The Implications Of Morocco’s Membership Of ECOWAS

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During the visit of King Mohammed VI of Morocco to Nigeria in December 2016, the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for collaboration on fertilizer to boost agriculture in Nigeria. The phosphate Morocco is using is from Western Sahara territory.  It may be worthy of note that the legal department of the United Nations Security Council had in 2002 concluded that Morocco’s exploitation and exploration of the mineral reserves of Western Sahara constitute a violation of international law, especially when such action is undertaken against the wishes of the rightful owners of the resources. Similarly, the European Court of Justice had in 2015 annulled the EU-Morocco Free Trade Agreement because it included products from Western Sahara. Again on 21st December 2016, the European Court of Justice ruled that Western Sahara is not a territory of Morocco underlining that Morocco has no right to exploit the resources of the territory it occupies illegally.

By entering into a fertilizer business deal with a Moroccan company that illegally mines and exports phosphate from the occupied territory of Western Sahara, Nigeria unwittingly accords political legitimacy to Morocco’s occupation of the territory. This contradicts Nigeria’s long-standing position on the issue of Western Sahara which the country spearheaded in 1984 in favour of Saharawi people under the same President, then as military Head of State, that resulted in Morocco’s withdrawal of its membership of the Organization of African Unity, OAU. It is, therefore, advisable for Nigeria to reconsider its December 2016 agreement on fertilizer with Morocco taking into account its principled extant stance on the question of Western Sahara.

Morocco has officially initiated diplomatic moves to join ECOWAS as a full member, a manoeuvre that appears to already enjoy the support of French West African countries that constitute the larger membership of the sub-regional organization. It is an indisputable fact, however, that Morocco is not a West African country, geographically speaking. The sub-regional economic integration bloc and others of its kind in Africa and elsewhere around the world are established on the basis of geographical or territorial contiguity that permits seamless transition into a common market or the unfettered operation of common external tariffs, free movement of persons and goods, harmonization of economic and fiscal policies, among many others.

It is precisely for this reason that Morocco’s similar application on 20th July 1987 to join the European Economic Community, the predecessor organization to the present European Union, was roundly rejected by the Community members as they did not consider Morocco an European country. Morocco’s rejection by European countries was effected despite the fact that it shares boundary with Europe on the Mediterranean Sea. With respect to ECOWAS, however, it shares no boundary with any West African country considering its location at the very farthest end of North Africa.

Concerns are being expressed in different quarters about the true intention of Morocco in its bid for ECOWAS membership. One thing, however, appears certain: its bid for membership, if endorsed by ECOWAS, will create deep division with the Organisation especially between Francophone and Anglophone member states of the bloc or at least exacerbate any existing divergences in positions. This is apart from the possibility of displacing Nigeria as the most influential member of the sub-regional organization. Besides, it appears already imbued with immense capacity to destabilize ECOWAS, its programmes and projects, by rendering implementation impossible and by re-directing its decisions away from core interests of the sub-region it was established to serve. With Morocco as a full member, ECOWAS will be compelled to include as part of its regular agenda both political and economic interests of Morocco as a Maghreb and Arab nation.

Morocco recently got re-admitted into the African Union, a move Nigeria rightly supported and helped to make happen. In spite of the havoc Morocco caused by disrupting the activities of the AU from outside, it is right to bring back one of the founding members of our continental body so that it can contribute its own quota to the development of Africa. However, Morocco seeking to become a member of ECOWAS is not only absurd, it is another condescending act to black African countries from this North African/Maghreb country to want to become a member of ECOWAS. As it will be recalled, when ECOWAS was established in 1975, it was made up of sixteen contiguous countries in the West Africa Sub-Region.

Those sixteen countries included its present fifteen members, plus Mauritania, which was considered then a West African country sharing borders with two other West African countries, Senegal and Mali. In due time, Mauritania chose to leave ECOWAS in order to join its neighbours in the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) in North Africa. That was a sovereign decision by Mauritania but it is completely out of the question for any country not sharing borders to want to be admitted into ECOWAS. Chad which shares borders with Niger and Nigeria but belongs to the Central Africa economic and political body could not secure membership of ECOWAS and is content to have an observer status. Indeed, Morocco should not even be considered for an observer relationship with ECOWAS because it has no qualification for it.

It is important to point out that Morocco joining ECOWAS has serious implications for the sub-region in general, and Nigeria in particular, especially if Nigeria is the country used to float and actualise this absurd idea. Firstly, the whole community will look ridiculous to admit a country which is not in the region as a member. Some will argue that not all the eight Regional Economic Communities (RECs) recognised by the African Union coincide with the geographical regions. Indeed, only ECOWAS, ECCAS (Economic Community of Central African States), AMU and East African Community (EAC) can be said to be this. However, the other RECs, SADC, Cen-Sad, IGAD and COMESA are not contiguous, but this can be explained by the history of their formation. SADC’s situation is in its anti-apartheid origin; Cen-Sad was originally to fight desertification in three African regions – West, North and East Africa; IGAD for similar reasons in East Africa; and COMESA for trade and related purposes. Recall that the Abuja Treaty establishing the African Economic Community recognises five RECs strictly based on the five regions of the continent. It has also been advocated that Africa should return to this because multiple membership by countries in two or even three RECs adversely affects regional and continental integration.

Indeed, of the eight RECs, the only one that does not work and may never work is AMU because of the unending struggle for supremacy between Morocco and Algeria. The main explanation for this is the latter’s stubborn refusal to allow self-determination for the people of Western Sahara, which many African countries, including our own, disdain. This is why some think that Morocco’s co-existence with SADR in the AU portends great danger for the smooth functioning of the organisation in the future; as long as it continues to colonise Western Sahara. An optimistic view of Morocco’s AU comeback is that it will help implement all OAU/AU and UN resolutions to end its occupation of the territory.

Secondly, a major danger to Nigeria of Morocco’s membership of ECOWAS is that it will further deepen Nigeria’s marginalisation in a Community which is headquartered in its capital, of which it contributes over 60 per cent of its budget and constitutes nearly two-thirds of its economy/GDP. The truth is that Morocco has many friends in Africa but particularly in Francophone West Africa, which constitutes the largest block in the Community. Nigeria has not been able to exert any control in the way ECOWAS is run, largely because it has not made the necessary effort. Adding Morocco to the Francophone ranks in the ECOWAS will just ensure that Nigeria’s influence is further whittled down.

Thirdly, Morocco has consistently made efforts to put a wedge between Nigeria and its long time North African ally and partner, Algeria. It is regrettable that those managing Nigeria’s foreign policy, which does not only mean the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which has not always been allowed to do its work, do not see what Morocco is doing. Nigeria has a lot more to lose in disrupting Nigeria’s constructive relationship with Algeria. In seeking to join ECOWAS, Morocco is not unlikely to be seeking to extend its advantage over Algeria as the latter will not seek to join ECOWAS. Algeria is not also in Cen-Sad where Morocco plays a prominent role – Nigeria should not allow Morocco take its struggle with Algeria to ECOWAS. In any case, the ECOWAS Treaty does not provide for admission of a country outside West Africa. Morocco’s membership can only work against Africa’s interest in general and Nigeria’s in particular. It must not be countenanced.

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