You probably haven’t seen the news about Morocco and the ECOWAS yet. In fact, you may react with “Eco-what?” I wouldn’t blame you. The ECOWAS is a regional economic group of 15 Central and West African countries, including some, like Ghana, Senegal, Liberia, and Nigeria, that you may have heard of, as well as others such as Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Ivory Coast, and the Gambia, that are remarkable and interesting to those who follow the continent’s activities. All are countries with long histories and intriguing cultures. Several, like Togo and Mali, are historically significant countries that once had large empires, as covered recently in the PBS special series Africa’s Great Civilizations.
Today, the ECOWAS seeks to promote regional economic integration through multistate programs for infrastructure, industrial development, energy, agricultural, natural resources, trade and investment, financial services, and cultural affairs. It is only natural that Morocco would want to be part of the ECOWAS — it currently has observer status. The major obstacle to full membership is that the regional group does not currently include North Africa in its mandate. So to address this issue, the ECOWAS heads of state will vote on Morocco’s request in April.
On the “why do it” side is the argument that because the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), which includes Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia, has been unable to effectively function, then why wouldn’t Morocco want to join a more proactive and friendly organization? It makes sense for Morocco to reach out to other francophone countries, and its trading and development partners, for economic growth opportunities. In fact, King Mohammed VI has diligently pursued stronger and more diverse ties with all of these countries for more than a decade.
According to the North Africa Post, “With the inclusion of Morocco, the ECOWAS will bolster its aggregated GDP to the 16th rank globally, ahead of Turkey and right after Indonesia. The admission of Morocco to the ECOWAS sub-region will make it the second largest economy after Nigeria (which is a member). Thanks to its geographic location and trade agreements with the EU, Turkey, the US, and several Arab countries as well as its port and airport hubs, Morocco will offer West African countries a gateway to new markets.”
Building stronger trade and investment relations to its south helps Morocco diversify commercial markets beyond its traditional ties to Europe, thus enabling reciprocal benefits with its African neighbors. It is the concept of building regional growth opportunities that underscores the MoU between Morocco and Nigeria to build an Africa Atlantic gas pipeline from the fields of Nigeria along the African coast to Morocco onwards to Europe…providing new energy supplies to fuel public and private sector development projects. For its part, Morocco will support its commitment to building the continent’s food security by sharing its expertise in the production of specialized fertilizers and agro-industries. Already announced are fertilizer plants through joint ventures with Gabon and Nigeria.
Unsurprisingly, the Algerian press is taking issue with Morocco’s ECOWAS move. According to Morocco World News, the Algerian daily El Watan “claimed that Morocco membership in ECOWAS might isolate Algeria from the African continent following the recent step of Morocco to diversify and develop its economic ties within the African continent.”
Algeria, with a badly managed, hydrocarbon-based economy according to recent articles, has often spoken about stronger ties with sub-Saharan Africa, but there are few initiatives in place. So rather than bulk up its efforts to develop its own Afro-centric economic policies, it prefers to criticize the King’s initiatives and watch as Morocco continues its outreach across Africa to build sustainable friendships and economic partnerships.