Hassan Hami
20 March 2024

Interdependence in the Morocco-USA-Africa Triangular Partnership

Moroccan and US flags
Moroccan and US flags

For at least the past four decades, the U.S. has considered Morocco one of its most reliable and credible models on the African continent.

The international system is going through a difficult transition. The old paradigms that helped to understand the mechanisms of functioning of political, economic, social and cultural institutions no longer meet the expectations of the public and decision-makers at all levels of decision-making systems. This is an epistemological rupture that has occurred throughout the history of political and sociological thought.

Paradigms such as “the end of history,” “the clash of civilizations,” and “the other as aggression or otherness,” not to mention anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, social exclusion, xenophobia, etc., are either colliding or coming under severe criticism.

One of the explanations for this intellectual spiral is the forgotten cultural dimension that shapes the behavior of decision-makers. This dimension is very important for understanding relations between states and peoples.

For decades, ideology has been associated with culture. But it did not explain the behavior of policymakers, especially in foreign policy and international relations. Ideology was associated with alliances. Alliances were associated with unconditional commitment. Unconditional commitment was the ultimate expression of a hypothetical shared vision of strategic priorities.

Since the hypothetical end of the Cold War, however, ideology and alliance no longer rhyme. In the past, these two determinants were based on the assumption of asymmetry. There was an accepted hierarchy of actors who were partners in a given alliance. Now, asymmetry is no longer acceptable, let alone a hierarchy of actors based on clear hegemonic ascendancy. Today, multidimensional interdependence is taking over. This form of interdependence aims to restore order to the relationships that have been disrupted by the growing disorder in the international system.

With regard to developing countries, paradigms such as “pivotal states,” “strategic partnership,” and “patron-client” have been proposed. However, growing geopolitical issues have overtaken these paradigms and forced their proponents to fizzle out.

An evolving and dynamic partnership

Two more paradigms need to be added to make the picture crystal clear. The first paradigm is the feudal relationship in the post-colonial era. This is the relationship between African countries and the former colonial powers. The second paradigm is what I might call “conditional power management,” which allows emerging regional powers to play the role of building regional security complexes along with their efforts to build their own nation-states from scratch. Both paradigms are difficult to implement on the ground because the geopolitical chessboard is changing faster than expected. 

In fact, the paradigms need to be re-evaluated to see if they fit the current state of geopolitics or not. This brings us to the topic we are dealing with: the triangular partnership, where the partners belong to different cultural, civilizational and geographical spaces, but are nevertheless driven by common vital interests, regardless of the distance that separates them. The triangular partnership we are talking about involves Morocco, sub-Saharan Africa and the United States of America.

As an African country with historical, cultural, and spiritual roots in Africa, Morocco was interested in the triangular partnership long before it became a major strategic issue for other countries. Africa is the scene of competition between former colonial powers (especially France, Belgium, and the United Kingdom), new competitors (Russia, China, Turkey, and Iran), and the United States, as well as the new Middle Eastern actors such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. 

The old perception of bilateral relations between states, regardless of the impact of their bargaining power, is no longer dominant. The international system has become a small village. As a terrain for the superpowers’ struggle for influence and dominance, Africa is changing and abandoning its wait-and-see attitude. Many African countries have chosen to evolve, to keep pace with changes and to stay away from troubled waters and heated strategic debates. In this regard, they have embarked on a process that gives more importance to what is called “trilateral cooperation” based on equality of opportunity and a win-win approach.

The tripartite and triangular partnership takes precedence over bilateral relations aimed at excluding third parties in all competitive processes, be they economic or simply security-related. It is from this perspective that the triangular relationship between Morocco, the United States and sub-Saharan Africa takes on its full meaning.

The United States is aware of this new form of competition. As a superpower, the U.S. deals with the rest of the world from a critical point of view regarding the notions of ally, partner, or adversary. Regardless of the political temperament in this country, foreign policy is based on constant vectors. These vectors are invariable regardless of the trend of the moment: interventionism, wait-and-see, or isolationism. As it stands, isolationism and wait-and-see are not options that seasoned observers would easily recommend.

Therefore, it makes more sense to rely on reliable partners who make partnership as important as it is tangible. Morocco is one of the countries that the United States considers reliable and credible. The two countries have enjoyed a genuine and enduring partnership for the past four decades at least. That’s why, when Morocco revitalized its Africa policy to bring it up to date, it did not encounter much resistance (or rejection) from its African partners.

There are at least three dimensions to the overarching Moroccan-African partnership. First, there is the development dimension, which involves combining what is available with what is possible. The second dimension is complementarity, based on co-development and win-win partnerships. The third dimension is the consolidation of regional and international peace and stability. None of this, however, would be effective without credibility, shared values and shared prosperity.

Morocco is an essential guarantor of security. In this regard, it is developing a new, more inclusive concept of security.

First: Food security, not only for Africa, but also for the rest of the world. Indeed, Morocco is the custodian of the largest phosphate reserves in the world (70%). The Office Chérifiens des Phosphates (OCP) plays a leading role in this respect. The Office has reaffirmed on various occasions its commitment to ensuring a stable volume of fertilizer production, financing a green revolution program and developing a range of products adapted to African soils and crops.

The OCP Group is committed to ensuring a consistent volume of fertilizer production, financing a green revolution program, and developing a range of products dedicated to African soils and crops. The group is already investing in Nigeria ($1.5 billion), Ethiopia ($3.7 billion), Ghana, Rwanda, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, to name a few.

Read also: Democracy: One Coin, Multiple Faces, the West, and the Rest

Second, energy security through a commitment to an ambitious renewable energy program (solar and wind). The aim is to achieve self-sufficiency, but also to promote the export of clean energy. In this context, it is worth highlighting the ambitious XLinks project to export electricity to the UK via a 3,800 km undersea cable. Recent reports indicate that discussions are underway to expand this major energy project to Germany. This has led some observers to speak of a new form of triangular partnership between Morocco, the UK and Germany, with XLinks as the main catalyst.

Furthermore, on the natural gas front, the Nigeria-Morocco-Europe gas pipeline project involving eleven West African countries is part of a vision of inclusion and integration through co-development. It has recently been renamed the African-Atlantic Pipeline to emphasize its inclusive significance beyond its regional geographic space.

Third, psychological-cultural security, through the promotion of a moderate Islam that is open to other religions and understandable to other faiths and cults. This moderate view of religion clearly explains why Morocco condemns all forms of religious extremism. Morocco has shown itself to be a true partner in the fight against all forms of extremism and terrorism.

Interdependence not asymmetry

In the last twenty years, Morocco has suffered from religious extremism on two specific occasions. The first was in August 1994, when a team of French citizens of Algerian descent attacked the Asni Hotel in Marrakech. This happened four months after Morocco had hosted the last Uruguay Round negotiations (April 1994), which led to the creation of the World Trade Organization. The aim of the sponsors of the attack was to destabilize and discredit Morocco by presenting it as an insecure country. They failed, however, because Morocco has continued to host major international events. Just last year in October-November, the World Ban Group and the IMFI held their Annual Meetings in Marrakech.  

The second event was a series of suicide bombings in Casablanca in May 2003, which claimed thirty-three lives (including twelve suicide bombers) and left more than one hundred wounded. This happened as a result of increased trends of fanaticism following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. At the time, there was a war in Afghanistan, an invasion of Iraq (March 2003), and a fragile status quo in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict following the Second Intifada (2000-2005).

Learning from its past history, Morocco began a genuine reform of the religious sphere in 2004, along with a reform of the family code. It also launched a program to teach the true values of moderate Islam and to train imams to update their knowledge and keep pace with modernity. This program was also aimed at young people. The Murshidât, female religious leaders who teach moderate Islam, was launched in 2006. Later, this experience developed and attracted foreign students from Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Chad, Guinea, etc. The students were trained at a Moroccan training institute founded in 2015. 

Morocco has a long tradition of Sufi Islam, which has made Islam original in sub-Saharan Africa. Thanks to the legacy of its brotherhoods, Morocco can help distance Sufi Islam from new extremist trends that threaten the security of the Sahel-Saharan band and Africa as a whole.

Moroccan brotherhoods have a long tradition of spreading moderate Islam throughout Africa and the Arab world. Several important brotherhoods in the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa have their roots in Morocco. This has led to fierce competition with other North African countries. These countries tried to reduce the importance of Moroccan brotherhoods such as the Tijaniyya (with its various branches), the Qadiriya, the Shandilya, the Wazzaniyya-Tayibiyya, and the Jazuliyya, etc.

That is why the United States understands Morocco’s role in its African, Arab and Mediterranean neighborhood. American interests in the region extend to the economy, finance, business, education, health, and too many other areas. The main characteristic for which Morocco is known is its stability.  

In fact, Morocco is a country where foreign investment is not at risk. Moreover, Casablanca Finance City is the first in Africa (ahead of Johannesburg) and the third in the Middle East (after Dubai and Abu Dhabi).

Read also: Morocco’s Diplomatic Decline: Genuine Trend or Wishful Thinking?

Morocco is working to turn the African Atlantic coast into an area of cooperation and peace. It is in this perspective that the creation of an organization bringing together the African countries bordering the Atlantic, the idea of which dates back to 2009, should be understood. In this context, Morocco is launching an initiative to create an institutional framework open to the twenty-three African countries bordering the Atlantic Ocean in order to promote security, stability and shared prosperity.

The launch of the “Partnership for Atlantic Cooperation” in September 2023, promoted by the United States and Morocco, must be seen in this light. Launched on the sidelines of the work of the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, it is a partnership that for the first time covers the North and South Atlantic.

On November 6 last year, King Mohammed VI reaffirmed Morocco’s commitment to rehabilitating its national coastline in order to “transform the Atlantic region into an area of interaction and economic integration and ensure that it plays its role at continental and international level.” Ports, highways, railways, and pipelines are among the projects that can fit into Morocco’s vision of what it calls “open regionalism.”

It is worth mentioning that in addition to the pipeline, a major highway project is on the table. Morocco has almost completed the Tiznit-Laayoune highway, which will go far south to the Mauritanian border. In the same vein, Morocco is launching an initiative to give the Sahel countries access to the Atlantic Ocean. Morocco will put its road, port and rail infrastructure at the disposal of these countries.

In the military and security field, Morocco is the only African and Arab country to enjoy the status of strategic partner of NATO. Moreover, the organization of the African Lion’s military exercises is a perfect example of such an intelligent partnership. This year, the African Lion military exercises are celebrating their twentieth anniversary and are hosted by Morocco (the largest part), Ghana, Senegal and Tunisia. 

It is worth mentioning that in the past, Morocco and the United States have experienced some misunderstandings and even dichotomous views on issues important to their respective national interests. Morocco suffered more than the United States during a very sensitive period, especially in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Morocco was struggling to regain full sovereignty over Western Sahara. 

Morocco had hoped that after the signing of the 1975 Madrid Trilateral Agreement, the United States would directly contribute to the resolution of the conflict by supporting its right without question. 

That didn’t happen at the time because the Senate, under pressure from some hardliners, pushed through a bill that prevented the United States from selling arms to Morocco to fight the Algerian-backed Polisario militia. Declassified cables from the American embassy in Algeria revealed how Abdelaziz Bouteflika and other senior Algerian diplomats made it clear that the so-called Western Sahara was a matter of Algeria’s national and security interests. 

The United State’ position was probably motivated by France’s ambivalent stance on the issue, as it initiated a stillborn plan to divide Western Sahara between Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and Polisario.

It took a few years for the United States to understand that the Sahara issue was an existential one for Morocco and not a plan that the royal palace would soften for domestic political purposes. Starting in 1990, Washington’s decision-makers came to the conclusion that Morocco was a reliable partner that deserved to be trusted and helped to achieve its goals through the full restoration of its southern provinces. But they needed time to get the job done.

The United States strongly believes in the tripartite partnership between Africa, the United States and Morocco. That is why they decided on December 20, 2020 to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. They are now aware that the fragmentation of independent states is not a factor for peace and stability. The United States decided, in a way, to return the favor to the Kingdom of Morocco, which was the first country in the world to recognize its independence on December 20, 1777. 

For its part, the United States has experienced a number of setbacks in dealing with sensitive political and diplomatic issues in Africa. One of the reasons for these setbacks was the constant reliance on the former colonial powers to get the job done. American policymakers believed that the East-West struggle during the Cold War years made them reliable allies no matter what. Therefore, they were assigned the role of opposing US interests in Africa.

Thus, the former colonial powers had their own way of perceiving change in many African countries. They used the principle of conditionality to achieve their political and diplomatic objectives. Every time they got what they wanted, they did not care who was in power. 

Read also: The Failure of Hard and Soft Pressures to Break Morocco’s Bones

When the United States decided to deal with some issues, it worked with countries that could play the role of pivotal states. Unfortunately, some of them faced either the threat of separatism or the unfinished process of building prominent and sound political institutions.  

The other reason was that some policy planners thought that any claim to democracy should be supported, even if the wind of separatism and general destabilization would be the ultimate result. The United States needs to understand that the geopolitics of Africa are changing. The compass that the West has been using to give them direction or lead them to their assigned political and geopolitical locations can no longer be theirs.

The triangular partnership is one of many responses to the feudal bilateral interdependence that has characterized the relationship between African countries and former colonial powers. Africa has been perceived as the “chosen” of the latter, as Malian Prime Minister Choguel Abdoulaye Maïga put it. Such an argument may seem exaggerated. However, the way in which France, to name but one, has behaved over the last ten years to maintain its grip on many African countries is an excellent explanation of such an asymmetrical relationship based on a hierarchical perception of relations between sovereign states.

The Sahel-Saharan region is a safe haven for organized crime networks. These networks include terrorist organizations working hand in hand with various movements. Some of them make no secret of their aim to seize power. Morocco has called for regional and international cooperation to put an end to the chaos in the Sahel-Saharan region, but so far some neighboring countries have chosen to resist. Experts in North African and Sub-Saharan African affairs are aware that these countries are directly or indirectly encouraging the collision of separatist movements, organized crime networks and intelligence services.

All the members of the European Union, led by France, are fighting back to at least halt the progress of the triangular partnership. They are ready to regain what they have lost because of their bad strategic reading of the new regional geopolitics, especially in Africa. Former colonial powers cannot win all the games as they used to. They have to deal with politically sensitive issues related to their colonial past. African countries whose leaders show faith and are willing to turn the page on one-sided interdependence, if not total dependence, should be listened to and helped.

Morocco is evolving. It certainly has a lot to catch up on, to adapt and to correct. But it would never accept being treated as a new strategic dependency. The United States and Morocco have understood this, and that is why the partnership they are seeking to strengthen with sub-Saharan Africa is promising and will ultimately yield good results in the foreseeable future. 

Source : https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/

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