Int’l affairs experts to FG: Block Morocco’s application to join ECOWAS


Nigeria hosts the 52nd Ordinary Session of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Authority of Heads of State and Government in Abuja ton December 16, 2017. One issue that will top the agenda is the application by Morocco to join the sub-regional economic bloc, a request considered in many quarters as an aberration considering the ECOWAS protocol and treaty on qualification for membership, the political make up of Morocco and its geographical location on the African continent.

Nigerian diplomats and political scientists have cautioned Nigeria against acceding to Morocco’s request saying the North African country has a hidden agenda which will manifest in future. that has been following the development on Good Morning Nigeria, a Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) discussion programme brings the experts’ viewpoints on the matter. Excerpts

 Morocco has ulterior motive that may likely jeopardize Nigeria’s interest in ECOWAS

–Dr. Aliyu Idi Hong, former minister of state for foreign affairs.

Morocco’s application has become an issue of public concern for Nigeria. The most important thing about diplomacy is that all foreign policies derive from the prevailing circumstance of the domestic policies of the country. I know for sure that before now, Nigeria has not made its position on whether we are for or we are against openly. But the generality of opinions of Nigerians has shown that we are not welcoming Morocco into ECOWAS for obvious reasons. Geographically speaking, Morocco is not in West Africa; ethnically, they are not West Africans, they have their own economic sub-region they are supposed to be. Most importantly, so many Nigerians who have expressed their opinions on the matter tend to think that Morocco has an ulterior motive that may likely jeopardize the interest of Nigeria as a whole in ECOWAS. This has generated a very robust debate in Nigeria.

Before now, people though Morocco would bring something to the table, but a lot of people now believe that there is a hidden agenda to Morocco’s application. There are so many ways to deal with Morocco on this issue. The protocol and treaty of ECOWAS have spelt out clearly who is a member and the modalities to join the community. In certain quarters, I have heard insinuations that Morocco is willing to accept all the protocols and conditions but accepting is different, implementation and practical reality will be different. I think we should live with the generality of opinions irrespective of sentiments.

Morocco is desperate to join ECOWAS because it has been in the cold. The North African and Maghreb region has not been functional for a very long time because of the major disagreement between Algeria and Morocco. Also, the application of Morocco to join the European Union (EU) has been there lingering and the European Commission has been treating it coldly; up till now they have not agreed to Morocco’s application and they (EU) have not told them (Morocco) that they (EU) are not going to accept them (Morocco). Actually, Morocco is out; even in AU until recently when it came back. So you can see that it is that isolation that is worrying Morocco and this is an era of inter-dependence and most importantly creating relationships. Secondly, there is an opportunity for markets; Morocco is a very robust economy that is really hoping to capture outlets, take over our markets and collapse our economy. Other West Africa countries are also there and they have that fear.

Foreign interests are using Morocco to get at Nigeria

Prof. Bola Akinterinwa, former director general, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA)

Our concept of big brother has been generally disadvantageous. Because the other member states of ECOWAS, particularly, the Francophones have a different meaning of cooperation. For the Francophones, the way they look at the meaning of cooperation is that you are a big brother; God has blessed you more than he has blessed us so it is for you to lead us because you have more than we do… because God endows you with more you should give us without complaining. So they do not look at it from the perspective of trying to reciprocate. Reciprocity is one of the pillars of international relations. Nigeria and Togo were the founding fathers of ECOWAS. Now, how do you explain the fact that Togo will now be supporting the membership of Morocco contrary to Article 1 (d and e) of the treaty establishing ECOWAS that West Africa is the region in Africa? This is different from the definition of the UN. UN looks at the whole region of Africa as a region. Africa is divided into five for the purposes of African integration. So, North Africa is a region and that is where Morocco belongs. But Morocco now wants to come to the ECOWAS region.

Morocco is not simply coming to be a member because of any bilateral ties, I think there is an extra-Africa, there is a European dimension, there is an American dimension using Morocco to get certain things done. Morocco is Arab in the morning, African in the afternoon and is neither of the two in the evening; it all depends on which interest is at stake. These are the factors we need to look at.

If you say African integration, there will be no problem, but regional integration as defined in the 1991 treaty establishing the African Economic Community (AEC) negates Morocco in the northern region of Africa. So, if you are talking about integration, it is not Africa as a group, as a collection to come and negotiate with ECOWAS. What is happening now is a strategic fundamental error. If we are not careful, it is not just Nigeria that will lose out totally; that will be the end of ECOWAS as a regional organisation.

Morocco’s admission will be a net loss, altering the character of ECOWAS

-Prof. Chudi Uwazuruike, political analyst

Morocco, as a member of the European consortium is looking at the huge market ECOWAS has. ECOWAS market is about $350 billion as it were, with a GDP of about $350 million. It is not doing badly even though it is not a huge one by world standard. But Morocco, for those who will perhaps be a little cautious about its application may have other things in mind. What does Morocco bring to the table and more importantly what will be the impact on Nigeria in terms of its overall global relations as well as its quest for a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) seat if Morocco becomes part of the West African region for instance and Egypt competes with Nigeria in its quest for a permanent seat? There are several things because this is the first time that a country that is outside the West African zone is trying to come into this particular organisation. Tunisia, as an observer is a different entity. Morocco’s admission will be a net loss; it will simply alter the character of ECOWAS. ECOWAS is a pan-Africanist instrument; there is no doubt about that. But the problem is that ECOWAS is part of the five pillars of AEC upon which the whole idea of AU is vested. There is no question of multiple memberships; Morocco is part of North Africa and Maghreb region. Why would it be a member of the West African and North African economic blocs? Geographically speaking, ECOWAS is for the West African states because of border issues, freedom of movement and a whole range of other issues. I, for one, think that despite the support by Burkina Faso, Senegal here and there, this is ill-timed and needless.

 Morocco wants to distort West African markets, wrestle power from Nigeria

-Dr. Joshua Bolarinwa, senior research fellow, NIIA

Morocco has been very desperate. Between the June summit and now, the king of Morocco, King Mohammed IV has visited West Africa 23 times. Out of the 23 times, the King has visited Senegal four times. You can see the desperation in Morocco. What does Morocco want in West Africa? Morocco has been living in serious aloofness. The Maghreb Union is not functional; Morocco wrote to be EU member but there has been no answer to that effect. If you go to Morocco, the Moroccan economy is robust, but very small. Morocco has about 33.9 million population (2014 census). Morocco is just looking for an affiliation, looking for a base. But the challenges here are enormous because Morocco will only come to West Africa to distort West Africa, particularly it will come to distort the West African market with European goods. Unfortunately, trading within the West African region has not been very good; we have negligible statistics about intra-West African trade between ECOWAS member states. And if Morocco joins, it will flood West African markets seriously and Nigeria will be the biggest culprit. Our manufacturing and infant industries will be affected. Now the issue of membership of UNSC, Morocco wants it. Morocco is in North Africa; Egypt has been clamouring for it, Nigeria is a strong contender, South Africa wants it. Nigeria should not just allow Morocco to join ECOWAS. If Morocco is going to join ECOWAS, the ECOWAS treaty must be amended. The revised 1993 treaty says that it is only for West African states. Morocco is not a West African state; it is in North Africa. Even by geography, Morocco does not qualify to be a member of ECOWAS. Apart from that, will Morocco accede and accept the free movement protocol of ECOWAS. I am not sure Morocco will accede to all the protocols. Again, Morocco is a monarchy though it has a parliament. Most of the countries in West Africa are democratic. So, will Morocco accede to the memorandum of understanding on democracy signed in 2013 by ECOWAS heads of state? It says every member of ECOWASD must be democratic. If Nigeria accepts Morocco’s membership of ECOWAS it will affect Nigeria’s influence not only in the West African region but totally in Africa and in global affairs.

Morocco left AU in 1984 because of the recognition of Western Sahara. It returned to EU in January 2017 and in less than six months Morocco has shown interest to join ECOWAS. Nigeria has to use everything to ensure that Morocco does not join ECOWAS. What does Morocco have? It has phosphate, fertilizer. Is that what Nigeria and ECOWAS region want to enjoy from Morocco?

Nigeria should seize control of ECOWAS

—Mr. Mohammed Ibrahim, former Nigerian ambassador to Libya

Given the example of the Breton Wood situation, since the creation of the World Bank, Americans have often headed the organisation because they pay the largest contribution. He who pays the piper calls the tunes. This is a simple reality in foreign affairs and to life, generally. But Nigeria has been unable to assert itself in ECOWAS. Decisions are taken, sometimes without active contribution of Nigeria. At the last ECOWAS session in Monrovia, Liberia, there is no reason on earth why Nigeria should have gradually absconded from that meeting. Because it is like your own project and a critical decision was taken at that meeting and now we are trying to see how we can reverse or change the decision because of our absence. It is not a sign of leadership.

In foreign policy, you need to take into account the mood of the nation. On this issue, Nigerians are not even aware; government seems to be doing certain things surreptitiously. ECOWAS is the most successful regional economic grouping in Africa. And we should be curious that if all of a sudden Morocco wants to join, we see Tunisia wants to come in as an observer; Mauritania that left in 2000 wants to come back, we should ask questions. Look at the Arab Maghreb Union. Would Nigeria go to Arab Maghreb Union? Morocco is not in the West, East or South Africa; it is Arab. If you attempt to go, come on, you are not Arab.

Nigeria is suffering from Big Brother role syndrome

– Mr. Joe Keshi, former permanent secretary, ministry of foreign affairs

I think Nigeria’s Big Brother role has affected us. I think what has happened, you talk of the elder in a village taking all the insults but when you look at that elder he also approaches all the issues with a sense of wisdom and guidance to the younger ones. There was a time in the life of this country when we asserted ourselves at the ECOWAS meetings. At least I can remember 1975-77, these were the formative years of the organisation and I still remember that then minister of planning at an ECOWAS meeting insisting that unless Nigeria’s position was honoured and accepted we were not going to move forward and at the end of the day that was what was done. Over time, we have not had a position. So, as a result of so many factors-carelessness, lack of proper preparation, lack of institutional memory by those involved, we lost so many things. When you look at some of the current issues vis-à-vis Morocco’s application to join ECOWAS, Togo is supporting the move. The guy in Togo today, his father met with General Gowon and pushed for the formation of ECOWAS. You would think that somebody like that would take it upon himself to inform Nigeria to say NO, organisation founded by my father is being threatened by this application. What do we do?

When I returned to the foreign ministry some years ago, in a conversation with the then minister, I found out that two years after becoming a minister, he had not even done a tour of the West African countries and he knew very little of his colleagues’ names. That was what we used to do in those days. And the fact that Morocco is penetrating  and is using soft power just goes to show that we are not doing what we used to do in the good old days and we need to go back to that. We need to find a way of bringing these French neighbours in ECOWAS to understand our position. When issues like this happen, we send diplomats out into the field to begin to lobby, to begin to say ‘this is our position’ ‘this is what we are going to do’. When you go to ECOWAS meeting in a large gathering, you don’t make any progress at that point. So, it is a question of the fact that we have retreated and we need to begin to say that retreating is not paying well for us.

Nigeria should maintain its strong hold in its natural backyard

-Ambassador Olusegun Akinsanya, former Nigerian ambassador to Ethiopia and permanent representative to AU and ECA

There has been a policy summersault and we need to reassert ourselves in ECOWAS. The founding fathers invested a lot of effort to have a regional community that will bridge the divide between the English and Francophone speaking West African countries. We need to continuously strategise. Morocco has no business coming to ECOWAS. The Maghreb that it belongs, they have not been able to strengthen the organisation to pursue continental integration and African unity. Why is Morocco coming to ECOWAS? If there are no cracks in the wall, lizards will not come in. I think we have opened our doors because of our complacency or ineffectiveness to do what we are supposed to do. Anything that will whittle down Nigeria’s influence should be resisted. Can Morocco claim to have good governance that the 2001 protocol of democracy, good governance and human rights provides? Proximity is one of the basis of ECOWAS coming together. Whatever huge market we have, have we exploited the huge market in ECOWAS? I think it is important that Nigeria re-asserts its powers and importance in ECOWAS and should not allow incursions of the Francophones because they are more than us. We do not go to the Maghreb, but we must maintain that strong hold in our natural backyard.




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