African Continent without the Maghrebin Region, Now a Desideratum: Morocco as an Agent Provocateur

Bola A. Akinterinwa 

Africa, as a notion or concept has always been ambiguous. People talk about Africa, Africa as a continent, as a region, as south of the Sahara, as sub-Saharan Africa, and as south of the Sahel, etc. The most confusing of all is the consideration of Africa as a region in international politics. According to the United Nations, there are seven regions in the world, which many Anglo-Saxon countries also refer to as continents. In order of their size, Asia is the largest in area and most populous, thanks to China and India. It is followed by Africa, North America and South America, and then Antarctica, Europe, and Australia the smallest. Similarly, the M49 Coding Classification of the UN Statistics Division, has it that there are six regional, 17 sub-regional and nine intermediate regional groups. This typology is based on statistical conveniences, and should not be confused with the UN sub-regional groups. 

For the United Nations, the whole of African continent constitutes a region. But, contrary to this, the 3rd June 1991 Abuja Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community divided the whole of Africa into five regions. Article 1(d) of the Treaty stipulates that ‘region shall mean an OAU region as defined by Resolution CM/Res.464 QCXVI of the OAU Council of Ministers Concerning the Decision of Africa into five (5) regions namely North Africa, West Africa, Central Africa, East Africa, and Southern Africa.’ Article 1(e) says a ‘sub-region shall mean at least 3 (three) States of one or more regions as defined in paragraph 1(d).’ 

Put differently, Africa as a region and West Africa as a sub-region ceased, since 1991, to be so within the new framework of the OAU and the African Union regulations, especially that the 1991 Treaty has been integrated as part of the AU Constitutive Act. With this, Morocco belongs to North Africa geo-politically. North Africa is basically a home to the Arabs. Even though Morocco was a founding member of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), and to a great extent, has played many active parts in the OAU development efforts, there is also no disputing the fact that Morocco is also a major instrument of under-development and setbacks of Africa. It is for this reason that there is the need to redefine Africa geo-politically to allow an Africa of black people to have a distinct identity, fair share of international appointments, and better international personality. International politics makes it a desideratum now.

Rationales for Africa of Black People

Black Africa is only considered important and respected because of its rich raw and mineral resources needed for the development of Europe and which Nigeria’s Commissioner of External Affairs, Dr. Okoi Arikpo, vehemently opposed under the General Yakubu Gowon regime. Beyond that, there is very little or no regard. It is not just the more developed countries of the West that have no regard for Africa, the Maghrebin North Africa does not give any due regard to Africa of Black people as many examples have shown. Indeed, many of them consciously undermine Nigeria’s foreign policy in the context of a spirit of better than thou. Let us look at the issue of permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) at the level of Egypt and the United States of Africa at the level of Libya.

When the OAU requested for five seats for Africa with the intention of enabling each region of Africa to have a seat with or without veto, the UNSC made it clear that only two seats could be accommodated. Granting five seats to Africa would unnecessarily make the Council unwieldy. One truth, however, is that the United States wanted Germany and Japan to be admitted as Permanent Members because of their significant assessed and voluntary contributions to the maintenance of international peace and security. The membership of the two countries, in the eyes of the United States, would surely reduce the heavy financial burden carried by the United States, as well as strengthen United States foreign policy interests and global governance. These countries are therefore of more strategic value in the eyes of Americans.

Apart from this, there was also the strong Arab lobby for a permanent seat, but the Arabophone countries do not constitute a region by UN definition. UN Permanent Seats are allocated based on regional representation. The United States came up with a delicate policy of advocating one of the two seats earmarked for Africa for Egypt, arguing that Egypt is both African and Arab. By the thinking of black African leaders, the two seats should be occupied by Nigeria and South Africa on behalf of Africa’ Thus, the United States expected that South Africa and Nigeria should contest for the other seat, while Egypt occupies one.

The conditions often required for eligibility for a seat include contributions to the UN international peace-keeping efforts. Nigeria, without any shadow of doubt, has been engaged in such efforts beginning with her participation in the UN peacekeeping missions in the Congo crisis of 1960. Comparatively, South Africa would only begin active engagement at the UN as from 1994 when its pariah status was removed following de-apartheidisation. The point being made here is that, based on this singular factor, Nigeria is more qualified than South Africa.

Another requirement is the payment of assessed and voluntary dues to the United Nations. This is defined by various factors, including ability to pay, percentage of GDP, weighted principle, and voluntarism. South Africa and Egypt have been paying like Nigeria, though Nigeria has not been paying as much as they do because of their higher GDP. Indeed, Nigeria has an advantage of being a regional influential with the highest black population.

The problem of permanent seat arose when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was Chairman of the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government and Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, CON, was Chairman of Council of Ministers. A Committee of Ten, comprising two members from each region of Africa, was sent to hold discussions with other potential candidates for a permanent seat: Germany, Brazil, Japan, etc. In the report of the Committee which Ambassador Adeniji chaired, it was recommended that it would be advisable to first ensure occupation of the Permanent Seats without the right of veto and then struggle from within for the right of veto. This was the collective recommendation of the consultation meetings.

This position coincidentally, not to say unfortunately, was not different from the position of Nigeria at the AU. Many Arab countries, particularly Libya, and probably Algeria too, argued that permanent membership of the UNSC would be meaningless without the right of veto. Consequently, the recommendation of the Committee of Ten had to be jettisoned even at the Ezulwini summit following the previous Addis Ababa summit where the decision of the need to consult with other countries with vested interests was first taken.

Apparently, Egypt, considering that the United States had the intention to lobby for a seat for her, decided to launch a campaign of calumny against Nigeria under President Olusegun Obasanjo. The Egyptian Foreign Minister convened an international press conference in Cairo and alleged that Nigeria, rather than going out to implement the African Union directives, decided to use the assignment to canvass for Nigeria’s interests, which was never true. I was much embittered with the allegation for two reasons: I had the opportunity to accompany Ambassador Adeniji to the meetings and knew that the Egyptian allegation was very malicious. Secondly, accusing the President of Egypt publicly in the press was legally prohibited but the Egyptian Foreign Minister had the effrontery to condemn and lambast Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo and the Minister of Foreign Affairs in their own Press. 

The Daily Trust of Nigeria not only carried the story but also got the original statement in Arabic translated. I got the published translated statement verified that the translation was consistent with the original press statement.  Much vexed about the published statement, I too wrote in this column and made it clear that Egypt was not truly an African country as she is African in the morning, Arab in the evening, and white the following day. I recalled Egypt’s non-reliability as an African country because Nigeria strained her diplomatic ties with Israel in solidarity with Egypt in the quest for a Home for the Palestinians. However, Egypt went to sign the Camp David Peace Accord without prior consultation with Nigeria, a situation that again justifies the need for Professor Bolaji Akinwande Akinyemi’s Consultation Doctrine in all the foreign policy calculations of Nigeria. 

The Egyptian government felt very offended by my publication and decided to summon the Nigerian Ambassador to Cairo, Ambassador Ghali Umar, to the Home Office. The matter eventually was reported to Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji who was also summoned by President Obasanjo to explain what transpired. The rest of the story is reserved for the future. The essential point here is the need to note the role of Arabs in the cold war surrounding the African struggle for a permanent seat. Internationally speaking, France says she would support any country put forward by the African Union. China says she had no problem in supporting Nigeria’s candidature. The United States preferred South Africa to Nigeria even though Nigeria is believed to be very critical to the protection of US strategic interests in the Gulf of Guinea.  

Thus the interests of the Maghrebin region are generally inconsistent with those of Black Africa. If there is to be any Permanent Seat for Africa in the foreseeable future, it must be for Africa of Black People. The hallmark of the Arab world’s black African relations is largely inspired by the Arab enslavement of Africa. It was hegemonic mistreatment and this must now be stopped. The seats currently occupied by the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Russia and China were for themselves, for their peoples, and not for Europe, not for Asia and not for the Americas as regions. This is why Africa as a region should be geo-people interpreted and referred to as Africa of the Black people. Whenever the debate on UN reform, and expansion of the UNSC will be renewed, Nigeria is the first, most qualified primus inter pares in the choice of Africa’s representative. Even if one seat is to be conceded, Nigeria is most suitable because of her foreign policy of Africa as centrepiece and protection of black dignity. The case of Morocco is more of concern by virtue of its policy attitude and apparent objective to undermine Nigeria’s foreign policy interest as a regional influential in Africa.

Morocco as an Agent Provocateur

Without doubt, Morocco has generally been an agent provocateur in intra-African  politics. First, an agent provocateur can refer to lingerie, a business outfit in the United Kingdom, but this is not our intended meaning here, it is the French etymological meaning that is intended, that is, a provocative agent. A provocative agent is ‘an undercover agent who instigates or participates in a crime, often by infiltrating a group involved in suspected illegal conducts, to expose and punish criminal activity,’ or ‘any ‘person who entraps or entices another to break the law and then informs against the other as a lawbreaker.’ 

In this regard, an agent provocateur should not be confused with an accomplice because the rules may not be the same. The Malaysian Current legal position has shown that ‘an accused can be convicted on the uncorroborated evidence of agent provocateurs if the court accepts the truth of the evidence’ (vide “Lex: In Breve,” University of Malaya Law Review, 10 March, 2018). In intra-African affairs, Morocco appears to have been more of a centrifugal force, an agent of disunity, an agent of the West to foment trouble in Africa and undermine Nigeria.

A first illustration of this observation is Morocco’s politique de la chaise vide, meaning ‘policy of the open chair.’ It is the act of not taking active part in the activities of an organisation to which one belongs as a measure of protest and with the ultimate objective of obstructing decision-taking. It is a policy meant to undermine policy decision-taking and this is frequent in international relations. The UNSC veto powers engage frequently in this: In the 1960s, Charles de Gaulle of France practised it within the framework of the European Economic Community (EEC). 

For example, when the agreement on Nigeria’s associate membership of the EEC was to be signed in Lagos in 1963, all the members of the Europe of Six were there, including France. While Italy, Germany and the Benelux countries (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg) signed the agreement, France was in attendance but never signed. This was a good manifestation of an open chair policy. 

Since decision-taking was based on the rule of unanimity, France’s non-support or non-voting necessarily put an end to all the efforts made by Nigeria to become an Associate Member of the EEC. Morocco’s membership of the OAU was not different.

Morocco was a pioneer member of the OAU, but apparently did not subscribe to the rule of uti possidetis juris as generally adopted by all African States. Morocco wanted to claim sovereignty over the Western Sahara which had about 74,902 people as at 1974 and an area of 266,000 following the decolonisation of the territory by Spain. True, the Western Sahara is bordered by the Atlantic seaboard to the West, by a long boundary with Mauritania to the South, while it is bordered mainly with Morocco to the North and having a short border with Algeria.

The problem in this case was that the Western Sahara was, indeed, a Spanish colony from 1884 through 1976 and its international boundaries were well delineated in a France-Spain Agreement done in 1912. Following the calls of the United Nations on Spain to decolonise Western Sahara in December 1965, but to no avail, the United Nations’ passed a resolution in 1967 calling on Spain, Mauritania and Morocco to organise a referendum to allow the people determine their own future. This meant little for Morocco as she forcefully retained her control of the territory. In December 1970 and 1973, the United Nations, in its Resolution no. 2983, asked Spain to grant the territory self-determination, but Morocco was never favourably disposed to the idea of self-determination.

And true enough, Morocco sought the consultative opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which responded that the territory was not res nullius, that is, not belonging to no one, as at the time of Spanish colonial conquest, but that there were legal ties of allegiance among the Western Sahara, Mauritania and the Kingdom of Morocco. And, perhaps most importantly, the ICJ made it clear that these allegiances did not imply ‘a claim of territorial sovereignty, nor did they effect the application of the principle of self-determination through the free and genuine expression of the will of the people of the territory.’

In a nutshell, in the same manner of claiming sovereignty over the whole territory of Mauritania and engaging in a war border with Algeria in 1963, the Rabat authorities simply took the battle to the POLISARIO of Western Sahara which was insisting on self-determination. The Saharawi Arab Republic was eventually declared and the OAU gave it official recognition in 1984 which prompted Morocco to withdraw from the organisation and to adopt the open chair policy. The OAU considered the need to avoid the replacement of Spanish, with Moroccan, colonialism. Morocco left the OAU with arrogance and disregard for all other African leaders, but still came back to join the successor organisation, the African Union.

There is also the attempt of Morocco to join the ECOWAS, the membership of which is strictly restricted to West African States. Why should Morocco be seeking membership of the ECOWAS? Mauritania left the ECOWAS to join the Maghreb region. Is it faring well there? Regional integration in North Africa has been largely constrained by Morocco-Algerian political disagreements. Morocco, with her declaration of intent, wanted to export the culture of North Africa to West Africa apparently to challenge Nigeria’s influence in the region, but Nigeria and a few others kicked against it. More so, because Morocco’s membership has the potential to enable the application of the rule of origin to EU products to the ECOWAS region, which, under normal circumstances, should warrant payment of tariffs. But, with Morocco as a member, European products can be channelled through Morocco to the ECOWAS and presented as if they are originally coming from Morocco. Thus, what could not be achieved through the Economic Partnership Agreement can be easily achieved through Morocco’s membership of the ECOWAS.

And most importantly, but disturbingly, is the expected way Morocco is to be used in the US-led NATO war against Russia. It is being contemplated by the United States. It should be recalled that Morocco was used as a transit country for refuelling and attack strategy on 4 July 1976 during Israel’s Operation Entebbe against Uganda. The operation, which was also called Entebbe Raid and Operation Thunderbolt, was a counter-terrorist hostage-rescue mission. On 27 June 1976, an Air France-Airbus A300 jet airliner carrying 248 passengers was high jacked by two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Even though Morocco has tried to be seen as a European country by seeking membership of the European Union, but to no avail, it is still the same unwanted Morocco that is always being used as instrument for the foreign policy of extra-African countries.

Morocco is not only the first African country to send modernised tanks (20 T-72B main battle tanks) to Ukraine but also the first to be considered for use as a staging point in the NATO war against Russia. Besides, two journalists, Omar Radi and Soulaimane were sentenced earlier in January 2023 to six and five years’ imprisonment for criticising the Government. Criticism of government is daily occurrence and Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has apparently taken medicine against steel and is never destabilised. 

The OAU subscribed to the principle of non-alignment with any of the blocks in 1963 and this has been incorporated in the AU Constitutive Act. In fact, at the UNGA vote on condemnation of Russian invasion of Ukraine, most African countries abstained, including Morocco. With the intended use of Morocco as a war theatre against Russia, technically Africa is being made an extended war theatre for which there cannot but be consequences. This is why there is the need to carve out an Africa of black people so that the distinct interests between the Arab and black African worlds can be clearly articulated in such a way that benefits meant to accrue to black Africa will not be diverted to North Africa to borrow the idea of Professor Bolaji Akinyemi. 

Grosso modo, let us recall how a 17-year old Nigerian, Master Joshua Abdul-Azeez, was maltreated by Egypt Air in 2014, how his passport was torn into pieces and denied food for three days after wrongly routing his air ticket. This situation compelled Nigeria’s Minister of State 1 for Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Viola Onwuliri, to summon the Egyptian Ambassador to Nigeria, His Excellency, Ashraf Salama, for explanation. After the explanation, she told him that ‘you (the ambassador) are worried about four pages of newspaper report on the issue, but I am surprised that you are not worried that a Nigerian passport was torn by an official of Egypt Air. I am surprised that you are not worried that a young boy, a Nigerian citizen, was left without food and water by an airline operated by your government. I am really surprised at you Mr. Ambassador’. If we also reckon with the attitude in and role of Morocco to African affairs, and if the same Morocco is to be used as a staging point against Russia in the Russian-Ukraine war, which has the implication of extending the war to Africa, no one can be left in doubt that the interests of the Arab Maghreb and Africa of black people are not the same, despite the pretension that there is need for African integration in its holistic sense. Africa of black people must not be involved in any war as the deterioration of the war is consciously being sustained by the EU and the NATO. The main problem, however, is the double standard in allowing permissible invasions of the US-led NATO, but complaining about the non-permissible invasion of the Russians. Neither is good for Africa of black people. Above all, any contemplation of a Permanent Seat for Africa should be understood as a Seat for Africa of Black People. 

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