The big issue for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) this December is whether it would allow itself to be stampeded into accepting Morocco into its fold without thinking through the implications for its core principles and practices. It almost happened. It did not happen, thanks essentially to the principled position of Ghana that ECOWAS does not have the legal basis to even consider the application. Nigeria had boycotted the last Summit in Monrovia where the application was pushed through due to the presence of the Israeli Prime Minister in Monrovia. Retired Nigerian Ambassadors went livid with anger and openly criticised the “collapse” of Nigerian diplomacy for worrying more about Israel than our own national interest, which they believed correctly Morocco was a threat to.
The Summit this time took the correct position by declaring that ECOWAS does not currently have: “the appropriate institutional framework which constitutes the legal basis for such a decision.” It therefore decided to: “to immediately commence the preparation of the appropriate Community Act which will set out the decision-making process within the Community, in accordance with Article 9 paragraphs 2 and 3 of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty.” The dollar diplomacy that Morocco played to get admitted as a full member this December has collapsed for now. Meanwhile, it is important to address the real issues of concern over Morocco’s membership.
I have two concerns. My first concern has to do with the requirement that all ECOWAS members must practice democracy. My second concern is that Morocco is a colonial power that has illegally taken over another African country. How can ECOWAS welcome an imperial power into its fold? It is for these two reasons that I believe ECOWAS should have paused and reflected before positively considering the June 4, 2017 application of the Kingdom of Morocco to join. Clearly, there was little thinking done at its 51st Ordinary Session of Authority of Heads of States and Government held in Monrovia, Liberia where Morocco’s quest to join ECOWAS was accepted in principle. The Authority had directed the Commission to further reflect on the implications of the request from the Kingdom of Morocco in the light of the provisions of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty and to submit the conclusions at the next ordinary session of the Authority holding this December where the final approval was to have been given.
Morocco has a long history of engagement with West Africa that goes back for a millennium. It has played an important historical role in the transmission of Islam and has over the centuries maintained networks with movements in Senegambia, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Nigeria. Commerce between Morocco and West Africa also has a long history going back to the days of the famous Moroccan leather exported from Northern Nigeria. More recently, Morocco has invested massively in banking, transport and agriculture in West Africa. Morocco has become a positive force for regional integration in the zone. Nonetheless, it is difficult to make the argument that Morocco could become a logical part of ECOWAS. The organisation was established on 28th May 1975 as one of the five regional pillars of the African Economic Community (AEC). “Region” in this context was quite clearly the geographical zone of West Africa as defined by Resolution CM / RES.464 (XXVI) of the OAU Council of Ministers. It would be recalled that the resolution on which the Abuja Treaty was based, divided Africa into five Regional Economic Communities (RECs): West Africa (sixteen Member States), East Africa (thirteen) Southern Africa (ten Member States) Central Africa (nine Member States), North Africa (five Member States). Morocco is therefore clearly placed in a different geographical zone.
West Africa has been undergoing an intense period of political conflict and transformation over the past three decades. It involves a process of political recomposition under the impulse of struggles aimed at combating and reversing the region’s authoritarian past and the construction of a democratic future. The on-going struggles are intense and the direction of development is towards the consolidation of democracy. Admitting a monarchy into the region would create a huge opening for anti-democratic forces in the region. Let us not forget that West Africa is the only zone in Africa that has succeeded in stopping the current trend on the continent of the removal of term limits and re-introduction of life presidency that we see currently playing out in Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, DRC, Congo, Equatorial Guinea and so on. Specifically, citizens in West Africa have succeeded in stopping former presidents – Obasanjo, (Nigeria), Wade (Senegal), Tandja (Niger), Jammeh (The Gambia) and others from tenure elongation and life presidency. Bringing an absolute monarch into the ECOWAS could change the trend.
The Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance was adopted by ECOWAS as a normative framework to deepen democracy. It sets out the constitutional convergence criteria to be fulfilled by Community members based on the principles of good governance – respect for the rule of law, the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary, the promotion of non-partisan and responsible mass media and the democratic control of the armed forces. It also commits Member States to ensure poverty alleviation, uphold, defend and promote international norms regarding basic human rights, including the rights of minorities, children, youth and women. The Protocol also advocates for the strict adherence to constitutional norms in electoral practices that reject unconstitutional accession to or maintenance of power.
Morocco wants to join ECOWAS without having to adhere with the constitutional convergence principles in the Protocol. It wants to maintain its present constitutional order and be an exception to the rule that democracy must prevail. It would be politically foolhardy to allow such an opening. When presidents Obasanjo, Tandja, Wade, Jammeh and the others sought to extend their rule, the Supplementary Protocol was raised as a banner signifying they would not be allowed to do it. The adhesion of Morocco into ECOWAS without the rules of the game means there would be no democratic banner to fly in the future. Morocco should be asked to first democratise its political system, give up the absolute rights of its Monarchy and then re-submit its application after that.
The other core principle that disqualifies Morocco’s application is its occupation of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), in total disregard to one of the foundational principles of international law – the use of aggression and annexation of territories. The Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara in October 1975 clearly violated numerous UN and OAU resolutions. It would be recalled that the OAU was founded on the principle of the intangibility of colonial borders. The United Nations and the African Union have not accepted Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara or recognised the legality of its forceful annexation of the territory. Morocco is an occupying power and it is currently engaged in “dollar diplomacy” to legitimise its occupation of another African country. We cannot abandon the Sahrawi people, who have been fighting Spanish colonial oppression and are today fighting Moroccan occupation of their country. Currently, Morocco is looting the phosphate resources of their colony and using it to provide fertiliser to West African countries it’s trying to persuade to allow it access into ECOWAS. Morocco is an African country and can return to the fold. It should however not be allowed to do so on its terms of remaining a colonialist.
It is important to point out the ECOWAS Strategic Vision is to transform the region from an “ECOWAS of States‟ into an “ECOWAS of the Peoples‟. Citizens are therefore the bedrock for the consolidation of integration. In Morocco, what you have are subjects of the King. We cannot have a two-tier region with citizens on one side and subjects on the other. It is important to note that although elections occur in the Kingdom, effective power is with the King.
Morocco is seeking for a phased entry into ECOWAS with two important exemptions. The first exemption is that it does not want to adhere to the constitutional convergence principles enunciated in the Supplementary Protocol on Democracy. It is not ready to accept the core democracy principle in the region. Secondly, it is insisting that the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons should not apply to it. In other words, it is only interested in the free movement of goods – Moroccan goods into West Africa. By insisting that West Africa’s two core principles should not apply to it, Morocco is clearly not sincere in its application. Precisely because Morocco is not ready to join ECOWAS as a member that accepts the values of the organisation, their application should be rejected. Other forms of cooperation with the zone could however be negotiated for mutual benefit of both.