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Snell: Don't Dismiss Morocco's Resilience

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(Anton Medvedev/Dreamstime.com)

By    |   Monday, 02 October 2023 01:47 PM EDT

Morocco Rises from the Rubble

Undeterred by the recent earthquake, Morocco prepares to host the IMF and World Bank meetings, a rite of passage for a rising power.

Every year the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank hold their annual meetings to discuss the world economic outlook, global financial stability, poverty eradication, climate change, and related matters.

This high-level event, bringing together central bankers, ministers of finance and development, private sector executives, civil society, media and academics, is a sort of Davos without the movie stars.

Usually held in Washington D.C., every third year a member country has hosted.

And these host countries, Turkey, Peru, Indonesia, to name some of the recent hosts, are important rising powers.

So the announcement in January 2022 that Morocco would host the 2023 meeting was a marker of that country’s growing soft power status.

In recent years Morocco has enjoyed considerable diplomatic successes, securing the United States’s recognition of its long-running sovereignty claim over the Western Sahara in 2020 at the same time as Morocco normalised its relations with Israel, which has also recognised Morocco’s claim.

Morocco’s close relations with the United States extend to military and intelligence partnerships and the Americans recently agreed to supply HIMARS rockets to Morocco, an effective weapons system familiar from the war in Ukraine.

Relations with Europe are more complex, but tellingly Spain, Germany and the UK have expressed support for Morocco’s proposals for the Western Sahara to have autonomous status under ultimate Moroccan sovereignty.

The IMF and World Bank meetings come at a time when Morocco is determined to showcase its increasingly sophisticated economy.

It's not, like its neighbor Algeria, dependent on the oil and gas sector and as is often the case, this has proved a benefit: Morocco has consistently higher employment, higher growth and higher rates of foreign direct investment.

Businesses like the fact that Morocco has a stable political system with King Mohammed VI on the throne since 1999, contrasting with the turbulence and unpredictability seen across the rest of North Africa.

Since 2018, Morocco has been Africa’s largest exporter of cars, combining physical proximity to Europe and efficient logistics with a much lower cost base.

Following automobiles, the aerospace sector has also invested in Morocco, finding similar advantages. Whilst both of these sectors took a hit as a result of COVID-19, they represent a promising method of growing a skilled, middle-class workforce.

As a country with very limited fossil fuel resources, it is perhaps unsurprising that Morocco has become one of Africa’s leaders in renewable energy, notably solar and wind power.

Since 2019 Morocco has exported renewable energy to Spain via undersea cables.

But this pales into insignificance compared with a project to build a wind and solar farm capable of producing 10.5 gigawatts of power which will connect to the world’s longest undersea power cable, to Britain, a distance of over 3,800 kilometres.

The interconnector is planned to supply 7 million British homes and close to ten per cent of the UK’s current national power demands.

Diplomatic and trading links between Morocco and Britain have strengthened in the light of Brexit.

Whatever the wisdom in the UK’s 2016 decision, Brexit has forced Britain to seek new partnerships beyond Europe and Morocco has been well-placed to benefit.

Supplies of Moroccan fruit and vegetables into British supermarkets have increased substantially, although challenges remain with logistics: these products need to transit the EU to reach our shores and the immediate European market remains a more valuable one to Moroccan producers.

Morocco has had more to gain from this development that Britain has, it seems.

As Morocco prepared to welcome the leadership of global finance and economics to Marrakech it was hit by the severe earthquake of Sept. 8 2023.

This caused significant destruction in Marrakesh and the surrounding region and appeared to upend many of these positive developments.

With much of the worst-affected settlements in remote parts of the Atlas mountains and the death toll close to 3,000, Morocco’s decision to accept aid from only four countries [Spain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the UK was surprising).

Offers of assistance from France, the former colonial power, were not taken up, although the French government was keen to downplay the issue, with foreign minister Catherine Colonna declaring: "Morocco hasn’t refused any aid, or any proposal. That’s not the way things should be presented."

The country’s interior ministry insisted that offers accepted were based on "a precise assessment of needs on the ground," noting that poorly co-ordinated aid risked being unproductive.

What has been interpreted in a snub to France, with whom there has been a difficult recent relationship over immigration questions, there is a wider diplomatic signal being sent.

The choice to limit aid appears to reflect the degree to which the country feels it has attained a certain developmental and geopolitical stature: it does not want to be seen as a supplicant, expected to be grateful for handouts from global powers.

Rather, Morocco feels it can manage its challenges itself, choosing partners as necessary.

Time will tell if this proves a sound choice, but the messaging is clear.

The clearest exposition of this sense of national pride is Morocco’s insistence that it can still host the October IMF and World Bank meetings.

In a Sept. 18 statement, the institutions declared: "based on a careful review  . . .  the Managements of the WB and the IMF, together with the Moroccan authorities, have agreed to proceed with holding the 2023 Annual Meetings in Marrakech."

To get a large city ready for a major event such a short time after a huge natural disaster would be a challenge for any country, however wealthy. The fact that Morocco insists it is able to do so points to a country that believes it is on the up.

Arthur Snell. Arthur served in the British Foreign Office from 1998 - 2014 in West Africa, the Mideast and the Caribbean. He was Assistant Director for Counter Terrorism for 2008 - 2010 and later a British High Commissioner. He is also Podcast host Behind the Lines with Arthur Snell and Author of How Britain Broke the World.

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Politics
The clearest exposition of this sense of national pride is Morocco’s insistence that it can still host the October IMF and World Bank meetings. The fact that Morocco insists it is able to do so points to a country that believes it is on the up.
marrakech, moroccan
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2023-47-02
Monday, 02 October 2023 01:47 PM
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