The return to the African Union after more than three decades of absence was a point of inflection showing the Kingdom’s growing clout notably in West Africa, a region in which Moroccan banks and companies have been operating for years.
“Morocco’s combination of elements of soft and hard power to advance its regional aims effectively provides an interesting case study that offers a clear counterpoint to Algeria’s approach to exercising state power,” noted recently a policy paper published by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The Kingdom has tapped into the potential of its diversified economy to increase its influence through win-win projects across the continent boosted by the skillful mobilization of religion as a soft power.
“The world’s leading phosphate exporter, Morocco’s Office Cherifien des Phosphates (OCP), Maroc Telecom, Royal Air Maroc, real estate developer Addoha Group and Attijariwafa Bank are well-implanted in several African countries,” said Anouar Boukhars in the research dubbed “Reassessing the power of regional security providers: the case of Algeria and Morocco”.
Unlike the oil-dominated Algerian economy, Morocco capitalizes on the comparative advantage of its firms and banks. The three Moroccan banks – Attijariwafa Bank (AWB), Groupe Banque Centrale Populaire (BCP) and Banque Marocaine du Commerce Extérieur (BMCE) – for example dominate the sector in Francophone West Africa.
Casablanca Finance City (CFC) was launched to turn Morocco’s economic hub into a regional financial platform and gateway to Africa’s fast-growing markets.
Morocco’s soft power and solidarity-based approach in its relations with Africa was also proven when many countries in West Africa were stricken by the Ebola pandemic. Back then flag carrier Royal Air Maroc did not stop its flight, recalled the author of the paper.
Today, Royal Air Maroc flies 170 weekly flights to more than 30 destinations on the continent.
Morocco has also invested in its geographic location to position itself as a logistics hub for the continent through the Tanger-Med container port, which assures weekly connections with nearly 35 ports in West Africa.
In tandem, Morocco has harnessed its ties with Nigeria launching large-scale projects including the Atlantic gas pipeline that would help coastal states achieve their energy security targets.
The more investments the more Nigeria softens its position on the Sahara issue after years of siding with Algeria in its schemes to undermine Morocco’s territorial integrity through the Polisario separatist militias, Boukhars said.
At the Industrial level, Morocco’s OCP has launched ambitious projects to help meet food security needs in Africa through the creation of fertilizer factories. Two large ones are planned in Nigeria and Ethiopia.
In the field of culture, the Moroccan Cinematographic Centre (CCM) has provided funding for several African projects and assisted in the co-production and post-production of African films.
“Morocco has also invested in humanitarian aid, conducting vaccination campaigns, donating food crop seeds, deploying mobile hospital units to affected areas, building a military hospital and a cancer institute in Guinea and Gabon, and helping establish a funding mechanism for 7000 small farmers in Senegal,” the paper said.
The Kingdom has also tapped into its religious connections with the region offering to train imams to spread the genuine values of moderate Islam.
“The kingdom’s hard-fought return to the AU after a 33-year break is the fruition of a concerted, flexible and multifaceted diplomatic offensive that saw the Kingdom effectively mobilize an arsenal of diplomatic, economic and religious resources to solidify its old alliances while changing the dynamics of its frosty relations with countries it long shunned because of their support for the Polisario,” Boukhars said.