For the first time, a Moroccan monarch has addressed the kingdom from outside of Morocco, and articulated Morocco’s African policy, calling upon on the newly elected government to give top priority to the continent in the next five years.
King Mohammed VI chose to deliver his annual speech from Senegal, a country that has long-standing bonds of brotherhood with Morocco. The strong relationship is reflected in Dakar’s long-held support of Rabat’s position on the Western Sahara.
Moroccans still remember the instrumental role that Senegal, a non-permanent member of the Security Council, played last April during the unprecedented diplomatic friction between Morocco and the United Nations Secretary General, after Ban Ki-moon described Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara as an “occupation.” Senegal, along with Egypt, Spain, and France, voiced support for Morocco and prevented the Security Council from siding with the UN chief.
That the Moroccan monarch chose to deliver his speech from another African country is a clear message that Morocco’s decision to reunite with its family on the continent is irreversible. The speech comes after King Mohammed VI’s announcement last July of Morocco’s intention to rejoin the African Union and put an end to the “empty chair” policy it had adopted since it withdrew from the Organization of African Unity (now called the African Union) in 1984.
King Mohammed VI followed this historic announcement with his first ever tour to East Africa in October. During this tour, the Moroccan king visited Rwanda and Tanzania, two countries that have diplomatic relations with the self-proclaimed Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).
Interestingly, the King has shown his eagerness to share with the Moroccan people the outcome of his recent visits to East Africa, the steps he has taken to allow Morocco to return to the African Union, and the next stages of his tour to East Africa.
During this tour, Morocco signed 19 economic agreements with Rwanda and 22 with Tanzania. These agreements both increase Morocco’s leverage with these countries and contribute to their economic development. This strategy highlights Morocco’s leadership in south-south cooperation and echoes its calls in recent years that Africa must rely on its people to unleash its full economic potential and provide better living conditions to its peoples.
This strategy will likely influence these countries to reconsider their positions on the Western Sahara and perhaps sever their diplomatic relations with the so-called SADR.
That Morocco has decided to venture outside its comfort zone and reach out to countries where it has long suffered from a deficit of image means that the country is determined to expand its international influence to the whole African continent. This new foreign policy orientation also indicates that Morocco is aware that to strengthen its Western Sahara position, it must win the support of countries that have hitherto been outside of its traditional relations, and reclaim its seat within the African Union.
As the King stressed in his speech, this return to the African Union does not mean that Morocco will change its position on the Western Sahara. Rather, it signals that Morocco will fight the Polisario and its supporters from within and prevent them from using the AU as tool to put pressure on Morocco at the United Nations and in other international fora.
“Morocco’s return to its continental institutional family will not change our unwavering position regarding the Moroccan Sahara,” the King said in his Green March anniversary speech “To the contrary, it will enable us to defend our legitimate rights and correct the fallacies peddled by opponents of our territorial unity, particularly within the African Union.
Continuation of Morocco’s African policy
Contrary to some observations, the orientation that King Mohammed VI has given to Morocco’s foreign policy is not a new one. It constitutes a continuation of the efforts he has been making since his coronation in 1999 to enable Morocco to recover its pivotal role and strategic importance on the African continent.
In the 16 years of his reign, the Moroccan monarch has made more than 35 visits to several African countries, especially in West Africa. These repetitive tours and the myriad of economic agreements that Morocco has signed with multiple African countries have enabled Morocco to renew progressively with its history when the country played the role of link of between the rest of the world and Africa.
The push that the monarch has given to Morocco’s foreign policy with the aim to build bridges with English-speaking Africa means that the country is now embarking on the second phase of a well thought out strategy to enable Morocco eventually to expand its footprint on the whole continent, especially in the most influential countries. By developing this aggressive African policy, Morocco also seeks to obtain the status of the champion of Africa in international fora.
In recent years, Morocco has repeatedly spoken up on behalf of Africa and has drawn the attention of the international community to the endemic problems many countries of the continent are facing. During his speech before the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, King Mohammed VI called on the international community to adopt a goal-oriented and viable strategy to help African countries face the economic challenges that prevent them from overcoming their colonial past, unleash their economic potential, and provide better living conditions for their people.
“Morocco is calling on the United Nations organization and on regional and international financial institutions to draw up an action plan for economic transformation in Africa and provide steady resources to finance it,” the Moroccan monarch said at the time.
King Mohammed VI’s speech on Sunday comes on the eve of COP22, the UN’s annual conference on global climate change, which will be held in Morocco from November 7 to 18. This timing conveys a message that he intends to influence Africa to speak with one voice during the climate summit and that he will call on the international community to take Africa’s demands and concerns seriously, especially in terms of funding and transfer of technology. The African summit that King Mohammed VI is convening during the COP22 seeks to prompt the 54 African countries to develop a common position during the deliberations leading to the adoption of the summit’s final agreement.
The new orientation Mohammed VI has given to Morocco’s foreign policy with the decision to return to the African Union ushers in a new era in which Algeria, the Polisario, and their supporters will no longer have a free hand to use the organization to their advantage. Morocco seems more determined than ever to play on its adversaries’ field and overcome their efforts over the last three decades to isolate it and undermine its proposed resolution to the Western Sahara conflict through a political and mutually acceptable arrangement.
Samir Bennis is the co-founder of and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis