Morocco and Africa bet on unity

One needn’t look far or long to see the disastrous consequences of internecine conflict – from Syria to the Crimea. As a longtime observer of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, it seems to me that last week’s decision by the African Union to admit Morocco to the continental bloc after a 33-year absence suggests that, at least in Africa, cooperation and unity are on the rise. “With Morocco’s Return, African Union Now Complete,” read one headline. Alpha Condé, President of Guinea and newly elected chairperson of the AU, said that with Morocco’s admission, the “OAU [the Organization for African Unity, which preceded the AU] finds itself again."

And for that, we can thank the vision of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI.

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Since ascending the throne in 1999, the monarch has prioritized Africa in his foreign policy, making 46 visits to 25 African countries and presiding over the signing of nearly a thousand bilateral and multilateral agreements in various areas—political, economic, educational, and so on; doubling the number signed in the period between 1956 and 1999. Today, Morocco is the second largest African investor in the continent. One in two African loans is processed by a Moroccan bank. Meanwhile, thousands of Africans from across the continent study at Moroccan universities on scholarship every year.

The AU’s decision is the natural outcome, then, of King Mohammed VI’s tireless commitment to enhancing Morocco’s strong ties in Africa. The king is so adamant about unity because he knows the challenges faced by Africa (and the rest of the world). As he said in a nationally televised speech last summer, “Morocco’s keenness to diversify its partnerships is only matched by its strong commitment to address current international issues”—issues like terrorism, climate change, and economic development.

He believes that only through unity can the continent address these challenges. In his first speech to the AU as the leader of an official member state, the king declared that by choosing Africa, by opting to share its know-how and work together with neighboring states, Morocco “is offering to build a safe, solidarity-based future.” It’s a sentiment he has expressed before. “I believe what is good for Morocco is good for Africa—and vice versa. Theirs is one and the same destiny,” he has said. When he first announced his ambition to join the AU, he sent a message to bloc members: “My country has been and always will be guided by an unshakable faith in Africa, in a continent which derives its strength from its economic riches and potential, which is proud of its cultural and spiritual heritage, and which confidently looks to the future.”

As Morocco claims its place as a major player in Africa, I hope that Western powers grappling with the same issues can recognize the deeper significance of this latest development:  that with cooperation and unity comes strength.

Edward M. Gabriel, former U.S. Ambassador to Morocco, advises the Kingdom of Morocco.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.