/ 12 July 2002

Africa’s missing state

A pivotal African state was missing from the launch of the African Union (AU) in Durban. Morocco withdrew from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1982 over that organisation’s recognition of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).

Its absence from the AU launch presages just one of the key credibility tests that the new union faces. Morocco’s contemporary relationship with Africa is ambiguous and complex.

The Western Sahara/SADR issue currently hinders the prospects of regional integration in North Africa and complicates the relations between South Africa and Morocco. The planned United Nations-sponsored referendum on the territory’s future, currently administered by Morocco following its occupation in 1976, has been held up since 1991 by a disagreement between the sides over the compo-sition of the electoral list. The other solutions proposed — the so-called ”Third Way” of former United States secretary of state James Baker advancing SADR autonomy within Morocco, and the Algerian ”Fourth Way” proposing a division of the territory between Morocco and Algeria — have not produced a result.

Currently 24 (of 53) African states recognise the SADR. Some 26 countries internationally have reportedly derecognised the embryonic state. None of the UN permanent five (the United Kingdom, the US, France, China, Russia) has formal ties with the SADR. Those that recognise this ”virtual republic” apparently accept that there is no other solution than independence, in spite of the fact that the SADR is not widely recognised diplomatically and that Morocco is unlikely to accept this ”solution”.

This month, teams of analysts from the South African Institute of International Affairs and the international studies and diplo-macy programme of Al Akhawayn University met in Ifrane in the kingdom to discuss the bilateral relationship between South Africa and Morocco.

The conference was held during the week of the AU summit in Durban. This event stressed the key problem in the bilateral relationship — the issue of the Western Sahara/SADR and Morocco’s non-membership of the OAU.

Conversely, the Ifrane conference not only illustrated that the differences between South Africa and Morocco were manageable (and, indeed, resolvable) but paled by comparison to the wide range of shared, mutually beneficial interests and latent energy within and between the two countries.

What about realising the potential inherent in Morocco-South African relations?

South Africa is Morocco’s second-largest African trade partner (after Nigeria) and the 25th largest overall worldwide, with a total trade volume of just under R1-billion, nearly 40:1 in South Africa’s favour. There are also three important South African parastatal contracts in Morocco: those by Geoscience for geological mapping, Eskom Enterprises in a joint electricity supply venture, and for oil (drilling) exploration by Energy Africa.

Morocco’s stability, level of development and its relationship with the Arab and Islamic world and with Europe makes it extremely important to South Africa’s relationship with Africa.

If the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) is to succeed, it rests on the need to end conflict and for regional powers to take the initiative. Since 1983 Morocco has pursued a liberal structural adjustment programme aimed at trade openness, fiscal and monetary stability and convertibility.

At the political level both countries have undergone democratic reform, yet both democracies face deep-rooted and burgeoning ethnic and religious challenges. Indeed, Morocco and South Africa more closely approximate the characteristics of good political and economic governance espoused by Nepad than many ”paid-up” AU members at the Durban summit.

This raises questions about South Africa’s foreign policy focus towards Morocco — should it focus more attention on the kingdom and how should it manage its relationship with both Algeria and the SADR?

Recognising the SADR assumes that the solution, as noted above, is ultimately the independence and global recognition of the territory, a likelihood opposite to current international trends towards derecognition — and also in contrast to South Africa’s stated approach to conflict resolution urging compromise and consultation.

It may be more useful for Pretoria to focus its efforts instead on attempting to engineer a solution, in accordance with its relationship with all parties involved and in line with its own negotiation experience.

Both Morocco and South Africa are stable poles existing in regions that are unfortunately not characterised by democracy and economic stability. Both countries can be considered pivotal states — or strategic partners. Just as a solution to the Western Saharan question may require it to be de-linked from domestic Moroccan politics, for the relationship between Morocco and South Africa to realise its immense potential will require brave political leadership to effect a similar de-linkage.

Greg Mills and Tim Hughes are respectively the National Director and Parliamentary Research Fellow at the South African Institute of International Affairs and attended the Morocco conference jointly sponsored by the institute, Al Akhawayn University and the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation