WE commend the Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria (ARCAN) for its timely warning on Morocco’s bid to install itself as a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Noting that Morocco, by reason of its geographical location in North Africa, does not qualify for membership, ARCAN called on the Nigerian government to resist attempts by other ECOWAS member states to support the admission of Morocco into the West African body.
The frenetic efforts of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI to get his country admitted into ECOWAS include 23 visits to 11 West African countries, with offerings of generous business deals. His suspicious, new-found love for West Africa is calculated to get most of the ECOWAS countries to view Morocco as a friend and a benefactor.
Then, in February 2017, Morocco’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Co-operation announced that the country would seek admission into ECOWAS as a full member. The ECOWAS chairperson, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was formally notified of Morocco’s “interest to join the regional grouping as a full member.” Apparently, Morocco was no longer content with its observer status in ECOWAS and now made a bid for full membership.
Because the bid has no basis in history, geography or culture, it must be stopped before it blows ECOWAS and its member states apart. Indeed, we wish that ARCAN had spoken up before the red carpet reception of the king when he visited Nigeria early in December 2016. King Mohammed had dazzled the Nigerian side with his impressive retinue of 300 officials and offers of sweetheart deals estimated by Foreign Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, to be worth many billions of dollars.
On Morocco, we advise caution. This is even more so for the Moroccan king who has not really disguised his agenda. One of the Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) signed in Nigeria was for a Nigeria-Morocco collaboration on a huge fertiliser manufacturing scheme.
On a closer look, however, the venture is to be based on the phosphate exploited from the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), formerly known as Western Sahara, an independent African nation currently under Moroccan occupation. The fertiliser project, therefore, is poisoned chalice.
The Federal Government must revisit this proposal to ensure that Nigeria is not unwittingly abetting Moroccan imperialism in Africa. If the phosphate can only come from Western Sahara, that should automatically make Nigeria pull out of the deal. Nigeria’s foreign policy abhors colonialism.
This has been our position since Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, our founding Prime Minister, outlined it at the UN General Assembly in 1960. It should not change now.
We also hope that the proposed gas pipeline through the Maghreb to Europe, and the 15 bilateral agreements were neither tied to Morocco’s membership of ECOWAS nor compromised Nigeria’s principled commitments to African liberation and the eradication of colonialism on the continent.
There are two basic problems with Morocco’s moves. First, is its continued occupation of the SADR, which in 1984, was recognised by all members of the 54-member Pan-African body, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now African Union (AU). This was a move led by the Nigerian government then headed by Major General Muhammadu Buhari as military head of state.
Morocco, seeing that Africa was against its imperialistic posture, then pulled out of the OAU. It stayed away for 33 years in which it showed little interest in African affairs. It has continued its occupation of SADR against world public opinion and the resolutions of both the United Nations Security Council and the General Assembly.
The Security Council had, in 2002, concluded that Morocco’s exploitation of mineral resources of the SADR constitutes a violation of international law, especially since such action is undertaken against the wishes of the rightful owners of the resources.
In the same vein, the European Court of Justice had, in 2015, annulled the EU-Morocco Free Trade Agreement, having ruled that the SADR is not a territory of Morocco and that Morocco has no right to exploit the resources of the territory it occupies illegally.
Morocco’s foray into West Africa is much more dangerous because it is capable of destabilising West Africa, dividing it and sowing lasting seeds of disunity.
Nothing justifies Morocco’s membership of ECOWAS. It has neither geographical propinquity nor cultural affinity with West Africa. No West African country has a common border with Morocco. Instead, Morocco is at the farthest end of North Africa and rightfully belongs to the Maghreb Union and the Arab League.
The Moroccan king seems to have replaced Col. Muammar Ghadaffi in the use of checkbook diplomacy, albeit with a sweeter tongue. Morocco, the king says, has a “royal vision for regional integration as key to Africa’s economic take-off.” He has been to Ghana, Senegal and Togo. Cote D’Ivoire, last April, expressed support for Morocco’s ECOWAS membership.
We think the Security Council of the African Union should hold an open and frank dialogue with Morocco over its continued occupation of the territory of a member state against international law.
The kingdom’s continued membership of the AU must be tied to a definite deadline for it to end its occupation of SADR, without which AU sanctions – economic, diplomatic, and cultural – should be considered. Unless this is done, the AU would continue to bear the image of an irrelevant, do-nothing, paper tiger. In the case of ECOWAS, it is so clear that it is neither in the interest of Nigeria nor that of the sub-region to admit Morocco into the fold.