Morocco's diplomacy to conquer sub-Saharan countries

Mehdi Rais, in Rabat, translated by Léa Brachet
17 Novembre 2013

King Mohammed VI's visit in Mali, followed by a conference Morocco organised at the UN headquarters on Africa's future after 2015, are part of the country's initiatives to set up its new foreign policy in Africa.

Meeting between Mohammed VI and Mali's president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Credits -- Thierry Gouegnon/REUTERS
Meeting between Mohammed VI and Mali's president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Credits -- Thierry Gouegnon/REUTERS
Moroccan authorities are trying to increase their influence on sub-Saharan Africa as they are aware of the geopolitical importance of that region. Therefore, getting closer to Sub-Saharan countries has been set as a top priority of its foreign policy, in order to keep its strategic interests.
By becoming a leading continental power, Morocco aims at competing with countries such as Algeria that usually tends to isolate its neighbour from the rest of Africa. The reinforcement of Moroccan position in Africa remains essential as it could offer the kingdom both economic dynamism and support on sensitive diplomatic cases, like the West Saharan issue.

Widening of their political influence

In 1984, the Kingdom of Morocco withdrew from the Organisation of African Unity that became later the African Union, although it was one of its founders. But in order to avoid isolation and to be replaced by Algeria, Morocco has always maintained strong bilateral relations with Sub-Saharan countries. These diplomatic links are the base of its new strategy to reconquer Africa.
The strong relations established with more than 40 African countries are the strength of its policy. The huge raise of diplomatic missions in sub-Saharan Africa allows "the Moroccan flag to float everywhere on the continent".
Morocco is strengthening its political and diplomatic presence and increasing the number of diplomats going to and coming from foreign countries. As an example, the King has visited a lot of countries between 2000 and 2013, since he has been to more than eleven sub-Saharan countries and, recently to Mali.
Morocco's political influence is growing and so is the trust of the states it is working with. The kingdom keeps defending African's cause, either directly, thanks to its participation in different operations to maintain peace, in Ivory Coast for example, or either indirectly, supporting, in all of the international summits he’s intended, the human and social development in the sub-Saharan area. Morocco also reached its goal as it has been elected to represent Africa at the UN Security Council for the period 2011-2013. The increase of the cooperation between Morocco and its new continental partners is resulting today in the proliferation of joint commissions aiming at strengthening the strategic and political framework of their relationship.
Morocco also relies on cultural diplomacy to set up its policy. Furthermore, the kingdom uses its religious connections with South Saharan's countries to increase its authority. In May 2013, in Rabat, the capital city, an African day took place, where an "African Unity" street was inaugurated and conferences on Africa and Morocco relations were organised.

Strengthening of the economic influence

Since oil is not part of its assets, Morocco relies on South-South cooperation to support its economic diplomacy. The King took the initiative to cancel the debt of very poor African countries. This decision was only the beginning of a long-term economic strategy to get back to the suitable position it occupied in the African diplomatic landscape. To reinforce its economic leverage in the area, Morocco is settling human and social development projects. The private sector participation is also a relevant asset of its policy. Several Moroccan public or private companies have established themselves in sub-Saharan Africa to invest in sectors that could foster some countries growth, such as banking sector, as Attijari wafabank is present in Senegal and Mali, finance sector with CDG and the group Chaabi in Ivory Coast, Mali, and Guinea, or even telecommunication sector thanks to Maroc Télécom that owns communication companies in Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso.
The company OCP uses all of its knowledge and experience in agri-food industry to favour food security in the area. The exportation of its renewable energy model is also very important, as it is a decisive innovation that will influence positively on the countries suffering from frequent power and water cuts.
The offensive economic diplomacy led by Morocco seems successful, according to figures. Foreign trade went up from 11.7 billion dinars in 2012, to 16 billion dinars by the end of 2012 and will grow substantially at the end of 2013, according to experts. These assets will probably enable Morocco to preserve its political and strategic interests, especially on the Western Sahara issue. It seems obvious that sub-Saharan Africa is a key region for Moroccan diplomacy and the country seems able to avoid conflicts with its rivals, even if they often try to limit their diplomatic development. That is the new challenge Morocco has to meet.

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