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Redefining bilateral ties with Kenya and rest of Africa

By Jeckonia Otieno | January 5th 2021
Moroccan Ambassador to Kenya Prof Mokhtar Gambou

Kenya and Morocco have had long bilateral ties despite the thorny issue of Western Sahara at one point threatening to sour relations after the former country allowed the opening of an embassy of the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in Nairobi in 2014. Financial Standard spoke to Dr Mokhtar Ghambou, Moroccan Ambassador to Kenya, on Morocco’s inroads into the rest of Africa and new areas of cooperation with Kenya and the continent.

Morocco seems to be taking a significant role in Africa. Why now?

After reintegrating the African Union in January 2017, Africa got the chance to rediscover Morocco as a leading country in key fields. We are blessed with a visionary pan-African approach, initiated by His Majesty King Mohammed VI, called South-South Cooperation whose main objective is to reinforce our continent’s autonomy and self-reliance by promoting social, economic, and cultural relations between all African countries.  

What has this approach achieved? 

Our commitment to serving Africa, guided by a win-win spirit, started long before we returned to the African Union (AU). As His Majesty said, “we left the African Union in 1984, but not Africa.” Over the past seven years or so, Morocco signed more than 1,500 bilateral treaties with its African partners, turning our country into the first African investor in West Africa and second in the continent. Morocco’s return to the African Union in 2017, however, was a big step forward allowing us to be an indispensable player in the decision-making given our experience and high financial contribution as an AU member.  

Why then are more countries opening diplomatic bases in Western Sahara? 

Sovereign countries are free to open consulates in any cities they prefer, and the Sahara is no exception. Such an act is considered by international law as an expression of the independence and sovereignty of the hosting nation. In addition, thanks to His Majesty’s endless efforts, the Sahara has turned recently into an economic hub attractive to international investors and traders because of its position as a bridge between sub-Saharan Africa, the Maghreb, and Europe.   

How do you plan to boost economic cooperation between Kenya and Morocco? 

We both have a liberal young culture, which is open and diverse. We are two touristic and agricultural countries with different products. This provides a perfect opportunity for complementary trade. Kenya grows coffee; Moroccans drink coffee thrice a day, same with tea. Regional economic blocs are good, but they have similar products, which end up competing with each other and leading to little profit. Companies like OCP Group, the largest producer of fertilisers in the world, play a major role in Kenya’s agricultural sustainable development. 

What areas can Kenyans benefit educationally? 

Moroccan universities receive 11,000 African students annually, with 10,000 of them offered government scholarships, including Kenyan students. Kenyan students who studied in Morocco created an alumni association in 2018 to inspire more Kenyan students to study in our schools and universities. 

What can Morocco offer to Kenya and Africa? 

Infrastructure, as the ex-Prime Minister Raila Odinga expressed during his last visit to Marrakech, is Morocco’s remarkable facet. We have two of the world’s largest solar energy plants. We have the fastest train in Africa, one of the biggest ports in the Western Mediterranean, another Atlantic port in the Sahara is underway, and up to 1800 network of highways and expressways connecting the Algerian border on the Mediterranean to the Mauritanian border in the Sahara. In addition, I believe that our water management policies can serve as a benchmarking platform for Kenya and Africa.   

What can Kenya learn from Morocco? 

We are committed to making the Big Four agenda successful, especially in food processing and affordable housing. We were able to eradicate slums from our cities. The two housing ministries are working together on this front. Other areas include tourism and combating terrorism.

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