Morocco’s decision to rejoin the African Union (AU) after a three-decade absence represented a pivot away from Europe and towards the fast-growing economies in Africa, analysts told African Business.
Morocco hopes to gain greater influence across sub-Saharan Africa by using its financial clout and expertise, according to Dr Shana Cohen, the deputy director of the University of Cambridge-based Woolf Institute, which conducts research in North Africa.
“The [Moroccan] government is interested in doing business with the rest of Africa and it has decided to shift away from Europe,” she said.
While Morocco’s main trading partner remains the European Union, which accounted for 56% of Moroccan trade in 2015, the north African kingdom hopes to boost trade and invest in African countries south of the Sahara, and lessen its reliance on the sluggish European markets. Morocco – which has the fifth largest economy in Africa – has invested heavily in infrastructure projects on the continent, including a gas pipeline project linking Nigeria with Europe, and renewable energy projects. Africa has received 85% of Morocco’s foreign investment and the North African nation is the third largest exporter in Africa, according to theAfrican Development Bank (AfDB).
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Jon Marks, chairman of the UK-based Cross-Border Information, a consultancy focused on Africa and the Middle East, said that Morocco’s cooperation with countries in sub-Saharan Africa is “soft power” which could weaken the Sahrawi-dominated Polisario Front liberation movement, and make the North African country an economic leader in Africa. “Morocco’s African Union initiative fits in with its efforts of the last few years to become a genuine player across Africa, where Moroccan major banks and corporations genuinely see a major opening, supported by the king’s view that growth south of the Sahara can be a driver for the economy,” he said.
The move to rejoin the AU comes 33-years after Morocco left the organisation’s predecessor, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), after it recognised the disputed Western Sahara territories as the independent Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. Morocco has long considered those areas to fall under its rule.
In an effort to Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has including visiting Nigeria and Ethiopia. The charm offensive paid off with 39 countries support the measure and only 10, believed to be led by Algeria and South Africa, expressing reservations. Speaking at the 28th annual AU summit in Addis Abba, Ethiopia, King Mohammed VI told delegates that the North African nation did not want to divide the continent because of the disputed territory.
“It is a beautiful day when one returns home after too long an absence,” the king said to African heads of state. “Africa is my continent and my home. I am finally home and I am happy to see you. I missed you all.”