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[OPINION] How will Cyril Ramaphosa deal with Morocco?

Newly-elected ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa’s plate is overflowing, but that won’t stop Moroccan King Mohammed VI getting all in his face about relations between two countries at opposite ends of Africa.

Expect many alluring offers from the Kingdom that has a history of making promises that it fails to keep.

Hopefully, as a hard-nosed businessman, Ramaphosa will see he should put them on hold.

Morocco is currently looking to join the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which leading member Nigeria has indicated it will oppose.

Flushed with victory after being admitted to the African Union, Morocco is bent on being seen as a major player in Africa.

Customarily this entails hauling out the chequebook to buy what it wants.

According to Morocco’s state media, King Mohammed VI’s meeting at the Africa Union European Union summit in Abidjan with President Jacob Zuma was masterstroke.

There is considerable historical confusion about bilateral relations between Morocco and South Africa.

Playing fast and loose with the truth, Morocco thrives on such confusion.

It likes to talk about Morocco being readmitted to AU. In fact is never was a member of the union.

It walked out of the AU’s predecessor, the Organization of African Unity, when the continental body recognised the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which is a country illegally occupied by Morocco in 1974 and held since then in defiance of the United Nations and the very AU it now belongs to.

So it was not surprising when Morocco humiliatingly failed to prevent the SADR attending the AU/EU summit.

According to South African officials there, King Mohammed was surprised at how vehemently African Nations insisted on the SADR being there.

They believe that the king was simply not informed of this by his officials who are afraid to tell him what they fear he might not want to hear.

So Morocco has become a new member of the AU, despite objections by South Africa and Nigeria.

The new continental body is adamant that the status of the SADR, which is a founder member of the AU, is not in any danger.

South Africa continues strongly to support the AU position that Morocco has to end Africa last colonial vestige and end its occupation of the SADR.

Which makes it amusing that the Rabat regime should talk about upgrading relations with Pretoria.

The fact is, Morocco furiously withdrew its ambassador to South Africa 13 years ago when President Thabo Mbeki’s government finally kept Nelson Mandela’s promise and established diplomatic ties with with the SADR.

The Moroccan embassy still operates in Pretoria, sans ambassador.

There was no talk of readmitting a chief envoy from the kingdom when Zuma saw the king in Abidjan.

The SADR has not objected to that meeting.

However, those who have followed Morocco’s duplicity over Western Sahara feel the timing was unfortunate.

It drew attention away from the Saharawi diplomatic victory of attending a summit with the European Union by making the meeting the story.

The king will seek to capitalise on this by seeking agreement to send an ambassador.

Zuma, for as long as he is president, and Ramaphosa when he takes the reins, should delay this.

Agreement from South Africa should come only once Morocco has at very least stopped seeking to elbow the SADR out of the AU.

Putting the ever-present diplomatic question 'what’s in it for us?' simply reinforces the case for playing a little hardball.

Morocco has nothing to offer South Africa.

The idea of a north-south axis at the two ends of Africa is already being pursued by Algeria and Tunisia.

Morocco is not an economic power.

Its diplomatic influence as a haven of stability in the Islamic world is fast being eroded.

This leaves it with nothing more on the table that oranges, dagga and bit of tourism.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime lists Morocco as the largest dagga exporter on the planet.

The US Drug Enforcement Agency calls it the largest supplier of dagga to Europe.

Hardly worth selling one’s principles for.

So, hamba kancane, Mr President.

Jean-Jacques Cornish is an Africa correspondent at Eyewitness News. Follow him on Twitter: @jjcornish

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