Amrani spoke about the importance of South Africa-Morocco relations for the sake of continental development.
By Safaa Kasraoui and Tamba Francois Koundouno
Rabat – Even as South Africa appears adamant in its support for the Polisario Front and its claims of independence in Western Sahara, Morocco’s ambassador to the African country insists that Rabat and Pretoria can–and should–still maintain strong bilateral relations.
Youssef Amrani, the Moroccan envoy to Pretoria, seems especially convinced that, as two continental leaders, Morocco and South Africa owe it to “constructive diplomacy,” their “pan-African responsibility,” and their shared belief in the need to advance South-South cooperation, to work out a way of strengthening their bilateral cooperation, despite a number of pointed divergences.
Since taking up his post in Pretoria, Amrani has repeatedly embraced the hopeful narrative that increased diplomatic communication between the two continental leaders can eventually lead to diplomacy of pragmatism and constructive discussions.
In a recent interview, Amrani unsurprisingly stood by his firm belief in Morocco and South Africa’s “African responsibility;” calling for both countries to actually take on their leadership mantle and work together for stability and socio-economic prosperity at the continental level.
Amrani; who appearedin an interview with SABC Digital News, engaged with topics such as, Morocco’s Africa-focused diplomacy, the Western Sahara conflict, maritime borders, and Morocco’s history of pan-African commitment.
Amrani is the first Moroccan ambassador to South Africa in 15 years. The two African countries have unfriendly, cold diplomatic relations mostly due to Pretoria’s position on Western Sahara. The situation of latent hostility and pointed diplomatic competition between Morocco and South African at international events has been an impediment to strengthening bilateral cooperation.
For Amrani, however, as the two countries are major players in the African continent, both they and the continent at large would benefit from improved bilateral relations, as well as an increase in collective efforts to take the lead in confronting the continent’s challenges.
The Moroccan ambassador spoke boldly of his, and Morocco’s commitment to advancing the pan-African agenda in a context of shared challenges and a need for collective action.
“My main mission is to build up a strong partnership with South Africa. We are two major African countries in the continent, Morocco in the North and South Africa,” the ambassador said.
For Amrani, the two African countries, both major states in the continent, share the same values and have the same spirit.
“In this context, we should work on how we should work together to build a more secure and more prosperous Africa.”
Africa and Morocco’s “historical Africanness” are among the key priorities of King Mohammed VI, with the Moroccan monarch speaking of his “commitment to Africa” on various occasions, including in speeches celebrating key historical events and during trips across the continent.
Amrani echoed such points from Morocco’s royal speeches, stating that Africa should work to meet the demands of its generations, especially the youth.
He cited a speech by South Africa’s President Ramaphosa, calling on a more prosperous and ambitious continent.
Africa needs to work to curb common challenges, including working on how to “create job opportunities for youth, and development” to meet the expectations of the continent’s younger generation, Amrani affirmed.
“We need stability. We need a peaceful solution to end conflicts and to curb other issues such as malnutrition and terrorism,” he stressed.
The ambassador said that these are the keys to a more developed continent, calling on the African Union to take them as top priorities.
On Morocco’s return to the AU, Amrani emphasized that the country had never left the AU.
Morocco returned to the pan-African organization in 2017, after leaving its seat vacant for 33 years. However, Morocco saw that the “empty seat” approach was not working anymore and decided to come back to an African club whose precursor–the Organisation of African Unity– it helped create in 1963 as more African countries gained their independence.
“Morocco never left Africa. Morocco is an African country, not only by geography but by human development and economic ties, spiritual ties. Islam has been in West Africa between Morocco and other African countries,” said the ambassador.
He added that a lot of African countries, who are good partners for Morocco, called for the country to return “home,” echoing King Mohammed VI’s description of the country’s return to the pan-African body.
Among the list of questions asked by the host was about Morocco’s recent decision to enact two draft bills to redefine its maritime border in the waters between Morocco’s Western Sahara and Spain’s Canary Islands.
During the interview, the ambassador dismissed claims that Morocco adopted the laws for provocative purposes.
Calling it a “sovereign act,” Amrani outlined that “Moroccan parliament adopted the laws in accordance with international law.”
The North African country has full right to delimit its borders, as did Spain when it moved to delimit the borders several years ago, he went on.
“We know that sometimes it is very difficult and technical work. Sometimes there is some overlap. And the Spanish foreign minister was in Rabat three days ago. We assured them that like they did we did the same thing,” he said.
Amrani recalled, however, that Morocco told the Spanish government it is ready to negotiate and dialogue to avoid tension or rift between the two neighbors.
On Western Sahara, Amrani recalled that a process to find an agreed-upon and mutually acceptable solution based on realism is ongoing at the UN and the Security Council
“There is a momentum that the parties are working toward an agreed-upon political solution based on realism,” he said.
He echoed Morocco’s commitment to finding a political solution to the conflict, citing the initiative of the Autonomy Plan that the country submitted to the Security Council in 2007.
Amrani said that the plan seeks to preserve Morocco’s territorial integrity and unity.
“The most important thing is to build a strong state, a democratic state. There is no room for a fragile state,” Amrani emphasized.
When asked about Sahrawis in the Tindouf camps, Amrani said that the Autonomy Plan seeks to integrate them.
“The Sahara is part of the Moroccan territory,” he said.
Like the UN Security Council resolutions and international powers, Amrani recalled that Morocco’s initiative to find a settlement to the conflict is a “serious and credible.”
“Morocco is committed and working with UN Secretary-General,” he insisted.