13 July 2017

West Africa: Whose Gain Is Morocco's Accession to Ecowas?

Photo: Vanguard
ECOWAS.

After the Monrovia's summit of ECOWAS leaders, which gave its agreement in principle to Morocco's request to join the sub-regional grouping, West African diplomatic veterans have continued to vent their disapproval to the Kingdom's membership bid.

Although the West African leaders, at the June 4, 2017 meeting, said the implications of Morocco's membership still needed to be considered before it could formally join, experts argued that Morocco's admission would erode Nigeria's diplomatic influence not only in ECOWAS, but also in the international community.

ECOWAS is made up of 15 West African nations, none of which shares a border with Morocco. But the country already has bilateral relations with almost all the ECOWAS member states. This raises concerns about Morocco's interest in becoming a full member of the sub-regional bloc.

Morocco's application to join ECOWAS came after it rejoined African Union in January 2017. The country left the continental body in 1984 after AU's recognition of Western Sahara, a territory that Morocco regards as part of its historic region.

Its frantic efforts to join ECOWAS included the 23 royal visits to 11 countries in West Africa by King Mohammed VI, with the signing of hundreds of investment contracts, which Morocco said had given a strong impetus to its bilateral cooperation with the sub-region.

"In the past, diplomacy was at the service of the consolidation of political relations. Today, it is the economic dimension which is a priority and constitutes one of the bases of diplomatic relations," King Mohammed VI had said at the first Moroccan-Ivorian forum in Abidjan on February, 2014.

Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Nasser Bourita, after the Monrovia's meeting, had said ECOWAS initial acceptance to Morocco's accession constitutes a "recognition of the personal involvement" of King Mohammed VI and Morocco's "long-term investment" in West Africa.

Despite Morocco's strong ties with ECOWAS member states, trade between them remains low. The trade volume is less than USD 1 billion a year, less than 4% of Morocco's exports and less than 2% of its global trade.

Some observers believed Morocco might be seeking to take advantage of the West African economy - with a population of over 300 million and GDP of $345 billion - to boost its sluggish economy. Others, however, opined that the North African country may see its admission into the West African body as an opportunity to reinvent itself on the continental stage.

The Ivorian Minister of Finance, Adama Kone believed Morocco's membership of ECOWAS would "only give a greater economic weight to the region."

Birima Mangara, Senegalese Minister in charge of the Budget, added voice to Kone's assertion, saying Morocco's accession to ECOWAS would mean "a boon for both parties."

On the contrary, Mohammed K. Ibrahim, a retired Nigerian ambassador, opined that the economic implication of admitting Morocco to the sub-regional body would be enormous.

ECOWAS membership, he said in his article "Nigeria, Morocco and The Future of ECOWAS", would provide tariff-free access for Morocco's products in the whole of West Africa.

"Considering that Morocco is an offshore manufacturing hub of many EU countries, this would only be to the benefit of the North African country. The harm is not directly coming from Morocco per se, whose GDP is less than one-quarter of that of Nigeria and industrial output slightly bigger than that of Lagos State, but her surrogacy of Europe," Ambassador Ibrahim said.

He noted that Nigeria's reluctance in signing the Economic Partnership Agreement between EU and ECOWAS would be useless once Morocco, which has since March 2000 signed an Association Agreement with the EU, is admitted into the sub-regional grouping.

"With ECOWAS weak Rules of Origin regime, Morocco would simply serve as a gateway for EU goods entering into Nigeria without tariff or quantitative restrictions, further worsening our balance of trade with the EU," he added.

The Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria (ARCAN) said ECOWAS, from inception, was meant to be a regional organisation of only West African states as prescribed in both the 1975 Treaty and its revised version in 1993.

The treaty and legal instruments, it said, should not be changed in order to admit Morocco into the organisation.

ARCAN pointed out that if the admission of Morocco in principle was true, then, that decision would be one of the most humiliating and lowest points in Nigeria's foreign policy since independence.

On the economic front, ARCAN explained that having failed to be admitted into the European Economic Community (EE) in 1987, Morocco's admission to ECOWAS would offer it a vast market for its fairly well developed manufacturing sector in view of the fact that member countries have free movement of goods and services within the community.

Prof Bolaji Akinyemi, Former Foreign Affairs Minister, described Morocco's ECOWAS membership bid as the biggest challenge to Nigerian Foreign Policy since the civil war.

The move, he said, was to whittle down Nigerian influence in ECOWAS, and by extension in the world, as Nigeria's status as a regional power is facilitated by its role in ECOWAS.

The Society for International Relations Awareness (SIRA) described Morocco's application to join the West African bloc as "divisive" and "extremely diversionary".

SIRA, in a statement by Owei Lakemfa and Amadu Sesay, Director of publicity & Vice chairman respectively, said it was ridiculous that ECOWAS would consider such an absurd application by the North African Kingdom.

"Admitting Morocco into ECOWAS is as ridiculous as admitting Israel, which is today playing surprising and unclear roles in the Region, including being invited to address the 51st ECOWAS Summit in Monrovia on 4th June, 2017," it said.

"SIRA is of the view that the application by Morocco to accede to the ECOWAS Commission is not only divisive but extremely diversionary, especially at a time when West African leaders should busy themselves consolidating the gains of 42 years of regional integration, and to finding answers to the dire social, economic and security challenges confronting the region and its more than 300 million citizens," the statement added.

In the meantime, ECOWAS leaders had asked the Commission to examine the implications of Morocco's accession in accordance with the Revised Treaty of ECOWAS, and to submit the results at their next session, which will hold in Lome, Togo in December, 2017.

As reactions continue to trail Morocco's move to join ECOWAS, the over 300 million West African citizens are watching if their leaders would expand the boundary of the 15-member community to the Mediterranean. Surely, time will tell.

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