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Morocco’s Ambassador to Ireland on ‘Africa Day’: ‘Top Priority of Moroccan Foreign Policy is Africa’

Dr. Lahcen Mahraoui, Morocco’s Ambassador to Ireland, addressed Ireland’s Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense in Dublin on Tuesday, highlighting the importance of Africa to Morocco’s foreign policy.

Focussing on Morocco’s South-South cooperation, as well as Morocco’s relations with Ireland and Ireland’s relations with Africa during the celebration of Africa Day 2024, he said, “The top priority of Moroccan foreign policy is Africa. Morocco’s bilateral relations are ancestral, deep, and strong with many African countries, and they are growing even stronger with the multifaceted areas of mutual interest.”

Mahraoui stated that the strategy of South-South cooperation and African solidarity under the leadership of King Mohammed VI have resulted in the signing of over 1,000 agreements and the implementation of numerous tangible projects across Africa since 1999.

These initiatives have largely contributed to socio-economic progress and sustainability in many African countries, especially with respect to “food security, access to energy, banking, insurance, transportation, infrastructure, telecommunication, and cultural ties,” he said.

In fact, they have made Morocco “the principal investor in West Africa and the second largest investor in the whole of Africa,” according to the ambassador.

He also mentioned some of Morocco’s “giant projects” to develop Africa, including establishing fertilizer production units in Ethiopia and Nigeria, and the Morocco-Nigeria gas pipeline which, when constructed, will be “the longest gas pipeline on the continent.”

Morocco is also spearheading the Royal Atlantic Initiative, a project to establish a geopolitical space for economic integration, connectivity, and human interaction to address the economic isolation of the Sahel countries.

Noting Morocco’s return to the African Union (AU) in 2017 after a 30-year hiatus, he elaborated that its return will strengthen Morocco’s bilateral engagement, enhance sectoral cooperation, and contribute to its Agenda for Peace and Development.

Morocco is advocating for an AU that represents a “united, independent, and solidarity-based Africa,” he said, to address major challenges such as “terrorism, migration, food security, climate change, human and social development, good governance, and democracy.”

Mahraoui reaffirmed Morocco’s commitment to African peace, security, and stability, citing its support for UN peacekeeping missions. Morocco contributed a total of 1,714 personnel to such efforts during four UN missions in Africa: MINUSCA (Central African Republic), MONUSCO (Democratic Republic of the Congo), UNISFA (Abyei), and UNMISS. He also highlighted Morocco’s leadership in the UN Peacebuilding Commission Central African Republic Configuration, in addition to its active participation in the African Union’s Peace and Security Council.

Focussing on the long-standing relations between Morocco and Ireland, the ambassador noted that the two countries have enjoyed a cordial and productive relationship since the 1970s. He highlighted the pivotal role played by the Moroccan Embassy in Dublin in “maintaining good bilateral as well as multilateral relations,” reinforced by the Moroccan community in Ireland which totals around 2,000 people.

Irish firms and multinational corporations are employing many Moroccans. There is also a Moroccan student community, including researchers, reinforced by seven Memorandums of Understanding signed since 2017.

Further to the “excellent progress” made in the bilateral relationship between Morocco and Ireland, the Parliamentary Diplomacy between the two countries has been enhanced by visits of numerous prominent figures. These visits have led to the signing of several agreements including an MoU in 2019 between the Moroccan Parliament and the Irish Parliament and the establishment of a Morocco-Ireland Parliamentary Friendship Group. A joint Parliamentary Friendship Group was also created in Ireland in 2020.

Reporting on the status of trade between the two countries, the Moroccan Ambassador cited the 21% increase in Irish exports to Morocco in the first half of 2023, amounting to revenue of 69 million euros, according to the Arab Irish Chamber of Commerce. Meanwhile, according to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade, Ireland’s 2023 imports from Morocco were around US$92.98 million.

Mahraoui suggested the potential for further Moroccan-Irish collaboration in several areas, including renewable energy and climate change transition, agriculture, agri-business, dairy/livestock, outsourcing, pharmaceuticals, and education.

“Morocco has a lot of potential to offer as a regional hub and as a safe and stable gateway to Africa. Morocco is known for good governance, a skilled and multilingual labor force, modern infrastructures, and investment attractiveness,” he added.

Turning to Irish-African ties, Mahraoui commended Ireland’s Strategy for Africa 2025, which seeks to “deepen political, economic and cultural relations with African countries while contributing to sustainable development and expanding education and research links.”

He went on to suggest that the Irish projects targeting the African continent should not be limited just to English-speaking countries in order to facilitate business, investment, and human connection. “The exchange of lessons learned and expertise is a crucial aspect of this process,” he confirmed.

Mahraoui concluded his lengthy remarks with a discussion of the Moroccan Sahara, which, he asserted, has made Morocco a focal point for certain negative claims and allegations due to a lack of historical knowledge and a misunderstanding of the decolonization process.

“The Sahara issue is notably on the agenda of the Irish Parliament in questions or debates, meaning that there is an interest in the Sahara issue by some of you,” he stated.

In 2007, he explained, Morocco presented its Initiative for Negotiating an Autonomy Status for the Sahara Region to the United Nations, demonstrating Morocco’s “commitment to international law. The Moroccan government then designed a New Development Plan in 2015 with a budget of over 7 billion euros specifically for social and economic development in the Moroccan Sahara.

Since then, despite the challenging circumstances faced by the small population living in the Tindouf Camps, the Ambassador asserted that the overall Moroccan Sahara population is now playing an active role in the “political, economic, social, and cultural life of the Sahara region.”

Africa Day falls on May 25 each year.