Could any Arab, African and Muslim-majority country become a developed country without vast natural resources? There is at least one country that is trying hard to achieve this goal.
By Veeramalla Anjaiah
Morocco, a rising star in Africa, is like a European country where all of its trains, trams, buses, flights and ferries run on time. Morocco, apparently, has many mysteries. Few people realize that it has been rapidly emerging as a new powerhouse in Africa.
Geographically it is very close to Europe, just across the Gibraltar Strait, some 14 kilometers from Spain. One can see the lights of Europe at night.
It launched a satellite called the Mohammed-6B designed for earth observation in November 2018, a rare thing for any African country.
Morocco has become the first African country to have a high-speed train, “Al Boraq” connecting Tangier to Casablanca. Morocco spent US$2 billion building the high-speed train system in which trains can travel up to 300 km per hour. It is also the first country in Africa to source almost 40 percent of its energy needs from solar power. It has built several major solar plants, including a 580 MW power plant in Ourzazate, with an investment of $9 billion to produce 2,000 MW of solar energy by 2020.
Morocco, which means “The West” in Arabic, is the number one-competitive economy in North Africa. The country has made many new strides in improving its investment climate. It is indeed a strategic hub for trade and investment between Europe and Africa on one side and between North America and the Middle East on the other.
Further adding shine to its economy, Morocco is ranked 60th in the latest 2019 World Bank Ease of Doing Business report, jumping nine places from 69 in 2017.
Unlike so many of its Arab peers, Morocco does not have oil resources. Most of the country’s 710,850-sq.km area comprises mountains and the Sahara. It has 75 percent of the world’s phosphate reserves, Of course, it also has a 1,835-km coastline and is a superpower in processing and exporting sardines.
Most of its exports go to European countries. Many European investors have been using Morocco as a new manufacturing hub located right next door to Europe.
Over all, Morocco is on the right trajectory to become an international financial and manufacturing hub as well as a developed country in the future.
In an effort to elevate itself from a lower middle-income country (GDP per capita of $3,007.24 in 2017) to a developed country, Morocco recently decided to use the French language in schools to acquire knowledge about maths, science and technology, despite strong opposition from religious groups.
It is said that, nowadays, world leaders are in a queue to visit the rising Morocco. Recently French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prince Harry and his wife Duchess Meghan Markle and many Asian as well as African leaders have visited Morocco. Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Morocco by end of this month.
The North African country, which was a former French protectorate (from 1912 to 1956), under King Mohammed VI during the last 20 years has undergone a dramatic change to emerge as one of the most advanced nations in Africa. Its achievements in many fields are amazing.
King Mohammed ascended to the throne on July 23, 1999, after his father King Hassan II’s death. The young King is a visionary and a smart leader. He anticipated the trouble from the 2011 Arab Spring and took several drastic measures to fulfil the democratic aspirations of Moroccan people, sheltering Morocco from the wrath of the violent Arab uprising.
Morocco is the biggest constitutional monarchy with a multiparty political system in the Arab world.
Almost all of the 36 million people, 43 percent of whom are below 24 years of age, in Morocco are moderate Muslims who speak fluent Arabic and French. More than 60 percent of Moroccans live in urban areas.
Its economy, which is hugely diversified and modernized with the latest technology and continuous economic reforms, has outperformed several regional heavyweights in several fields.
For example, Morocco has emerged as one of the fastest growing automotive hubs in the world in a short period of time.
According to the well-respected The Wall Street Journal newspaper, Morocco has emerged as Africa’s number-one producer of passenger vehicles. In 2017, Morocco produced 345,000 cars, more than South Africa’s 331,000 vehicles.
Moroccan GDP has been constantly growing for many years, thanks to its geographical proximity to Europe and the rest of Africa, the liberalization of the economy and a continuous flow of foreign direct investment. Its GDP was a mere US$2.03 billion in 1960 but it jumped to a record $118.2 billion in 2018. With a healthy growth of 4.1 percent in 2017 and 3.0 percent in 2018, the Moroccan economy, which is the fifth-largest in Africa and 56th biggest in the world, may be worth $130 billion in 2019 at current prices. Its GDP power purchasing parity is estimated to be $358.7 billion in 2019.
The Moroccan economy’s main strengths are agriculture, tourism, mining, manufacturing industries — including textiles, automotive and aeronautics — the ICT sector and diaspora remittances.
In a recent study on emerging markets, Atradius, a leading company in international trade credit insurance, identified Morocco, Peru, Indonesia, Bulgaria and Vietnam as promising emerging markets in the world. Morocco was selected mainly because of its strong investment growth, massive infrastructure spending and growing manufacturing sectors.
“Morocco is improving thanks to a cyclical upturn in agriculture production, as well as strong non-agricultural growth, especially in the manufacturing sector supported by increasing government investment,” the study said.
In tourism also, it is outperforming the former number-one tourism destination in Africa, South Africa, with a record 12.3 million international tourists in 2018, up 8 percent from 2017’s figures. South Africa received 10.5 million foreign tourists in 2018. Many tour operators in South Africa are scratching their heads as to the reasons as to why Morocco has been able to defeat South Africa two years in a row?
Morocco, which has incredible beauty and is a melting pot of Arabic, Berber, Arab, African and French influences, has an ancient civilization that is more than 1,000 years old. Moroccans are a hospitable people and they have the most mouth-watering cuisine in the region. Moreover, it is the safest place in Africa. Now Morocco, has set a target of receiving 20 million foreign tourists by next year. Marrakech, a leading tourist destination in Morocco, has been designated as African capital of culture for 2020.
The key to Morocco’s success on the international stage is its independent and sovereign foreign policy. It maintains very good relations with all major powers in the world.
Morocco is an old friend of the US; the two countries signed the US-Morocco Treaty of Friendship in 1787. In 2004 Morocco became the only African country to sign a free trade agreement (FTA) with the US. In the past few weeks, the US State Department gave approval for Morocco to purchase new F-16 fighter jets and other defense equipment worth $4.8 billion to upgrade its air fleet because the US regards Morocco as “a major non-NATO ally”.
Under its 2004 European Neighborhood Policy, the European Union (EU) recognizes Morocco as a privileged partner and a trusted neighbor in the field of political and economic cooperation as well as trade and technical and development cooperation. This relationship was elevated by the Advanced Status Agreement in 2006. The EU is Morocco’s biggest trading partner as well as investor.
Being an Arab state, Morocco has maintained close relations with Arab countries and members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Morocco has strengthened its close economic relations with China, India, Japan, South Korea and Indonesia in recent years.
As a staunch supporter of free trade, Morocco has so far signed FTAs with 55 countries.
After a 33-year hiatus over the issue of Western Sahara, King Mohammed VI decided to rejoin the African Union (AU) in 2017. Since then, most African countries have shown a great deal of enthusiasm in fostering a strong relationship with Morocco.
Becoming a developed nation for an African and Arab country will be a daunting task. But the reformist and progressive King Mohammed is determined to build a modern Morocco that is economically strong and advanced in science and technology.
“Today, we are witnessing the dawn of a new revolution – one in which we seek to rise to the challenge of completing the construction of modern Morocco; a revolution through which we aim to give Moroccans the place they deserve in life, especially our young people, whom I always regarded as the country’s true wealth,” the King said recently at a meeting.
Morocco has been training its youngsters in business, education, agriculture, and science and technology for the last two decades. Some 500,000 small and medium enterprises are operating in the country. Morocco is on the right path at the right time.