EXCLUSIVE: Morroco's foreign affairs minister extends hand to Pretoria for 'co-operation and brotherhood'
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MOROCCO’S King Mohammed VI has pronounced businessman and philanthropist Aziz Akhannouch as leader of Morocco's government. This comes after the liberal party, RNI won the national elections, booting out the Islamic Party.
Shortly after his win, Akhannouch declared the results as “a victory for democracy in Morocco“.
Akhannouch promised to work towards alleviating poverty and fighting Covid19.
In March, Reuters reported that Morocco had received 8.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine made in India and the Sinopharm vaccine from China, allowing it to administer more jabs than any other African country.
At the time, the health ministry said it expected 4.2 million doses before the summer.
Although celebrated as one of the safest and economically viable countries in the continent, Algeria has criticised Morocco’s response to the West Saharan dispute.
The Star's editor Sifiso Mahlangu sat down for an exclusive interview with Morocco's Minister of Foreign Affairs, African Co-operation and Moroccan ExpatriatesNasser Bourita.
Mahlangu: What is Morocco’s vision for the continent and what are your hopes for the continent post-Covid19?
Minister Bourita: It is now more important for Morocco and South Africa to work to multiply, reciprocally, the opportunities to better understand the political, economic and geopolitical realities of one another.
I definitely have hope for the continent. Africa is a land for hope. It is worth remembering the realities that we tend to hide because of pervasive pessimism. Africa has a young population that is set to double by 2050.
It also has economic potential that is still largely untapped. This has endowed the continent with the potential for unparalleled energy, dynamism and innovation. These strengths are the necessary driving forces behind the post-Covid-19 economic recovery.
Morocco believes that working together, in a sound and well-balanced manner, will empower Africa in the international arena. Morocco has been calling for more effective solidarity, co-operation and co-ordination in Africa, to enable our continent to be more resilient and well-prepared for contingencies and emergencies.
In the Covid-19 context, this stand has been highlighted by Morocco’s initiatives in humanitarian aid and assistance to African states. Particularly, Morocco’s initiative to assist 25 African brotherly countries in their national efforts to fight the pandemic, and the imminent production of a Covid-19 vaccine by Morocco confirm yet again, Morocco’s commitment for a united, strong and resilient Africa.
Q: Morocco only returned to the AU in 2016, what does this mean for Morocco and the West African region
A: Just because Morocco was not in the AU, it did not mean that it was not engaged in Africa. It’s quite the contrary actually. Not only ties have never been broken with African countries, but they have been strengthened in an unprecedented way. During this period, Morocco has signed nearly a 1 000 co-operation agreements with African countries;
Joining the AU has only enabled Morocco to amplify this commitment and to translate it to the multilateral level. Thus, since its return to the AU, Morocco has contributed decisively to all issues on the AU's agenda.
It has taken a very active part in the crucial AU reform process. It is a major donor to the AU Peace Fund, and promotes the financial sustainability of the AU.
His Majesty the King has been designated as a leader on the migration issue. His Majesty the King presented an African agenda for migration that was adopted by the AU and now hosts the African Migration Observatory in Rabat, which is a direct implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration,which was adopted in Morocco.
Q: Africa is still facing major challenges. In many areas of the continent peace is still an ambition than a reality on the ground. Last year AU presidency made ’silencing the guns’ one of its upmost priorities. How do you assess Africa’s strategy to end armed conflicts in the continent and what contribution does Morocco bring to this continental ambition?
A: I should like to point out that a many of the conflicts in Africa are, in a way or another, bound by the same underlying factors all linking to development issues and economic hardship.
The current strategy is a step in the right direction. However, this strategy alone cannot bring about peace in Africa. It must be bound to other initiatives which, as stated earlier, must focus on offering better livelihoods and conditions for local populations to thrive in, and negate situations from which conflict may arise.
Morocco’s contribution to conflict resolution in the continent is one which seeks to reconcile the different parties to a particular armed conflict, and steer clear as swiftly and convincingly as possible from arms. Without dialogue, lasting peace cannot be achieved. This is what we have sought to do with regards to the some of the continents conflicts.
With regard to the Sahel region, I must stress once more that the key word is stability. However, the last decade has been marked by a proliferation of initiatives, a mobilisation of resources, and a multiplication of diplomatic events which have garnered few results.
Q: Morocco and South Africa share a common history. One needs to remember that the Kingdom of Morocco was among the staunchest supporters of ANC, and among the first African countries to support militarily, logistically and diplomatically. What changed?
A: Nothing has changed. For the record, Nelson Mandela and South African freedom fighters used to train in the eastern part of Morocco, between the cities of Oujda and Berkane. As a matter of fact, we had a long period of relatively weak bilateral interaction. I would argue that the existence of differences in opinion is a healthy thing. But, the attitude of our brothers in Pretoria on the issue of the Moroccan Sahara, unfortunately, has too often gone beyond a difference of opinion but has been of adversity.
Q: Adversity, that's a strong word minister ...
A: Morocco has always been open to dialogue, as long as it is a dialogue of mutual respect and a sincere desire to clean up relations and bring them to their full potential.
Q: The Sahara issue remains one of issue, in the view of some of us in the continent. What is Morocco’s approach on this issue?
A: Regarding the Moroccan Sahara issue, the UN Security Council has defined clear parameters for the way forward in the search for a durable solution to this regional dispute over the Sahara. The language of the UN, and therefore that of international legality, advocates for a political solution that is realistic, pragmatic, sustainable and based on compromise.
Q: But is there the oppression of people in the Sahara by Morocco?
A: Nothing a could be further from the truth. I must say that there has been widespread propaganda against Morocco particularly on this issue.
Since 2007, all UN Security Council resolutions, including the latest one, resolution 2548, have supported the Moroccan approach by underlining the pre-eminence of the initiative for autonomy, its seriousness and its credibility. As a matter of fact, the autonomy plan is the one and only way forward for a final solution to this regional dispute, namely autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.
One also needs to be mindful of the realities on the ground including the increasing number of countries that recognise the Kingdom’s full sovereignty over its Sahara. Fifty countries from all continents have expressed unequivocal support for the Moroccan Initiative for Autonomy in the Sahara. Twenty-five countries from Africa, Asia and the Americas have opened consuls general in the two main cities of the Moroccan Sahara, Laayoune and Dakhla.
Q: I gather that your relationship with Pretoria is not as friendly as you'd like it to be. Have you attempted to engage Pretoria to seek stronger ties?
A: Yes, we continue to work towards stronger relations with Pretoria. We now have embassies in both capitals. Both South Africa and Morocco are recognised as major actors and players in the continent and beyond. They have every interest in taking advantage of the enormous potential they hold.
Morocco and South Africa have been the largest investors in the continent and the largest in their respective regions. In their capacities, they are called upon to play major roles in the African integration process.
On the other hand, Morocco and South Africa are among the very few African countries that currently have the tools and the know how to efficiently address the needs of the African continent in Covid vaccines and medical equipment.
I strongly believe that the strengthening of ties between South Africa and Morocco will be for the benefit of the continent. The Kingdom of Morocco stands ready to do its part. For Africa’s rise, all its energies need pooling.