The Kingdom of Morocco officially requested to join the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as a full member in February this year. The request—it was reported—is in line with provisions of the Community’s founding treaty. Premium Times reported that the move comes “to crown the strong political, human, historical, religious and economic ties at all levels with ECOWAS countries.”
It is well known that the country’s decision to join the West African economic bloc is also part of King Mohammed’s royal vision for regional integration, as a key to Africa’s economic take-off, and is in line with his African policy, reflected by the return of the kingdom to the African Union.
Over the years, almost all regional an sub-regional organizations have adopted the “observer” status to enable non members who have vested interests to observe activities of the organizations, and ECOWAS is no different—Morocco has been an active observer both at the AU (where it sought and got re-admission after about 31 years of withdrawal over the status of Western Sahara). It is only natural to see this request for an upgrade a normal one under a new strategy of “regional integration” as proposed by the current monarch, King Mohammed.
Morocco’s readmission into the African Union in 2017 came on the backdrop of what many regarded as a step in the right direction due to the fact that the country was one of the founding members of the predecessor of the AU—Organization of African Unity in 1963. Not only that, this was hailed as one act taken too long in a bid to aggregate Africa’s economic fortunes in these global economic times. The cost of this and the burden thereof is to be borne by the Democratic Republic of Western Sahara because of its independence and most obviously by the consideration of its status the Kingdom of Morocco left the OAU in protest of the organization’s stance.
But be that as it may, the proposal to join and perhaps approval of the 16-member bloc is another case entirely.
There is a retinue of economic benefits Morocco could gain from such a deal. During a visit to Nigeria in December 2016 by King Mohammed VI, both countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding as regards the collaboration on fertilizer aimed to boost agriculture in Nigeria. The ministers of foreign affairs of both countries spoke on the gas pipeline agreement and said that the agreement is aimed at accelerating electricity development in the region. Agreements were also signed on promotion, and protection of investments, agriculture, banking, science and technology and development.
There are also other perspectives one may look at this budding collaboration, but at a closer look, it will come at a cost, not just inimical to Nigeria, but also to Saharawi Democratic Republic, and to the ECOWAS bloc as a body. There is no gainsaying the fact that Morocco needs a legal standing for the occupation of Western Sahara. It is worthy of note that in 2002, the United Nations Security Council’s legal department came to a conclusion that the former’s exploitation of the mineral resources of Western Sahara is a clear contravention of the norms of international law based on the fact that such exploration was done against the consent and wishes of the of the said resources. Also, in 2015, the European Court of Justice cancelled the EU-Morocco Free Trade Agreement because it included products from Western Sahara, while also making a ruling that recognizes the fact that Western Sahara is not a Moroccan territory, underscoring a widely held view that Morocco has no right to exploit the resources of the territory it occupies illegally.
Furthermore, Nigeria’s fertilizer deal with Morocco in getting phosphate from the illegally occupied Western Sahara is an ignoble departure from the core of her foreign policy as regards Pan Africanism—an unwelcome contradiction of Nigeria’s long standing position on the status of that country which the former led efforts to make independent, which drew the ire of Morocco, making her to withdraw from the OAU in 1984. Morocco has, and is doing all within its power to prevent Western Sahara from gaining independence, courting the United Nations and other developing nations. Buhari’s subtle support for Sahara’s independence implies that they may be welcome to join ECOWAS and this is precisely what Rabat is trying to avoid, necessitating the diplomatic overtures through African tours King Mohammed undertook between 2016 and 2017.
Critical to Morocco’s membership of the ECOWAS is international market for her domestic economy. The organisation is a viable, veritable market which could receive Moroccan exports. Its isolation from the African continent had made trading with fellow African states relatively difficult in the face of increasing bloc trade agreements taking place within the continent’s economic sub-regions of which ECOWAS is a budding success story of sub-regional integration despite its challenges. This economic pivot will without doubt, alter the existing economic framework in the community. Any friendship based on resources will always create myriads of problems of problems in the unforeseeable future.
Perhaps, one of the greatest admission requirements is the geographic location of Morocco. Geographically speaking, Morocco is NOT a West African country. The Economic Community of West African States, like all other sub regional economic integration or groupings, is based on geographical consideration or territorial contiguity aimed at enabling seamless transition of goods and services, free movement of persons and the creation of a common market. In this regard, Morocco shares no border with any West African country on the basis that its geographic location is at the farthest end of North-West Africa.
Former foreign affairs minister, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi rightly stated as a matter of fact that Morocco’s admission into ECOWAS is meant to whittle down Nigeria’s influence in the sub region, and in the world—by extension. Also correct was the ex minister’s revelation that if this deal goes through, Morocco would not just benefit from the Arab League only, but the West African quota as well, stressing that “The United Nations, the African Union and all international institutions now use the concept of regionalism in the distribution of appointive an elected posts. ECOWAS cannot unilaterally expand the boundary of West Africa to the Mediterranean.”
In any case, Mahmood Abbas correctly noted that a major danger to Nigeria of Morocco’s membership of ECOWAS is that it will further deepen Nigeria’s marginalization in a community which has its headquarters in Nigeria, whose 60% of its budget is financed by Nigeria and constitutes two third of its GDP. Of a truth, Morocco has a plethora of friends in Africa but particularly in Francophone West Africa which coincidentally constitutes the largest bloc in the organisation. Over the years, Nigeria has been unable to assert control in the way ECOWAS is run—largely because it has not made the necessary efforts. Therefore, adding the Moroccans to the Francophone bloc in the community will no doubt ensure that Nigeria’s influence is further whittled down.
It is pertinent to say that Morocco needs ECOWAS more than ECOWAS needs Morocco. The country has Western Sahara to curtail its growing international sympathy. To the east, vulnerable Tunisia with its budding local insurgency challenges; a spillover from the crisis-torn Libya; a vast territory claimed legally by no one which is crawling with growing numbers of armed terrorist networks and large arms-dealing cartels on her southern border. With the growing influence of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda in the Maghreb region, it is only a matter of time these minute networks become a major concern. She will need a more reliable partner than Libya under Ghadaffi. ECOWAS, as is known, has close to one hundred percent success record in all her political interventions among her member states. There is hardly any other regional or sub regional grouping the world over that can boast of a better record.
Admitting Morocco into the ECOWAS would need serious alterations and amendments to the Lagos and Lome treaties because they do not provide for admission of a country outside the geographic framework of West Africa. It is this writer’s strong opinion that such amendments would not only be inimical to the community, but will reverse any progress made towards deeper integration of any kind, and will further weaken the institution. This definitely is not what is needed at this point and therefore, Morocco’s bid for admission should not only be a non-issue, but its application be thrown out for the sake of national (Nigeria’s) interest and the long term future of the community.
MacHarry “Cowans” Confidence, a keen international affairs analyst and a socio-political issues commentator is a student of International Studies and Diplomacy, in the department of History an International Studies, University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria.
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