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Morocco’s aspiration for Africa

Morocco's commitment for Africa’s development has been translated into facts shortly after the country’s independence. Thus in 1960, the Casablanca Conference brought together, under the aegis of the late King Mohammed V, key African leaders, paving the way for the setting up, two years later in Addis Ababa, of the former Organization of African Union (OAU). It is in the context of this commitment and solidarity with the continent that Morocco announced, during the first EU-Africa summit in 2000, its decision to cancel the debts of more than twenty African least developed countries. In 2001, the kingdom joined the Community of Sahel -Saharan States (CEN –SAD.)

Morocco has ever since continued to strengthen its position on the continent through a renewed partnership, the reinforcement of its political relations with a large number of African countries and the implementation of a series of concrete measures in the field of financial assistance and technical cooperation. For instance, in 2012, the Moroccan Agency for International Cooperation (http://www.amci.ma) increased the number of scholarships to some sub-Saharan countries such as Mali and Niger.

It is also in this context that in April 2011, the Casablanca Stock Exchange participated in the creation of the Association of French-speaking African Stock Exchanges (ABFA), with the main objective to promote the integration of stock markets in French-speaking Africa.

Today, Morocco has many partners throughout Africa and is bound to many states of the continent by agreements covering several sectors, including:

• Non-double taxation agreements: 3 bilateral agreements (Egypt, Senegal and Gabon), 1 multilateral agreement (UMA), 3 agreements in the process of ratification (Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Côte d' Ivoire), 5 agreements about to be signed (South Africa, Central African Republic, Guinea Conakry, Seychelles and Sudan,) and 5 agreements under negotiation;

• Agreements for the Protection and Promotion of Investments: Morocco has signed 17 such agreements with African countries. Seven of these have already entered into force (Gabon, Gambia, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Sudan and Tunisia), while the 10 others are in a ratification process (Benin, Côte d' Ivoire, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cape Verde, Ghana, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Senegal and Chad);

• Free Trade Agreements (FTAs): Morocco has signed FTAs with five North African countries. In addition to two major FTA agreements that are being negotiated with UEMOA (the West African Economic and Monetary Union) and CEMAC (the Central African Economic and Monetary Community).

Morocco has also concluded sector-based agreements with the Democratic Republic of Congo (Agriculture,) Angola (tourism, aviation,) Benin (Business Council,) Gabon (health, education...) Senegal (transportation, mining, energy...) or Côte d' Ivoire (investment, tourism  fishing...), …

Morocco has long-standing historical relations with West African countries. In a bid to strengthen these ties, the Kingdom has chosen to intensify its economic exchanges with the nations of the UEMOA zone, which is located in the historical trans-Saharan route that starts from Tangiers, through a policy of "national champions" which is often referred to in order to explain the economic success of Morocco in Africa.

The preliminary hints of this brand-new policy were evidenced in the structure of the official delegations that accompanied King Mohammed VI of Morocco in his official visits to Africa during the first half of the 2000-2010 decade. Thanks to an economic-minded approach, the delegations accompanying the monarch managed to gradually evaluate the real potential of these countries’ growth. Key Moroccan economic leaders had also the opportunity to establish important connections with their African counterparts.

It was not surprising therefore that telecommunications, banking and Finance were the first sectors to be interested in the external growth opportunities that beamed in sub-Saharan Africa, while geostrategic balances started to tip clearly. Morocco was set to benefit from its cultural proximity to its African partners as well as from the new opportunities resulting from the new geostrategic dynamic.

Telecommunications was symbolically the sector that paved the way to Moroccan investment in Africa, soon after the privatization of the historical Moroccan telecommunications company, Maroc Telecom, in which Vivendi, a French stakeholder besides the Moroccan State, bought historical operators’ rights in Mauritania (2001), Burkina Faso (2006), Gabon (2007), and in Mali (2009). The company became therefore one of the most important operators in Africa.

The banking and insurance sectors soon followed suit thanks to a combined policy of forging alliances and making acquisitions. Attijariwafa Bank, the first bank in Morocco, is thus present in 22 countries, 8 of which in Africa, thanks to acquisitions of branches of Crédit agricole in 2009.

Up to date, Attijariwafa Bank holds the following branches in West Africa: CBAO Attijariwafa Bank Group in Senegal, Crédit du Sénégal in Senegal, SIB in Côte d’Ivoire, BIM in Mali, UGB in Gabon, and Crédit du Congo in Congo.

Another Moroccan bank that has been active on African soil is the Banque Marocaine du Commerce Extérieur (BMCE), which holds nearly 59% of the Bank of Africa’s capital. The latter has 4.500 collaborators in 340 agencies, in a total of 15 banks (2010 figures).

The Banque Centrale Populaire (BCP) joined the move and confirmed its interest in Africa through forging an alliance with the Atlantic Financial Group (AFG) of Côte d’Ivoire, in the summer of 2012. Thanks to this strategic and capital partnership, the BCP is today present in seven countries: Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. After its recent privatization (its capital, which still belongs to the State, has been transferred to its regional branches), analysts expect the BCP to continue this process in order to confirm its strong presence in Africa and to strike new alliances or make new acquisitions in the near future.

In the insurance sector, Saham holding (which operates in Finance, insurance, offshoring, and health sectors) has made the biggest move in Africa through the acquisition of the giant pan-African insurance company, Colina, in 2010, thus becoming the second insurance operator in sub-Saharan zone. Saham holding, which is present in 12 countries via 13 companies, has also achieved a significant move by becoming a stakeholder in GA Seguros of Angola.