Maghreb neighbours compete over African turf

Sunday 13/11/2016
A map of Africa at the Place du Souvenir Africain, in Dakar, Senegal. (AFP)

Tunis - North African neigh­bours Algeria and Mo­rocco pledged to in­crease economic ties with the rest of the continent as Rabat gears up to en­ter the African Union 34 years after it left its predecessor bloc due to a diplomatic dispute over Western Sahara.

Four decades of security and military rivalries between Morocco and Algeria have been costly for both countries but economic com­petition could spur reform, partic­ularly in Algeria, where the econo­my is dominated by the state.

Moroccan King Mohammed VI called on his government to for­mulate a comprehensive policy to­wards Africa.

“The government must come up with a policy looking to Africa as a whole,” the king said in a speech broadcast from Dakar, Senegal, where he was on an official visit.

“We expect government minis­ters to give the same priority for Africa in their tasks and trips as they do for Western states,” he said in the speech marking the anniver­sary of the 1975 “Green March” in which Moroccan forces occupied most of Western Sahara after the withdrawal of colonial Spanish au­thorities.

Algeria has backed Polisario Front forces, which fought Moroc­co in Western Sahara until a UN-brokered ceasefire in 1991. In 1982, the predecessor of the African Un­ion — the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) — recognised the Sah­rawi Arab Democratic Republic de­clared by the Polisario Front in the strip of Western Sahara it controls. Morocco withdrew from the OAU in protest two years later.

Rabat announced in July that it wanted to join the African Union, having concluded, analysts said, that its absence had not helped it present its case regarding Western Sahara, which its views as south­ern provinces of Morocco.

A day after the king’s speech, Al­geria announced its own plan for expanding economic cooperation with the rest of Africa.

Algerian Foreign Minister Ram­tane Lamamra and Algerian busi­nessman Ali Haddad said at a news conference that Algiers would host an African Investment Forum in December with 1,600 business people expected to attend.

The event would kick-start broader cooperation between Al­geria and Africa, the minister said. Its aim was “to reach a stage of co­operation that goes beyond trade to focus on investment with the aim of developing the potential that Africa enjoys”, Lamamra said.

Haddad said Algeria, which has few exports apart from oil and gas, would seek to expand cooperation and investment in Africa to help diversify its economy.

“The planned cooperation and partnerships with Africa will focus on food security, farming, energy transition, human resources and telecommunications,” Haddad said.

Algeria watchers see Haddad as one of the most loyal supporters of 79-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and a bridge between the government and the private sector.

Haddad is the owner of the Al­gerian construction group ETRHB and heads the main employers’ federation.

Algeria enjoys wider political influence in Africa because of its strong ties with its states, includ­ing the continent’s two biggest economies — South Africa and Nigeria. Morocco has a significant presence mainly in Francophone West Africa due to economic, reli­gious and cultural ties.

Morocco has stepped up efforts to improve relations with other Af­rican countries to neutralise Alge­ria’s attempts to bolster diplomatic support for the Polisario Front.

Algeria’s economy is heavily reli­ant on oil and gas, which account for up to 98% of its exports and 36% of its gross domestic product, but it has no significant invest­ments in the rest of Africa.

However, it has bigger state re­sources than Morocco with a gross domestic product (GDP) of more than $170 billion and foreign cur­rency reserves of more than $140 billion.

Morocco has a more diversified economy and a more dynamic pri­vate sector. The mostly privately owned Attijari bank is in 14 African countries. Maroc Telecom has ten affiliates in Africa and Royal Air Maroc flies to 22 destinations in Af­rica versus Air Algérie’s five.

Together, Moroccan firms in­vested more than $2 billion in Af­rica from 2009-15.