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Starting afresh: The Maghreb’s relations with sub-Saharan Africa

30-04-2018

Tasnim Abderrahim and Faten Aggad, ECDPM paper, April 2018

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The readmission of Morocco to the African Union (AU), last year, was a very significant moment for Africa. Following its return to the AU, the North African country announced its bid to join the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which is indicative of its interest in consolidating its presence in sub-Saharan Africa.

This comes at a time when the Maghreb region in general is seeking to rekindle its so-far ignored foreign policy towards the rest of the continent. Algeria, which has a long history of engagement in African security affairs has set off on a long journey towards intensifying the traditionally neglected economic ties with the rest of the continent by seeking stronger commercial exchanges with countries of east Africa. Tunisia has followed a similar path as it recently obtained an observer status with ECOWAS and is expected to join the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

In this discussion paper we explore the factors driving this shift in policy; inadequate regional cooperation in the Maghreb, the events of the ‘Arab Spring’ and their heavy toll on the economy, faltering commodity prices, mounting regional security concerns, and the pursuit of geostrategic influence. However, despite the apparent race to cosy up to the rest of the continent, the depth of the relationship varies from country to country in the Maghreb. Ultimately, geopolitics – be it the pursuit of economic opportunities or vying for political influence across sub-Saharan Africa – are likely to further stimulate the interest in looking further south.

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Photo courtesy of Victor via Flickr.

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African institutionsRegional IntegrationDiscussion Papers (series)AfricaNorth Africa