Morocco reaches out to Africa and Asia

Sunday 28/08/2016

King Mohammed VI is continuing Morocco’s campaign to highlight its political and economic ties to Africa.

The occasion was the August 20th commemoration of the Revolution of the King and the People, the beginning of the struggle against the French protectorate. The king spoke of Morocco’s historic ties with Algeria, the need for Moroccans living oversees to oppose extrem­ism and the centrality of Africa to the Moroccan identify and national strategy.

Morocco has been working for a decade to cement relations with other African countries and gain support for its efforts to join the African Union (AU). Morocco’s strongest tools are the economic and commercial benefits that come with having strong bilateral relations with African nations, amply demonstrated by the fact that, according to the African Development Bank, 85% of the country’s foreign direct invest­ment is in Africa.

Like any wise policy, these efforts do not come uncondition­ally. As the king said in his speech, in a clear reference to the AU push: “Our decision that Morocco should take its natural place, once again, within the African institu­tional family clearly illustrates our commitment to continue supporting the causes of African peoples.”

He went on to point out that “for Morocco, Africa means more than just being part of a geograph­ical area or having historical bonds with the continent. Africa also means sincere affection, appreciation, close human and spiritual relations as well as tangible solidarity. Furthermore, Africa is the natural extension of Morocco and the embodiment of the country’s strategic depth.”

Morocco’s efforts are multidi­mensional, involving large state corporations such as the Cherifian Office of Phosphates (OCP); government health, social and education agencies; counterter­rorism cooperation; and cultural exchanges. Moroccan telecoms companies serve more customers in a dozen African countries than they do at home and Moroccan banks play a significant role in eight West African countries.

Additionally, OCP, in an innovative partnership with Gabon, is producing fertiliser tailored for African needs and is funding a distribution programme for small landholders.

The king noted that “what is good for Morocco is good for Africa — and vice versa. Theirs is one and the same destiny. I also believe there can be no progress without stability, either the two go together or they do not exist. We see Africa as a forum for joint action, for promoting develop­ment in the region and for serving African citizens.”

The efforts are making a difference. At the recent AU summit, Morocco secured 28 countries’ backing for a letter promoting Morocco’s admission to the African Union after its withdrawal from its predecessor the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) over the admission of the Polisario-run government Sahrawi Arab Democratic Repub­lic.

J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, said: “The monarch’s remarks reaffirmed a strategic orientation with significant implications not only for Morocco and other countries of the African continent but also their global partners, including the United States.”

The theme has been carried over into Morocco’s growing relations with India, Russia and China. The king had a retinue of 400 business representatives and government officials when he attended the India-Africa Forum in October 2015. Five pacts were agreed and two signed during the forum.

King Mohammed VI visited Russia in March, when 24 agree­ments, protocols and memoran­dums of understanding were highlighted as well as the continu­ation of the strategic partnership agreement that has been in effect for ten years.

It was a similar story in China during a state visit that began May 11th. The two countries signed 15 bilateral agreements, accords and memoranda covering education, economic, cultural, tourism and technical sectors. Most impor­tantly, from the king’s perspec­tive, was the signing of a strategic partnership similar to that with the Kremlin.

While there is speculation about the timing of the visits, pundits said the Moroccan initiatives are not surprising considering the United States’ reluctance to fully endorse Morocco’s autonomy proposal for Western Sahara, calling it serious, realistic and feasible but not labelling it the solution to the conflict. However, Russia and China have not called for its unqualified endorsement, either.

Morocco is playing the long game. Whether with the African Union or the UN Security Council, the kingdom knows it needs friends and the US behaviour gives Rabat pause, promoting a fuller, more strategic vision of how to gain friends and influence others.