Morocco’s increasingly multifaceted influence in Africa has increased tensions between France and Morocco, despite French attempts to keep its discomfort under wraps. But the truth about why the EU and France in particular is defaming Morocco in Africa is shocking.
Long considered by French politicians to be France’s backyard, France has met Morocco’s diversification strategy to delink its political and economic dependence on France with skepticism and distrust. Mild symptoms of deterioration in French-Moroccan relations appeared in 2021 after the tripartite accords signed by Morocco, the United States, and Israel. With the Trump administration essentially recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, Morocco agreed to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel, causing mild concern in Paris. But Morocco’s increasingly multifaceted influence across Africa, especially in West African countries, has seemed to pull the rug out from under France.
Amidst the heightened geopolitical race for Africa by international players like Russia, China, and the United States, France is lagging behind largely due to continuing colonial and paternalistic foreign policies which have undermined its position in many African countries including Mali, Gabon, Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. France’s unforgettable – even unforgiveable — colonial history has also thwarted attempts to establish trust and equitable relations with many French former colonies where popular resentment and indignation towards France not only linger, but are growing. There is an unmistakable awareness today among many Africans that France is the root cause of their country’s modern sociopolitical issues, kindling a general anti-French sentiment manifest in protests and “down with France” social media campaigns.
In contrast, Morocco has strengthened its economic presence in many African countries by adopting a win-win partnership strategy. Since his accession to the throne in 1999, King Mohamed VI has made more than 46 visits to 25 African countries, signed numerous agreements and launched multiple major strategic projects. When Morocco rejoined the African Union in 2017, King Mohamed VI in his revolutionary anti-colonial speech at the 28th African Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, emphasized Africa’s potential to achieve growth and prosperity on its own while descrying decades of foreign “looting” of Africa’s wealth.
The king’s express rejection of the colonial relationship and assertion of Africa’s ability to stand on its own two feet and not look to others for decisions undoubtedly ruffled the feathers of those who see Africa as their goose who laid the golden egg. First and foremost of them is France.
According to UNCTAD’s Economic Development in Africa Report 2020, an estimated $88.6 billion annually leaves the African continent as illicit capital flight, more than triple the amount Africa receives as foreign aid (estimated at $19bn). The systematic impoverishment of Africa through consistent plundering of its resources, although a practice that began before colonial times, thus continues. As Tom Burgis puts it, “For every woman who dies in childbirth in France, a hundred die in the desert nation of Niger, a prime source of the uranium that fuels France’s nuclear-powered economy.” Thus, Africa’s troves of natural resources have become a curse.
Morocco’s economic ventures in Africa, however, do not embody such a colonialist or exploitative agenda. King Mohamed VI’s vision has been “South-South cooperation,” sharing Morocco’s resources with other African countries. The vision is being realized through sustainable projects that contribute to solving Africa’s most urgent crises, above all food insecurity. Morocco has now signed more than 38 agreements with 18 African countries with respect to agriculture. Morocco’s Cherifian Phosphates Office (OCP), as part of its Agri-boost initiative, has established joint ventures with several African countries to process rock phosphate for the extraction of phosphorus, a key ingredient in the fertilizer industry. This is paving the way for the operation of OCP subsidiaries in more than 12 African countries, including Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Senegal.
Since its launch in 2014, the Agri-boost initiative has benefited more than 630,000 farmers in Africa, significantly increasing their crop yields by 33%. Morocco also donates hundreds of metric tons of fertilizers to its African partners, handing over 5,000 tons to Mauritania in December 2022, 25,000 tons to Senegalese smallholder farmers in October 2022, and 2,000 tons to Gabon in February during the King’s most recent visit to Libreville. OCP Group Chairman & CEO, Mostafa Terrab announced on October 11, 2022 at the World Bank annual meeting that the OCP Group is committed to reserving over 4 million tons of fertilizer for African farmers in 2023.
Morocco is a catalyst growth for its African sister nations, with relationships marked by multidimensional and mutually beneficial cooperation. This newfound independent economic strength, along with Morocco’s recent strategic military and economic alliance with the United States and Israel, and growing presence on the world stage manifest even on football pitches during the World Cup in Qatar, is provoking angry reaction in French political circles. This new soft power is driving France up the wall.
According to reports, the French General Directorate for External Security cannot stomach the rise of another Turkey in the region. A former French ambassador to Rabat, now retired, told Maghreb Intelligence that “the [French] smear machine is in motion and all means are at its disposal to achieve its objective: to weaken the Kingdom of Morocco by sullying its reputation.”
Indeed, France embarked on a series of unfriendly gestures against Morocco beginning in September, 2021, when it cut the number of visas issued to nationals of Morocco, then spurred the European Parliament’s recent condemnation of Morocco for alleged violations of freedom of speech and human rights, and culminated with the French Media’s backstabbing campaign against Moroccan interests. This attack by the EU in general and France in particular is driven by the desire to keep Morocco hostage to European/French economic and political control. Wrenching and wriggling free from France’s grip is a bitter pill for the French who have long viewed Morocco as its little French poodle.
So why is France fuming? Former U.S. Congressman Michael Patrick Flanagan hit the nail on the head. He asserted in February that Europe’s long-standing interest is in “obstructing Moroccan growth into world markets” beyond those that are “captured” by Europe, and as a result the EU negatively distorts Morocco’s image on the world stage to try to maintain its consumer market share.
But Morocco’s south-south cooperation strategy is significantly paying off. Moroccan companies now operate in more than 45 African countries, serving vital sectors such as insurance, telecommunications, agriculture, banking, and construction. This rapid regional economic expansion, along with Morocco’s increasing attractiveness due to its socio-political stability and unique religious coexistence, is here to stay.
Youssef EL KAIDI is an associate professor of Literature and Cultural Studies at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Sais-Fes, Morocco. He is a founding member of the Moroccan Institute for Cultural Investment. Youssef has written extensively on socio-political, historical and cultural issues pertaining to the MENA region, contributing to various national and international news outlets.
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