Maghreb neighbours compete over African turf
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.