes, in the opinion of many observers, a historic and decisive break with the classic equations and schemes of co-operation. The royal visits to several countries on the continent, including those in the East recently, reflect this new vision and also express Morocco’s genuine desire to establish solid and diversified cooperation with African countries without exception.

Morocco: An advocate for African Concerns   

With COP22 on climate change which was organized in Marrakech in November 2016, Morocco sought to put the stakes for the Black Continent in the heart of the discussion, especially that global warming spells terrible droughts, the destabilizing population transfers, and conflicts over natural resources, especially water. Morocco believes that the continent is called to take part in the struggle for the preservation of the planet, even as it tries to get out of underdevelopment and ensure its food security. These contradictions can only be resolved through serious commitments by the polluting countries, and creative, courageous governance by the African States. The speech of November 6, on the occasion of the green march, and exceptionally from Dakar, takes into account this essential problem. The King of Morocco said that “COP 22 must be that of Africa”. It is a commitment of the host country, which is widely shared by Africans but also by all the NGOs and specialists. Morocco has voiced out Africa’s concerns over global warming in Marrakech at a COP 22, as inextricable from international issues such as emigration, security and anti-terrorist struggle.

The Moroccan National Human Rights Council has been chairing the NETWORK OF AFRICAN NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS INSTITUTIONS (NANHRI) since November 2009 for a period of two years during the 7th Conference of African NHRIs. Morocco has played an important part in supporting and strengthening NHRIs in Africa in terms of human rights protection, promotion, monitoring and advocacy. It has also contributed to enhancing the role of the network, which encourage the establishment of National Human Rights Institutions in conformity with the Paris Principles, and facilitates the coordination, strengthening and effectiveness of National Human Rights Institutions in Africa. The Network encourages cooperation among National Human Rights Institutions and with intergovernmental and governmental institutions.

Moderate Islam and the Fight Against Terrorism

The Kingdom’s commitment to Africa is not only about the economic side, as it derives from the spiritual aura of King Mohammed VI, as Commander of the Believers and descendant of the Prophet. This is perceived in many countries of the continent as the guarantor of the promotion of a moderate and tolerant Islam. The creation of the Mohammed VI Foundation of the African Ulema in Fez is, quite rightly, the perfect illustration of the spiritual leadership of the Kingdom in Africa. It is also one of the most striking manifestations of the religious influence of the the country on a continental scale. This initiative, driven by a sincere desire to promote a tolerant, open and authentic Islam, reflects a clear vision and an insightful approach aimed at providing lucid and effective responses to the threats facing the continent, including the rise of extremism and the instrumentalisation of Islam for ideological and political ends.

Africa, struck hard by terrorism, needs an institution of this magnitude, capable of federating its religious dignitaries and of establishing itself as an impassable barrier against the preachers of hatred and disharmony. Strengthened by the religious, historical and cultural ties between Morocco and Africa, the Kingdom was the country best suited to carry out such a project. That is why the Sovereign affirmed that this foundation is “a further milestone in our strategic direction aimed at raising the political and economic cooperation relations which unite Morocco with a number of fraternal African States at the level of a partnership of solidarity in the various fields”.

For all these reasons, the return of Morocco to the African Union can be beneficial for the whole continent. The Kingdom will put its know-how and expertise in many areas at the service of its African brothers. Economy, finance, education, fight against terrorism, new technologies, agriculture are all sectors that could be the subject of closer cooperation between Morocco and the other countries of the continent. Moreover, the Kingdom, strengthened by its status as a credible and respected regional actor, will give more punch and efficiency and an indisputable aura to the Pan-African organization.

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