Morocco’s foreign minister highlighted Morocco’s Africa-centric approach to foreign policy matters in a wide-ranging BBC interview.
Rabat – Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita has explained Morocco’s approach to migration, terrorism, South-South cooperation in Africa, and returning ISIS jihadists.
In an interview with BBC journalist Said Shehata following the migration conference in Marrakech on December 10, Bourita clarified misconceptions about African migrants and migration in general.
The minister said that “migration is a natural, universal phenomena” and treating migrants as criminals is “wrong” because they are victims of circumstances or human trafficking networks.
Bourita considered that one of the forms of misinformation or “exaggerations” about African migrants is the belief that “migration is a raid from the south toward the north, or that Africa is the primary source of irregular migrants.”
There are an estimated 256 million migrants globally, both documented and undocumented.
From the 256 million migrants, 13 percent, or 36 million, are Africans. “From those 36 million, 80 percent or 30 million people immigrate within Africa,” Bourita said.
Bourita added that from the remaining 6 million migrants, many immigrate to different parts of the world, but 80 percent of them are documented.
Only the remaining 0.1 percent are irregular African migrants who leave Africa. “African irregular migrants represent only 0.1 percent of world migrants in the US, Arab countries, and Europe.”
Why does Morocco accept migrants?
During the discussion about Morocco’s campaign to improve the situation of African migrants in the country, Bourita reported that “in 2016-2017, Morocco approved 50,000 (90 percent) of 60,000 requests from migrants wishing to improve their situations, especially in the case of women, children, and people with special needs.”
Today Morocco is “no longer just a transit country,” for migrants seeking European countries. “Morocco is also a migrant destination.”
Morocco wants to improve the lives of African migrants and give vulnerable, irregular migrants the opportunity to live in the country legally. Regularized migrants are now able to go to schools and access health care and the job market.
Why does Morocco do all that?
Bourita asserted that there are five million Moroccans who live abroad, and Morocco wants African migrants in the country to enjoy rights and good quality of life as much as it wishes for Moroccans abroad to do so.
“Morocco is an African country with African roots and history,” stated Bourita. He added that Morocco’s relationship with the continent is that of solidarity and a sense of belonging rather than one built on “benefits.”
Why is Morocco interested in investing in Africa?
Morocco wants to invest in Africa “because Morocco believes in Africa’s future and in South-South cooperation” said Bourita, quoting King Mohammed VI’s saying that “Africa must first believe in Africa.”
“South-South cooperation is an important part of any development strategy in Africa, and it is not about small projects.” Bourita added: “Morocco and Africa now cooperate on military training and security to counter crime and terrorism.”
While many reckon that “Africa is a hopeless continent with nothing but problems,” King Mohammed VI has emphasized Morocco’s relationship with African countries in terms of economic, political, and security cooperation ever since he ascended to the throne.
Bourita noted that “King Mohammed VI is perhaps the only leader who made 50 visits to Africa, to more than 30 countries.”
“Morocco also shares a spiritual relationship with eastern Africa, in terms of spreading a moderate Islam.” When it comes to cooperation on education, Bourita said that every year, 10,000 African students arrive in Morocco to study on scholarships.
Bourita said Morocco wants the world to know that Africa today is “an opportunity and not a problem as it is now on the brink of evolution.”
“Africa shoulders its responsibility and does not want to become a burden to the world. Africa is a chance for the world. Morocco’s approach to Africa is like no other because it is built on trust and a sense of belonging. It is complete in all sides including political, spiritual, economic and humanitarian ones,” Bourita told BBC.
How does Morocco deal with the competition?
Morocco invested MAD 3 billion in Africa in 2015. Compared to other countries investing in the continent how does Morocco compete?
“We are not in a competition with anyone,” Bourita said.
The official explained that Morocco “belongs” in the continent and does not “compete” with it. “Other countries investing in Africa are from outside the continent, while Morocco’s relationship with Africa has a direct influence on the country.”
Yet, Morocco’s strategic relations are diversified and do not stop at the continent. It is proved through visits and partnerships with other Arab countries, China, Russia, South America, and the UK.
Morocco is also no longer only reliant on exports because it is developing in the domain of communication. Bourita gave the example of Morocco’s growing telecommunication company, Maroc Telecom, and the national airline company, Royal Air Maroc, which makes 30 trips to Africa.
Bourita added that “Moroccan banks also became open to other countries in the continent.”
How does Morocco excel in countering terrorism?
According to Bourita, the efforts of the Moroccan security forces, and Morocco’s spreading of a moderate Islam have played a role in curbing terrorism in the country.
“Fighting poverty has also played a big role in making Morocco a leader in fighting terrorism since 5 years ago.”
He also spoke about Moroccan “control” of social media.
“There are countries that are stronger than us technologically, but curbing terrorism is not about control only. We use social media to spread moderate Islam against ISIS,” Bourita explained.
The 2018 Global Terrorism Index listed Morocco among the countries least impacted by terrorism. Morocco now ranks 132nd out of 163 in the 2018 terrorism index, gaining nine places compared to the 2017 report when it ranked 123rd.
How does Morocco deal with returning ISIS jihadists?
Around 1,200 Moroccan jihadists came back or want to come back to Morocco from Iraq and Syria, according to Bourita.
Morocco monitors how they get travel documents, where they depart from, who receives them, and where they get training. Morocco also believes in reintegrating women fighters, the wives of jihadists, and their children.