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Tuesday’s day-long Conference on Morocco at the Movenpick Hotel in Accra must thrust the “Morocco Question” into much larger public view in Ghana. Titled “Moroccan Accession to ECOWAS”, the conference was the latest in a line of Moroccan charm offensive events in West Africa. Similar conferences have been organised in Dakar and Abidjan.
In February 2017, Morocco applied to join the Economic Community of West African states, and in June the same year, ECOWAS leaders agreed “in principle” to the request. Morocco is now taking its case to the people.
The obvious strategy behind the conference is to win over Ghana’s opinion leaders to the Moroccan cause. For that purpose, it is using the think tank approach which make it appear cerebral and not propagandist. Our own Imani joined forces with Morocco’s Amadeus to front the event with the redoubtable Nana Yaa Ofori Atta as one of the moderators.
Unfortunately, due to a combination of miscommunication and previously arranged commitments I could only put in a fleeting appearance just to greet Moroccan friends who had come to town for the event. Thus I missed the opportunity to speak at the Conference. Even worse, I will now only follow the arguments from reports instead of first-hand.
I would have loved to hear Morocco’s case from the Horse’s own mouth. In Nigeria, there has been a raging debate on the Moroccan request to join ECOWAS and the debate may just be starting here in Ghana (if a non NPP-NDC matter will ever make the top news agenda).
I have been fortunate to travel to Morocco a few times recently as the President of the African Communication Regulators Network of which Morocco’s equivalent of the National Media Commission is a strong member. Morocco’s growth and development have been astounding. On the face of it, Morocco is closer to a First World country than Third. It has cultivated huge agricultural plantations on the edges of the Sahara Desert and on the slopes of the Atlas Mountain range which are all visible as one descends into Casablanca Airport. Morocco leads in many areas of industrial production including cars, electronics and machine parts. Thus, supporters of Morocco’s bid say that the rest of West Africa has a lot to gain and learn from Morocco.
Morocco has constructed a geo-historical context which places it at the heart of West Africa’s economic, social and political history over many centuries. Certainly, Morocco was a major part of the histories of the great empires of which the most popular were the Ghana, Mali and Songhai, but which included many others. Morocco inspired much trans-Sahara trade and was the bridge between Africa and Europe long before the era of colonization. The great Islamic scholars of the past made many starting and ending journeys in the white-washed shores of Morocco and other countries of the Maghreb.
However, today, Morocco lies outside the West African zone and not even history can change that fact. Africa’s integration strategy recognises regional groupings based on geography. We have Southern Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, West Africa and North Africa. There are corresponding institutions for these blocs such as the Maghreb Union of states for Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia and ECOWAS for West Africa.
Although these blocs have not been cast in stone, their geographic certainties make them valuable not only as building blocs for Africa-wide trade and integration but also for solving problems in their neighbourhoods. West Africa showed the way with its united front during the Liberian and Sierra Leone civil wars, which have helped establish important principles in international law. It is easier to organise and move within the region instead of having member states crisscrossing all over the continent if the need for intervention arises. SADC, the southern Africa bloc has helped solve difficulties in the region; imagine a country outside that immediate neighbourhood being part of that group! Thus, instead of geography uniting Morocco and ECOWAS, its politics has drawn a firm demarcation which defines the area known as West Africa to exclude Morocco.
Those against Morocco’s accession fear that Morocco may be looking for dumping grounds for its goods and also to expand its sphere of influence, especially in its perennial conflict and race for supremacy against Algeria. They point to the fact that Morocco once sought to join the Communities, the forerunner of the European Union 1987 but was rebuffed by the latter.
Another issue which hangs around Morocco’s neck is the question of Western Sahara. Western Sahara, or the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), to give its official name. This is not the place to go into the long history of the conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which forms the SADR government in exile in Tindouf, Algeria. The long and short of it is that Morocco today occupies and governs an African people, recognised as a state by the African Union.
The question of SADR will continue to hang around Morocco until it finds an acceptable solution. ECOWAS cannot admit a country that has colonized another African state, so goes the argument against Morocco. Furthermore, the Western Sahara issue reminds many African states that at its independence Morocco, with its vision of Greater Morocco claimed territory which at the time included parts of Algeria, most of French West Africa and, of course, Spanish Sahara, which is now the disputed territory of Western Sahara. This history of territorial ambition frightens many states, especially the Francophone majority in West Africa.
The leaders of West Africa may have given the pro forma nod to Morocco start the accession process but the people will be harder to win over. It is important for all of us as Ghanaians, West Africans and Africans to join in this important debate and make our voices heard loud and clear.
Perhaps, Ghana can lead in proposing a way forward for enhanced cooperation between ECOWAS and countries lying outside the West African zone. When the European Communities rejected Morocco’s application on the grounds that the latter was not a European country, it rather gave it the status of a Neighbouring and associated” country.. Perhaps ECOWAS can follow that pattern.
By Nana Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng
Nana Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng is Chair of Ghana’s National Media Commission