How Morocco won its way back to AU
By Lovemore Ranga Mataire
Harare- After 33 years of self-imposed isolation, Morocco was readmitted into the African Union at the just ended 28th summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
But its readmission was not without controversy.
Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa and Algeria had vigorously lobbied for the continued exclusion of Morocco until it relinquishes its claim of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).
The four countries, had as a matter of principle voiced concern over Morocco’s continued colonisation of its neighbor something out of sync with the organisation’s founding principles, values and the AU Constitutive Act.
Upon his return from the summit, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe told the media that Morocco had used its financial muscle to weave its way back into the AU.
“I think its lack of ideology. They (the African leaders who backed Morocco) have not had the same revolutionary experience as all of us and there is too much reliance on their erstwhile colonisers,” Mugabe said.
Describing the readmission of Morocco as a blow, Mugabe said it would have been acceptable if the country should at least have publicly declared that it’s relinquishing its claim of occupation of the SADR.
Also registering its disappointment is Namibia’s governing party Swapo, which said it was appalled. Swapo Secretary General Nangolo Mbumba, said Swapo is not in favour of Morocco joining the AU while denying Western Sahara independence.
“I don’t like the word occupation and as long as Morocco still occupy Western Sahara we do not want anything to do with them. We will continue to voice our frustrations until such time Morocco allows the Sahrawi people to have a referendum,” Mbumba told The Southern Times. Mbumba added that Namibia has been through occupation and lost many people during that period and thus can related to the pain of being occupied in ones own backyard. “Morocco is denying the Sahrawi people freedom and independence that this continent preaches every year at the African Union summit. But where is the freedom for these people, where is it? It’s not fair to these people and we will continue to vouch for them,” Mbumba said.
It appears as though Morocco’s readmission had more to do with financial arm-twisting than real principles and values.
Over the years, Morocco has been fashioning itself as a major economic force in the sub-Saharan Africa.
A typical example of its foreign policy charm offensive was exemplified when Morocco’s national carrier, Royal Air Maroc maintained regular flights to West Africa at the height of Ebola almost two years ago.
This was at the time when all international air carriers, with the exception of Belgium-based SN Brussels, suspended flights to the affected countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone over contagion fears.
Morocco defended its decision saying it was out of brotherly solidarity “reflecting the kingdom’s constant commitment to Africa.”
Over the past decade, the airline has expanded its network across the continent and increased flights to African destinations from 14 in 2007 to 32 in 2016.
Besides the expansion of flights across the continent, Morocco has for the past 10 years has increased trade with the rest of the continent by an average of 13 percent equivalent to US$3.7 billion in 2014 with 42 percent being in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to a government report titled “Morocco-Africa Relationship: Ambition for a New Frontier”, the country’s trade with Africa represented 6.4 percent of the kingdom’s overall trade globally during the same period.
It was inevitable for the bulk of West African countries not to ascend to the Morocco’s readmission quest given how the country has invested in their economies.
The United Nations’ “World Investment Report 2016” states that in 2015 alone, the kingdom of Morocco invested US$600 million with neighbouring Mali getting the lion’s share followed by Cote d’lvoire, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Gabon.
Towards the end of 2016, Morocco’s investment in sub-Saharan Africa represented 85 percent of its overall foreign direct investment (FDI) stocks, according to data from the country’s finance ministry and African Development Bank.
A 2015 Ernst and Young survey report states that Morocco became a more prominent investor on the continent after initiating 13 intra-Africa investments, it’s highest over a decade.
The reason behind the heightening interest in sub-Saharan Africa was that Moroccan companies are looking towards sub-Saharan as their country becomes a platform for exporting to other African countries.
Morocco’s investment focus is in banking and telecommunication sectors, which in 2013 accounted for 88 percent of its Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) stocks in sub-Saharan Africa.
The country’s leading bank, the Attijariwafa Bank Group, with 7.4 million customers and more than 16, 000 employees, is in 10 sub-Saharan African countries: Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Cote d’lvoire, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Togo.
Morocco’s financial muscle is also dominant in 11 African countries that include Mali and Burkina Faso where the Banque Marocaine du Commerce Exterieur (BMCE) group has operations in West, Central and East Africa through its subsidiary Bank of Africa.
In short, Morocco has been flexing itself as a major economic player in sub-Sahara Africa and this endeared itself with most AU member states who voted in favour of its re-admission into the AU.
Its gradual quest for readmission was also apparent when in July 2016, King Mohammad V1 of Morocco informed African leaders attending the AU summit in Kigali, Rwanda of his country’s wish to become a full member again saying, “Morocco should not remain outside its African institutional family, and it should regain its natural, rightful place within AU.”
Two months after King Mohammad’s delivery in Kigali, Morocco formally submitted its request for re-admission thus starting a process that led into its acceptance at the just ended summit in Addis Ababa.
But questions still linger on Morocco’s sincerity, something that bothers countries like Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa and Algeria with President Mugabe saying “the game is not lost,” and “will fight the issue to the end.”
Morocco left the former Organisation of African Unity (AU’s predecessor) in 1984 protesting the presence and recognition of the Polisario Front as official representatives of the SADR, a former Spanish colony west of the Sahara that Morocco considers part of its territory.
SADR disputes Morocco’s position and the matter is still unresolved.