Morocco seeks to boost ties with African countries

Sunday 11/12/2016
King Mohammed VI of Morocco (L) standing with Ethiopia’s PM Hailemariam Desalegn

Casablanca - Morocco is seeking to consolidate its ties with African coun­tries as part of its south-south coop­eration strategy despite obstacles from South Africa and Algeria to prevent Rabat from rejoining the African Union, analysts said.
Moroccan King Mohammed VI has toured several African coun­tries with which his delegation sealed a raft of bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding.
His visit in November to Ad­dis Ababa included the signing of a $3.7 billion deal between Mo­rocco’s Office Cherifien des Phos­phates (OCP), the world’s largest phosphate exporter and state-run Ethiopian firm Chemical Industries Corporation (CIC) to build a plant to produce fertiliser.
Ethiopia, which is home to the African Union headquarters, im­ports about 900,000 tonnes of fer­tiliser each year.
OCP, during King Mohammed VI’s visit to Kigali in October, also reached an agreement with Rwan­da to build a blending unit.
“Morocco has taken a real bet on Africa in the last few years thanks to the king’s vision of the African continent, which has witnessed a sizeable economic growth in the last decade,” said Rachid Boutti, distinguished visiting professor at Universidad de Las Palmas Gran Canaria and professor at ENCG Agadir.
Many Moroccan firms, including builders, banks and insurers, have invested in sub-Saharan Africa in the past few years, making Moroc­co the second biggest African in­vestor on the continent after South Africa.
The North African kingdom has targeted countries that support the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, such as Nigeria, Rwanda and Ethio­pia, with investments and bilateral cooperation.
Rabat officially requested to re­join the African Union in Septem­ber, 32 years after quitting the bloc in protest over its decision to ac­cept Western Sahara as a member.
Morocco annexed Western Saha­ra in 1975 and maintains that it is an integral part of the kingdom. The Polisario Front guerrillas began an armed conflict with Morocco for an independent state that lasted un­til the United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991.
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 Algeria-backed Polisario Front, which insists on the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination in a UN-monitored vote.
“Morocco is well aware that Af­rica has a huge potential at a time Western Europe is witnessing an economic slowdown. It has set aside the political differences to fo­cus on its south-south cooperation strategy that looks very promis­ing,” said Boutti.
“African leaders have appreciat­ed Morocco’s business model that has proved to be successful even though the country does not have natural resources,” he added.
Morocco and Nigeria have signed an agreement to build a pipeline to carry Nigerian natural gas to North Africa and Europe.
The 4,000km pipeline, which will be funded by the two coun­tries’ sovereign wealth funds, is seen as a major initiative to boost energy production in Africa. It will run along the West African coast from Nigeria to Morocco. The exact route is yet to be decided.
“The pipeline is set to change the framework of more than 13 coun­tries in Africa as well as the region­al geopolitical sphere in which Mo­rocco operates,” said analyst Manar Slimi on Qadaya wa Arae, aired on Al Aoula TV.
Algeria had talks with Nigeria as far back as 2002 for a trans-Saharan pipeline but the Algerian govern­ment was unable to finance the project.
Moroccan firms seek to benefit from African markets with large populations such as Nigeria and Ethiopia.
Tarik Atlati, president of the Moroccan Centre for Strategic Re­search and Studies, told Qadaya wa Arae that “Morocco is working with a precise agenda at a deep African level despite disruptions from some countries,” a reference to Algeria and South Africa, which are trying to hamper Morocco’s bid to rejoin the African Union.