Abdo Alaoui
26 April 2024

Maritime Issues in the Age of Complex Interdependence

Morocco’s vision is perceived in of what is called ‘open regionalism.’
Morocco’s vision is perceived in of what is called ‘open regionalism.’

Morocco launched an initiative to set up an institutional framework open to the 23 African countries bordering the Atlantic with the aim of promoting security, stability, and shared prosperity.

The Policy Center for the New South hosted an important conference on “the strategic challenges of maritime spaces in the Africa Atlantic” on April 16, 2024. Outstanding scholars, senior officials, and guests from all walks of academics and media seized this opportunity to share their thoughts and expertise on such challenging topic. Furthermore, participants and guests learned a lot and paved the way for more debates to come on strategic matters that the PCNS is good at dealing with from academic perspective. 

I would like to share my thoughts about this important topic, some of them have been voiced in private or published over the last two years or so. Yet, nothing comes out of the blue. 

To make a long story short, I would say that over the last twenty years at least Morocco has been working to make the African Atlantic coast an area of cooperation and peace. The idea of creating an organization bringing together the African countries bordering the Atlantic, which dates back to 2009, is rooted in this vision.

In this respect, Morocco launched an initiative to set up an institutional framework open to the twenty-three African countries bordering the Atlantic with the aim of promoting security, stability, and shared prosperity.

By the same token, in September 2023, on the sidelines of the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly session, the United States and Morocco announced the establishment of the “Partnership for Atlantic Cooperation.” This form of partnership is set to cover the North and South Atlantic for the first time.

On November 6, 2023, King Mohammed VI reiterated Morocco’s commitment to rehabilitate its national coastline so as to ‘transform the Atlantic region into a space of interaction and economic integration and make sure it plays its role at continental and international levels’. 

Morocco’s vision is perceived in of what is called ‘open regionalism’. Ports, highways, railways, and pipelines are among the projects that the initiators aim to implement.

Morocco Firm And Flexible African Policy 

Ambition and insightful perspective are the engines for such appealing projects. In this respect, along with the pipeline, an important highway project is on the table. Morocco has almost finished the Tiznit-Laayoune highway, which will go far south to reach the Mauritanian borders.

In the same perspective, Morocco launches an international initiative to enhance Atlantic Ocean access for Sahel countries. Morocco will put its roads, ports, and rail infrastructure at the disposal of these countries. On December 23rd, 2023, a ministerial coordinating meeting took place in Marrakesh with the participation of ministers of foreign affairs from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, and Niger.

We are witnessing two parallel tracks playing together from a distance, with the aim of culminating in one track. The first track is the Africa-Atlantic pipeline. The second track is helping landlocked African countries have access to the Atlantic while getting their share of the pipeline project.

And again, nothing happens out of the blue. What Morocco has been doing over the last thirty years is rooted in its African policy. Indeed, Moroccan African policy has evolved over the years, learning from its successes and failures.

Morocco has to fight on three fronts, so to speak.  First, the steady policy of the former colonial powers to perpetuate the feudal structure of international relations. Spain and France have skillfully implemented this strategy for four decades. This strategy has been implemented with the cooperation and complicity of some countries, both in Europe and North Africa.

Secondly, the quest for identity through an imported ideology for the sake of imagining historical facts or building a nation from scratch. Countries such as Libya and Algeria played this card so intensely that they put the region in a permanent state of insecurity and instability. 

Thirdly, the national reconstruction process combines the aspiration for modernity with smooth reforms to update centuries-old institutional structures. This is the policy Morocco has been working on since its independence in 1956.

We may sum up Morocco’s African policy in four processes that have been played, taking account of the context and objective constraints. First, a policy based on the need to recover lost territories to France and Spain during the first years post-independence.

 Second, a wake-up call in the mid-1970s because, being aware, it was losing ground. If you want to take it all, you lose it all. 

Third, working out the process on the internal political chessboard to avoid that political opposition side with Morocco’s adversaries, if not enemies. 

Fourth, a collective work through participation model encompassing the public and private sectors’ actors.

Challenges and Hard times ahead

The abovementioned projects are very challenging. Yet, there are many obstacles that the African countries involved have to overcome.

First, security threats. The Sahelo-Saharan region is a safe haven for organized crime networks. These networks include terrorist organizations working hand in hand with separate movements. Some do not hide their objective of taking over power. 

International cooperation to put an end to the chaos is the Sahelo-Saharan Band in most needed. Morocco has called for regionally combined efforts to face multiple threats rooted in terrorism and political and religious extremism. Yet, so far, some neighboring countries have decided to oppose it. 

Experts in North African and Sub-Saharan African affairs are aware that these countries promote, directly or indirectly, the collision between separatist movements, organized crime networks, and the intelligence services.

Secondly, the failure of establishing a viable regional security complexes. Dichotomous perceptions of insecurity and a biased move to play new political and diplomatic cards in the region and in a broader space, including the Mediterranean and Sub-Saharan Africa have hampered the whole processes.  

Furthermore, actors seeking to establish such regional security complexes belong to different political and cultural spaces. They are loaded with historical rivalries and unsolved psychological survivals.

Regional organizations present a chance to handle political and security issues, but they cannot solve any when security complexes are shaped to achieve different goals, which generally are not those of full peace. The problem with security complexes is that the balance of power changes as well as the hierarchy of actors.

Thirdly, the religious dimension is presented both by moderate Sufi Islam and a variety of versions of radical Islam. In this respect, brotherhoods are worth mentioning. Brotherhoods combined proselytism, trade, and cultural enlightenment.

 The role of brotherhoods (Zawiyas and Turuq; sing: Zawiya or Tariqa) is a very interesting indication that shows that steady relations between North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa have never been severed, despite the Sahara barrier and the colonial presence in the 19th and 20th centuries.

These important actors might be used by some countries in the region and outside the region to strike geopolitical scores. Despite that there is no evidence that the authentically established brotherhoods have connections with organized crime networks in the Sahel-Saharan region, they may be forced to join efforts with networks of organized crime to jeopardize stability in North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. 

They might be more eager to bring about chaos because they are losing ground and are convinced that Morocco’s initiative towards African landlocked countries is serious and has a chance to reach the goals proponents are hoping for.

Change of paradigms

First, the idea of partnership in the framework of positive interdependence is worth mentioning. This means that the actors involved aim to work in good faith to get results at every level of mutual benefit. They do not concentrate on the hierarchy paradigm to sort out what is needed to progress. Therefore, no behind-the-scenes dependence is feared or witnessed. Obviously, this would not rule out that problems happen, but ways and means to solve them are clearly set and implemented.

Secondly, Africa can no longer be a safe haven for retired security personnel or political figures in disgrace seeking a new start-up career. This means that African decision-makers and policy-planners are mature enough to not seek aging, retired experts to lecture them about what they need to do to meet their people’s expectations. 

Not that these experts are incompetent or lack vision, but it has been stated over the years that they cannot be unbiased or reluctant to be in cahoots with governments where they belong.

Thirdly, over the last twenty years, a new wave of new African leaders seeking freedom both on internal and external levels has been in charge in many African countries. They are well-educated and fit the job description. If it happens that political transition periods last longer than they should, it is because the need to fill in the gap of lost time is unlimited. Yet, hope is permitted because the objectives are set.

Fourthly, the need to evolve is visible and unavoidable. That is why the cosmetic political reforms that have been introduced have not met people’s expectations. They need to advance one more step and keep doing it on a regular schedule.

If not, military coups will step in and bring about chaos. Military coups have never solved political issues. What remains is organizing relatively free elections. Fair enough, provided they would be a step to pave the way for genuine elections that feel the vibe of society.

The Atlantic Initiative, the Africa-Atlantic Pipeline, and the initiative towards landlocked African countries having access to the Atlantic have to meet more challenging obstacles. They have to evolve along with the implementation of other projects aimed at realizing gradual African integration. 

The most salient example would be the free trade zones (FTA) that burgeoned as a result of complex interdependence. However, countries involved have to overcome conflicting interests and geopolitical dichotomous orientations. They have to work out ways to curb feelings of mistrust and distrust. This seems to be wishful thinking for the time being. 

Despite the fact that the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), established in 2018, is set to potentially create a sustainable framework for developmental regionalism, it needs not only time but also serious political will and business community adherence.

To sum up, a couple of conclusions: First, we are witnessing the emergence of complex processes of interdependence rather than total dependence or unilateral interdependence.

 Second, a process of partnership and no longer of asymmetry is changing the whole perception of bilateral relationships between state actors. They are different projects put on the table. If, at some point, the African governments seem skeptical about their partner’s true intention, they have no choice but to give it a try.

Third, security complexes in process are based on a flexible perception of balance of power and no longer on the hegemonic ascendancy of old and new major actors.

Fourth, the focus is on a new form of complex independence, more pronounced than in the sense Robert Keohane and Josef Nye put it in 1976.

Fifth, the delimitation of maritime spaces in the sense understood in the Convention on the Law of the Sea is a daily battle. Needless to mention for example narratives about Morocco and Spain about the allegedly variety of strategic matters or rare earth they claim being included in their territorial maritime space. 

Besides, a couple of bilateral and international legal and diplomatic fights are randomly recorded. Parties to the Convention on the Law of the Sea use ambiguities of some articles to highlight or dismiss arguments from each other. But, so far, negotiation in good faith seems to be the only way to resolve pending issues.

 Sixth, the war for the control of seaports and the fight against pirates highlight the vulnerability of traditional sea routes. 

Seventh, the resolution of endemic inter-state conflicts through the economic and trade vectors is most needed. This is the significance that must be given to the creation of free-trade areas.

Eighth, the neutralization of non-state actors, whether armed or unarmed, relatively autonomous, or at the mercy of the intelligence services of the countries in the region or in cahoots with private security societies. 

Experts in security affairs do not rule out that proxy movements might be dispatched along Atlantic shores to abort not only the Moroccan initiative but also all initiatives aimed at solving pending maritime legal issues. 

Ninth, complementarity and not competition between the African ports of the Atlantic: Abidjan, Dakar, Apapa-Lagos, Walvis Bay-Namibia, Douala-Cameroun, Luanda-Angola, Dakhla, Nouadhibou-Mauritania, Durban-South Africa, Accra-Ghana, etc. There is no need for African countries to worry. 

Tenth, the creation of areas of shared prosperity on the Atlantic coasts is possible. However, this will depend on the serious commitments of some countries. With respect to landlocked countries, this means that Senegal and Mauritania, to name a few, have to be fully committed.

Eleventh, stability and smooth political transitions are very important. It goes without saying that fragile political institutions and foreign interference might impact the whole process. This depends on the degree of foreign interests’ involvement and the capacity of local governments to resist and defeat them.

Twelve, it is important to emphasize that former colonial powers have not given up their desire to come back to the region stronger and more aggressive. They cannot accept being replaced by new powers, despite the fact that the latter have different perceptions of how to do business without losing it all. They may resort to regional actors who have worked in cahoots with them over the last forty years.

Thirteenth, and even more worrying, would be the transformation of the Strait of Gibraltar into an open-air area for unlimited disputes and even dangerous operations. The various incidents recorded in the Suez Canal and the ongoing standoff between the Gulf countries, Iran, China, and India, over the control (and peaceful use) of Bab El Mandab and the Strait of Hormuz will ultimately arouse more interest and tension on the African Atlantic coast.

Fourteenth, given the dividends expected from the Atlantic Initiative, the Africa-Atlantic Pipeline, and the initiative towards landlocked African countries, the financial constraints are not a big issue, provided that the actors involved understand the significant shift in regional and international strategic and geopolitical chessboards.

Fifteenth, the new geopolitical shift ignites regional experts in maritime and ecological issues. They prevent the fact that the Atlantic Ocean might become a cemetery for international navigation. True, but this is not new evidence. More work is needed to meet the different challenges ahead. For the time being, the Atlantic Initiative, the Africa-Atlantic Pipeline, and the initiative towards landlocked African countries are worth taking into account and implementing no matter what. 

The Policy Center for the New South intends to continue the debate on the economic and security challenges related to Morocco’s Atlantic initiatives. This time, the debate will be extended to other African experts and decision-makers. The debate will certainly confirm that the decision-making system in Morocco is open to insightful ideas and makes of participation, sharing, and delivering one of its leitmotiv engines. A great adventure in perspective.

source article : https://www.moroccoworldnews.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share :

Latest Posts

Tags :