By Magnus Ful
North African countries that have for centuries preferred Europe as trading and investing partners, are now turning towards sub-Saharan for a domineeringly economic interest.
It is common place to hear Africans delineating the northern part of the continent comprising – Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, Western Sahara, and giving it a European status. This can be fairly understood through the major rule Europe has played as the main economic and business partner with North Africa right from the colonial times. In fact, North African countries have been seen by Europe as their neighbors across the Mediterranean. In addition, their white color literally makes them look European.
However, this view pertaining North Africa deviates reality, and even simplistic to a limit, for they have an African identity and not merely trading partners. Nevertheless, an African DNA may account for North Africans’ recent focus towards sub-Saharan Africa, but economic interests are seen to dominate the scene after a critical analysis.
The first analysis unveils that, North African southward-turn is motivated by a continuous fall in the growth rates of several European countries in recent years, and an expected economic boom in sub-Saharan Africa in few years to come. In this way, North African countries have the taste to secure new markets and strategically position themselves ahead of the economic explosion. Between 2003 and 2017, Moroccan foreign direct investment in Africa totaled 37 billion dirhams (roughly €9 billion), making up around 60 per cent of the country’s overseas investment. By 2017, Morocco had become the leading African investor in West Africa and was second only to South Africa as the largest African investor across the continent as a whole.
Even if the first hypothesis seem idealistic to someone, the glaring discriminate effects of the COVID-19 (as of now), is worth acknowledging. Africa has witnessed a lower death toll and infection rate of the pandemic than other continents. As of now, the over 9000 reported covid-19- related deaths in Africa is far below the overwhelming records in Europe. This gives Africa a step ahead of other continents, though speculations still show that the virus’ penetration in Africa has not yet reached its peak. However, as time goes by, there are collective efforts to annihilate the “corona terminator”. Meanwhile Russia is already heading for phase 3 of corona virus vaccine test; Bishop Samuel Kleda’s corona virus bio cure in Cameroon has been proven effective and consequently received government’s support to be distributed all over the country.
If a solution to covid-19 is found at the moment, Africa could suffer short term economic effects like unemployment and the inability to repaying debts, but prospects show that it could spur a transformation of African economies towards greater self-sufficiency, including in the production of food and medicines. It could also lead to African countries changing their economic and development plans by laying more emphasis on renewable energy and greater digitalization. The new plan to be adopted is a big opportunity for North African countries; that are well advanced in technology, health and renewable energy sectors.
Nevertheless, this discussion exempts Libya, which though had been highly engaged with sub-Saharan Africa and the African Union (AU), has been unable to carry out any meaningful economic plan in this direction (at State level) at the moment, due to the economic crisis and civil war witnessed in the country in the years before 2011.
Again, the failure of regional integration within North African countries, other factors being equal, has given them reason to turn to the more integrated sub-Saharan Africa. It is reported that trade between North African countries remains very low. For instance: the economic and political cooperation through the Arab-Maghreb Union is held hostage in particular to the Algerian-Moroccan standoff over Western Sahara.
Other economic indirectly-related interests for the North African-sub-Saharan-turn
Major in this category, is the diplomatic concerns expressed by North African countries to justify their news-making turn to their black brothers.
The case of Morocco and Algeria is worth mentioning here. Their dispute over Western Sahara and their broader strategic rivalry is seen as a factor that has pushed them to turn back to sub-Saharan Africa for diplomatic backup.
Morocco’s return to the AU in 2017 after 33 years is still secretly very ambitious to use the body’s support to oust the Sahrawi Democratic Republic (SADR), an “illegal country” which caused it to leave the predecessor- Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1984.
The SADR is a state declared by the Polisario Front in the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara, which morocco claims as its territory. Its return to the AU represented a shift in its strategy to win backing for its control of the territory.
As for Egypt, it is much more interested in the giant dam Ethiopia is building over the Nile. Turning southward at this time will give her access to the resource which will be very beneficial in making the country stand in a strategic position as ahead of the speculated booming sub-Saharan economy.
Above all, security concerns and migration crisis faced by North African countries remains one of the outstanding challenges causing the north African-southwards-turn to seek collective solutions.
In as much as the North African recognition and turn towards home is worth jubilating, analyzing perilous selfish ambitions that may emanate from such reunion is worth the pain.