Mali crisis opens new window for Morocco in West Africa
By Tasie Theodore
That the North African nation of Morocco has been seeking a toehold in West Africa for some time now is no more news. In the current political crisis in Mali, a new window may have presently opened for it to drive and advance its long-expressed interest in the sub-region.
As the crisis expanded earlier in the month, King Mohammed VI authorised discreet mediation between the Malian imam, Mahmoud Dicko, who has come to be the arrowhead of the protests and President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta.
After violent protests wracked Bamako on 10 July, killing 14 people and injuring more than 100, Morocco’s foreign minister Nasser Bourita, coordinated talks between the leader of the 5 June Movement, Imam Mahmoud Dicko, and President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta.
On 11 July, Morocco’s ambassador to Mali, Hassan Naciri, visited Imam Dicko at his home in the Badalabougou neighbourhood, the unrivalled epicentre of the clashes.
The Imam reportedly listened to him and spelt out his conditions for detente.
They included the release of opposition leaders that had been arrested, the dissolution of the supreme court, formation of a consensus government and the holding of legislative by-elections.
Naciri thereafter moved over to Koulouba Palace, where he held talks with Keita who subsequently made a fence-mending address on the crisis.
The following day, Naciri returned to see the Imam and was able to persuade him to also make a statement to ease tensions and bring an end to the protests.
Political watchers say that this outcome was largely secured on account of the prestige King Mohammed VI enjoys in Mali on the one hand and then the close religious ties between the two countries.
On the broader continental plane, it is to be reasoned that the Morocco peace-building activity, which preceded even one by the regional grouping, ECOWAS, underscores Mali’s continuing interest in developing closer ties with West Africa across many levels.
Long focussed on a course of increased economic integration with Sub-Saharan Africa, one survey has found that from 2008 to 2016, ‘Moroccan exports to the rest of the continent grew an average of 9 percent every year, while foreign direct investment (FDI) rose by 4.4 percent.’
Of this, countries like Senegal, Mauritania, Côte d’Ivoire, and Nigeria, that straddle the broader West African belt have been the biggest African buyers of Moroccan products, which range from foodstuffs to machinery and chemical goods.
Indeed, the strong Moroccan push for a greater share of the West African pie was to get to a head when it formally applied to be associated with the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS. It was indeed a deft move that almost sailed through until a Nigeria-led resistance succeeded in putting a spanner in the works.
Is the intervention in Mali now a softer side of that push?
Meanwhile, ECOWAS leaders rose from a meeting Monday, calling for new elections to replace the disputed polls, the formation of an all-inclusive national government, that would include members of the opposition.