Morocco’s year of African diplomacy
Morocco’s diplomacy focused on Africa in 2016 with King Mohammed VI visiting six countries on the continent in a bid to consolidate ties and gather support for the country’s return to the African Union.
The king visited Rwanda, Tanzania, Senegal, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Nigeria and officials signed 83 agreements and memoranda. It was preceded by the appointment of new ambassadors to 19 African countries.
“I know Africa and its cultures a lot more than others can claim to. Through my many visits, I also know the reality of the terrain and this is affirmed by how I measure my words,” King Mohammed VI said in a message to heads of state attending the African Union (AU) summit in July in Kigali.
About rejoining the African Union, the king said: “For a long time our friends have been asking us to return to them so that Morocco can take up its natural place within its institutional family. The moment has now come.”
Morocco was a founding member of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) but after the group recognised the so-called Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and Algeria backed it for a seat in the African Union, Morocco withdrew from the bloc in 1984.
Rabat has proposed a form of autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty for the vast territory, which has fewer than 1 million inhabitants. The proposal was rejected by the Polisario Front, which insists on the right of the Sahrawi people to determine their own future in a UN-monitored vote, which has failed to materialise.
The dispute over Western Sahara notwithstanding, Morocco reached out to more African countries than ever before. Its move to rejoin the African Union is considered part of that effort.
“The fact that Morocco is eyeing East African countries is a first of its kind [as Morocco’s African diplomacy] previously focused on West African countries,” said Mountacir Zian, director-general of the Mediterranean Company of Analysis and Strategic Intelligence in Rabat.
King Mohammed VI has insisted that “Morocco and Africa are one”. “To separate them would be an uprooting, an error,” the king said in an interview during his visit to Madagascar.
Among the deals signed during the king’s Africa tour was a $3.7 billion agreement between Morocco’s Office Chérifienne des Phosphates (OCP) and state-run Ethiopian firm Chemical Industries Corporation (CIC) to build a plant to produce fertiliser. The project is expected to produce 2.5 million tonnes of fertiliser by 2022.
Another agreement was signed this year between OCP and Nigeria’s Dangote Group. It involves the development of a $2.5 billion platform to produce fertilisers in Lekki, a suburb of Lagos, with the aim of being able to put out 1 million tonnes of product by 2018.
OCP says it has opened subsidiaries in 14 African countries “with strong agricultural potential” to export its fertiliser.
“Morocco’s economic diplomacy in Africa remains a vector of influence, which could open up more opportunities for the North African country and boost the south-south cooperation,” said Zian.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is a huge market for Morocco, which has the world’s largest phosphate reserves.
The two countries agreed in December to build a gas pipeline connecting them and other African countries to Europe.
“In this agreement both countries agreed to study and take concrete steps towards the promotion of a regional gas pipeline project that will connect Nigeria’s gas resources, those of several West African countries and Morocco,” Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyema said in Abuja.
“Nigeria and the kingdom of Morocco also agreed to develop integrated industrial clusters in the subregion in sectors such as manufacturing, agribusiness and fertiliser to attract foreign capital and improve export competitiveness.
Saad Guerraoui is a regular contributor to The Arab Weekly on Maghreb issues.