Un­der­stand­ing Morocco’s ap­pli­ca­tion to join ECOWAS

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - OPINION - By Chidi Anselm Odinkalu See the re­main­ing part of this ar­ti­cle on www­guardian.ng for fur­ther read­ing

THREE weeks af­ter the African Union de­cided on Jan­uary 30, 2017 to read­mit it fol­low­ing a 33-year ab­sence, Morocco, which un­til then en­joyed the sta­tus of a sov­er­eign Ob­server, an­nounced on Fe­bru­ary 24 that it had ap­plied to join the 15-mem­ber Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity of West African States (ECOWAS). In Mon­rovia, Liberia, on June 5, the Sum­mit meet­ing of the 51st Or­di­nary Ses­sion of the Assem­bly of Heads of State and Gov­ern­ment of ECOWAS de­cided “in prin­ci­ple” to grant Morocco’s ap­pli­ca­tion.

This de­ci­sion has at­tracted con­sid­er­able com­ment and con­tro­versy, from across West Africa. Many ob­ject in­stinc­tively or re­flex­ively to Morocco’s ap­pli­ca­tion and the Mon­rovia de­ci­sion to grant it. Some of the ob­jec­tions have hewed to ra­tio­nal ar­gu­ments, with vary­ing de­grees of fac­tual and le­gal ac­cu­racy. The is­sues are se­ri­ous and need to be clar­i­fied.

Founded in 1975, ECOWAS last ad­mit­ted a new mem­ber in 1976, when Cape Verde joined. With Morocco’s ap­pli­ca­tion, it con­fronts new ter­ri­tory and epic dilem­mas hav­ing far reach­ing im­pli­ca­tions for Africa’s largest re­gional bloc. The re­quire­ment in the found­ing treaty lim­it­ing mem­ber­ship to “such other West African States as may ac­cede to it” was re­moved when the ECOWAS Treaty was re­vised in 1992. As such, no ques­tion of re­gional con­ti­gu­ity nec­es­sar­ily arises at this time.

Nev­er­the­less, the de­ci­sion to con­sider Morocco’s ap­pli­ca­tion favourably pits West Africa’s rich his­tor­i­cal affin­ity with Morocco against clear le­gal stip­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing re­gional in­te­gra­tion in ECOWAS treaties. How the com­mu­nity re­solves this ten­sion will have sig­nif­i­cant im­pli­ca­tions for the fu­ture peace, se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity of ECOWAS as a re­gional in­sti­tu­tion and of its mem­ber coun­tries as they con­front the shared chal­lenge of stem­ming rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion in the Sa­hel.

Re­solv­ing this ten­sion will not be easy. Recog­nis­ing this real­ity, the Sum­mit re­quested the Com­mis­sion of ECOWAS – as the Sec­re­tar­iat of the or­gan­i­sa­tion is called – to “ex­am­ine the im­pli­ca­tions” of Morocco’s ac­ces­sion in ac­cor­dance with the pro­vi­sions of the Re­vised ECOWAS Treaty of 1992 and re­port to the 52nd Or­di­nary Ses­sion of the Sum­mit, at the end of the year. In do­ing so, the Com­mis­sion will have to find ways to nav­i­gate the con­tra­dic­tions be­tween his­tory, geo-strat­egy and re­gional in­te­gra­tion law.

Morocco’s ap­pli­ca­tion to join ECOWAS is in keep­ing with a his­tory of diplo­matic au­dac­ity un­der the rul­ing Alaouite Dy­nasty, which has con­trolled the af­fairs of the coun­try since the mid-17th­cen­tury. It was, for in­stance, the first coun­try to rec­og­nize the United States as an in­de­pen­dent coun­try in 1777 and the Moroc­can-amer­i­can Friend­ship Treaty con­cluded nine years later in 1886 re­mains the old­est of such treaties bind­ing on the USA. Around the same time, the Moroc­can city of Fez, which had long been well es­tab­lished as a site of high learn­ing in Is­lam, be­came host to Sheikh Ah­mad al-ti­jani, the Al­ge­rian-born re­li­gious teacher who founded the Ti­janiyya or­der. From here, the Ti­janiyya fanned out through the West Coast of Africa bear­ing both faith and trade in its spread across the re­gion to Chad, Gam­bia, Ghana, Guinea, Mau­ri­ta­nia, Niger, Nige­ria, Sene­gal and Su­dan.

All th­ese coun­tries ex­cept Chad, Mau­ri­ta­nia and Su­dan be­long to ECOWAS. Mau­ri­ta­nia, which shares com­mon borders with Morocco, ex­ited ECOWAS in 2000 in favour of the Arab Maghreb Union, bet­ter known by its French acro­nym, UMA, the re­gional or­ga­ni­za­tion in North Africa whose take­off has been bogged down by im­pla­ca­ble ri­val­ries be­tween Morocco and Al­ge­ria. The eth­nic Hara­tine and Gnawa of Morocco also have their ori­gins in West Africa. This com­plex and rich his­tory of faith, trade and de­mog­ra­phy eas­ily in­spires sen­ti­men­tal sup­port for Morocco’s de­sire to join ECOWAS.

Even more im­por­tantly, the Ti­janiya are in the Sa­hel, an arid stretch of bru­tal desert cov­er­ing the At­lantic coast of West Africa to the west and the Gulf of Aden to the east. With north­ern fron­tiers lo­cated in Al­ge­ria, Libya and Morocco and its south­ern borders in the coun­tries of the Lake Chad Basin, in­clud­ing Nige­ria and Cameroon, the Sa­hel is home to some of the most deadly sources of ex­trem­ist vi­o­lence in the world, in­clud­ing Al-quaeda in the Is­lamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Al-shabaab, Boko Haram, and a re­gional fran­chise of the Is­lamic State (IS) led by Habib Yusuf (Abu Musab Al-bar­nawi), whose fa­ther, Mo­hammed Yusuf, founded Boko Haram.

By its ap­pli­ca­tion to join ECOWAS, Morocco dan­gles a geostrate­gic ben­e­fit to the re­gion in the fight against th­ese ex­trem­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions through the shared ex­per­tise of its own se­cu­rity and faith-based net­works. With Morocco’s ac­ces­sion, ECOWAS will po­ten­tially claim a con­tigu­ous stretch of ter­ri­tory to the Maghreb, giv­ing it ac­cess to counter-ter­ror ca­pa­bil­i­ties that were hith­erto not nec­es­sar­ily within its reach. Seen as a net con­trib­u­tor to re­gional se­cu­rity and counter-rad­i­cal­iza­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties, the like­li­hood is that Morocco’s ap­pli­ca­tion could re­ceive diplo­matic back­ing from the cur­rent U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The real ques­tion, how­ever, is what price ECOWAS is will­ing to pay to ac­quire this ca­pa­bil­ity. For a long time, the big­gest prob­lem in re­gional re­la­tions with Morocco has been its claim over the Western Sa­hara, the for­mer Span­ish ter­ri­tory an­nexed by the late King Hassan II in 1975. Nige­ria, a lead­ing ad­vo­cate for Western Sa­hara’s self-de­ter­mi­na­tion, is also the undis­puted leader in ECOWAS. It is sig­nif­i­cant that Nige­ria was ab­sent from the Mon­rovia Sum­mit. Like the AU when it de­cided to read­mit Morocco, ECOWAS will have to find a for­mula around this.

Also known in Ara­bic as al-maghribal-aq á or “the Far­thest (King­dom) West”, Morocco is the only African coun­try that sits astride the At­lantic Ocean, the Mediter­ranean Sea and the Sa­hara Desert. Sep­a­rated by a mere eight kilo­me­tres from Europe at the Straits of Gi­bral­tar, Morocco is a mag­net to irregular mi­grants from West Africa seek­ing en­try into the Euro­pean Union. As a re­sult it is also a ma­jor fo­cus of Europe’s perime­ter polic­ing ef­forts aimed at dis­cour­ag­ing such mi­gra­tion.

How­ever, the corner­stone of re­gional in­te­gra­tion obli­ga­tions in ECOWAS is free fac­tor mo­bil­ity, in­clud­ing free move­ment of goods and of per­sons. By sign­ing up to ECOWAS, Morocco will be un­der a duty to ac­cept the ECOWAS Pro­to­col on Free Move­ment of Per­sons, of­fer­ing a regime of visa-free travel and, po­ten­tially, a right of es­tab­lish­ment to cit­i­zens of all 15 ECOWAS coun­tries. This would al­most in­vari­ably put the Euro-mediter­ranean mi­gra­tion sys­tem un­der pres­sure and is bound to meet with op­po­si­tion from the Euro­pean Union (EU) at a time that it faces se­ri­ous cri­sis trace­able largely to con­cerns over mi­gra­tion.

The con­flict­ing in­ter­ests of the EU and the U.S. in Morocco’s ECOWAS ap­pli­ca­tion raises the stakes and gives ECOWAS se­ri­ous de­ci­sions to make. Five op­tions are open. First, it could in­sist that Morocco ac­cepts all ECOWAS treaties, pro­to­cols and di­rec­tives as a pack­age. The like­li­hood is that the Pro­to­col on Free Move­ment of Per­sons will present in­sur­mount­able prob­lems for Morocco.

In re­sponse to this, a sec­ond op­tion could be to of­fer Morocco an ex­emp­tion from the Pro­to­col. This will have the ef­fect of cre­at­ing a two-track ECOWAS, giv­ing other mem­ber coun­tries the pos­si­bil­ity to re-open ex­ist­ing ECOWAS obli­ga­tions. Odinkaluisalawyerand­spe­cialis­esinthelawsandin­sti­tu­tion­sofre­gion­al­in­te­gra­tioni­nafrica.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Nigeria

© PressReader. All rights reserved.