Morocco and South Africa: foreign policy is not cast in stone

Stevens Mokgalapa. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Stevens Mokgalapa. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Published Feb 27, 2024


In the last 2023 Afcon showdown, the last football match between Bafana Bafana and the Atlas Lions unveiled on both sides, a deep-seated sportsmanship and a shared passion for the sport, transcending mere competition. The game between the two teams, hailing from nations with tangled intricacies of their current diplomatic relations, demonstrated that beneath the fervour of rivalry lies a unified destiny.

In the realm of international relations, a guiding principle stands as a beacon for decision-making: nations are bound not by unchanging alliances or enmities but by enduring interests. Foreign policy is not cast in stone! This principle dictates that a country's strategic objectives should invariably steer its interactions with others, evaluating each nation based on its inherent merits.

It is in this context that the South African government should be approaching its relationship with Morocco. Mutual trust and understanding between the two countries must be the foundation to restore and develop the bilateral relations in order to eventually contribute to building continental economic integration. They could also reap huge benefits from a stronger concertation on political regional issues, as both serve on the African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security Council and could learn from exchanging notes on their respective rich experiences in this regard.

Morocco’s readmission to the AU on 30 January 2017 signalled a new era in African political power dynamics. Morocco with a population of 36 million people and a solid gross domestic product (GDP), that makes it the 5th largest economy in Africa, is a significant contributor to the AU budget, showing its influence on the continent and abroad.

Morocco's economy has diversified, encompassing sectors from agriculture to information and communication technology (ICT), bolstered by the establishment of several Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Additionally, the country plays a pivotal role in hosting significant sectors of the African Union (AU), including the AU's migration and climate-smart programs. In a recent development, Morocco has been elected as President of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), marking a significant milestone in its international engagement.

Both South Africa and Morocco could play a constructive and progressive role together in shaping the Africa agenda by cooperating and collaboration for mutual benefit and collective advancement of Africa Agenda 2063. There is an urgent need for engagement between the two countries on shared interests including economic, cultural and sport related diplomacy.

Economic diplomacy could assist in enhancing trade between the two countries regarding the importance of the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) which opens doors for Intra African Trade. Additionally, cultural diplomacy can facilitate people to people interaction and promote tourism between the two countries which would unlock potential and foster a deeper understanding of the two nations.

Sport diplomacy is also one of the diplomatic tools that could be used to promote people’s relations. For example, the Moroccan premier league and the South African premier league are two of the best professional football leagues in Africa hence collaboration can improve the quality of football in Africa.

Public diplomacy could also be one of the tools the two countries could utilise to communicate each other’s foreign policy, offering a deeper understanding and clarity of their respective foreign policy positions. Morocco’s leadership of the United Nations Human Rights Council marks a significant stamp of approval for Morocco. Therefore, both countries could collaborate and champion Africa’s human rights issues by highlighting issues like migration, food security, conflict, displacements, and climate change.

BOSA calls on the South African government to show leadership as a credible international actor and positively engage with Morocco to increase cooperation for economic and trade relations and prosperity. There is potential for both countries which are the most industrialised in Africa to work together for the good of AFCFTA. South Africa should support the round tables process led by the UN to reach a political solution regarding the Western Sahara issue in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions. We call for realistic and pragmatist solutions that will guarantee closer cooperation, security and stability in the Maghreb region.

Stevens Mokgalapa is Bosa’s Head of International Relations.

The Star