26 December 2017

West Africa: Morocco Desperate to Salvage Contentious ECOWAS Bid

Johannesburg — WITH its unprecedented and divisive bid to be accepted as a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) hanging in the balance, the Morocco mission in South Africa is making frantic lobbying to be accepted into the 15-member bloc.

Although the West African leaders agreed in principle to the request at the 51st summit held in Monrovia, Liberia, the regional leaders meeting in Abuja, Nigeria recently could not reach a conclusion on the North African country's application.

ECOWAS has tasked a committee of presidents of Togo, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea and Nigeria to study of the implications of Morocco's accession.

On Tuesday (today), the Moroccan Association in South Africa and the embassy convened a meeting at Mayfair in Johannesburg to drum up support for the country's bid which appears to be thwarted by the question of the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

"The benefits of admission of Morocco to ECOWAS will be great although the pending issue of Sahara conflict could create division among member states," admitted Moroccan Association in South Africa Chairman, Abdeslam Habiballah Ahmed.

Morocco is at loggerheads with the international community over Western Sahara, which has been recognised as an independent state and is a member of the African Union (AU).

It is a disputed territory in partially controlled by the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and partially Moroccan-occupied.

Amid the discordant issue that also led to Morocco self-isolation in 1984 until it was re-admitted to the AU after 33 years earlier this year, Ahmed said his country strongly believed Africa had an opportunity to resolve its own challenges without "too much outside interference."

"According to a study prepared by a special committee within ECOWAS, the benefits of the admission of Morocco will be great," Ahmed added.

He argued Morocco's admission to ECOWAS would increase investment and trade in the region and the rest of the continent.

Ahmed added Morocco's admission to ECOWAS would help resolve issues of freedom of movement of people and goods as well as the issue of a single currency and Common Foreign Tariff.

"With regard to the political, peace and security (in ECOWAS), the recent study on Morocco's admission confirmed the country's military capabilities, equipment and economic achievements would be an added value to promote the peace, security and stability in the region, particularly in peacekeeping operations, combating terrorism, violent extremism, maritime security and conflict resolution mediation."

Ahmed thus called for lasting solution to the Western Sahara crisis.

"As a regional bloc (ECOWAS) must think about how to manage and solve the Sahara conflict because it could create divisions among the group members if Morocco joins," Ahmed said.

Speaking in a separate interview with CAJ News, Moroccan Embassy's Charge d'Affairs, Abdelkader Naji, said King Mohammed VI had made 29 visits to fellow African countries since 1999 to underline Morocco's commitment to rekindle cooperation with fellow African countries.

"As the embassy (Morocco), we are very excited that our country is bidding to join ECOWAS as a full member (hopefully) in 2018. This comes at a time Morocco is being re-admitted to AU," Naji said.

"Morocco cannot afford to be alone outside the AU," Naji said of a country which until January 2017 was the only African country not a member of the AU.

"Similarly, the AU cannot afford to be the continent's mother body without Morocco. So, we need each other," Naji said.

The envoys also confirmed Morocco's commitment to work with South Africa, Southern African Development Community (SADC) and East African Community (EAC) through AU.

Marc Gbaffou, the chairman of the influential African Diaspora Forum (ADF), endorsed Morocco's bid but called for a lasting solution to the Western Sahara.

Gbaffou said a united Africa was a noble idea in order to become a stronger continent with resources that would be channeled towards uplifting of the continent citizens' lives while accelerating development.

He meanwhile called for Morocco to observe the rights of African migrants stranded in the region while attempting to cross to Europe via the Mediterranean sea.

The relatively wealthy Morocco, with a population of 33 million, is rated the fifth biggest economy in Africa.

The country boasts vast foreign exchange earning sector through production of phosphate for agriculture, mining of cobalt, nickel, gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, antimony, manganese and iron ore among others.

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