Funding banks, brokers, and company organisation charts normally classify Morocco as a part of the Center East and north Africa, or MENA — reflecting the nation’s robust cultural, linguistic and historic hyperlinks with the Center East. However Saïd Ibrahimi, chief government of Casablanca Finance Metropolis, launched in 2010 to assist promote Morocco as a “gateway” to funding in Africa, insists that pondering is fallacious.
“We’re extra African than we’re Center Japanese,” he states unequivocally, rejecting your entire notion of sub-Saharan Africa as anachronistic. “Africa should belief Africa,” he says, quoting a 2014 speech in Abidjan during which Morocco’s King Mohammed VI made a dedication to strengthen ties with the continent.
Funding has risen considerably since that speech, which was adopted, in 2017, by Morocco’s accession to the African Union following a 33-year absence from Africa’s primary diplomatic bloc after a dispute over Western Sahara.
Morocco’s overseas direct funding into Africa has risen from some $100mn in 2014 to greater than $800mn in 2021, by which era 43 per cent of its whole FDI went to the continent, based on the finance ministry. That makes Morocco the second-largest African investor within the continent after South Africa, and the biggest in west Africa, a lot of which is French-speaking.
Moroccan enterprise pursuits throughout the continent are intensive.
Attijariwafa Financial institution, Banque Centrale Populaire and Financial institution of Africa, all headquartered in Casablanca, control greater than a fifth of banking property in west Africa. OCP Group, the state-owned phosphate and fertiliser producer, operates in 16 African international locations exterior Morocco. Maroc Telecom has operations in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Togo and the Central African Republic.
“Moroccan corporations are already investing loads in Africa,” says Ouns Lemseffer, accomplice and co-head of francophone Africa for Clifford Likelihood, a global legislation agency, including that she expects the development to proceed.
Commerce has been way more patchy, nevertheless. Europe nonetheless accounts for about two-thirds of Moroccan exports, a dominant place that has been bolstered by fast-rising automotive exports. Moroccan exports to sub-Saharan Africa have grown steadily, however unspectacularly: they nonetheless accounted for less than 6 per cent of the overall in 2021, based on the World Bank.
Imports from sub-Saharan Africa are far decrease nonetheless, at lower than 1 per cent of the nation’s whole. Morocco has complete, preferential commerce agreements with Europe, the US, Turkey and others which, in impact, penalise imports from Africa. However the enjoying area ought to step by step stage after Morocco ratified the African Continental Free Commerce Space treaty final yr, and as tariff obstacles with different African international locations proceed to fall.
The comparatively pallid commerce efficiency inside Africa international locations highlights the chance of playing on a continent whose financial prospects have pale lately. Progress in each Nigeria and South Africa, theoretically Africa’s twin financial engines, has crawled to a halt. In the meantime, many different international locations have been hit arduous by Covid. Not solely has the common progress charge slowed in lots of African international locations, however debt ranges have climbed, elevating the prospect of a renewed debt disaster.
Some French-speaking west African international locations, the place Moroccan investments are closely concentrated, have suffered, though Senegal, Ivory Coast and Togo have continued to develop fairly quick. In some, financial downturn has contributed to political instability: no fewer than six states within the area — Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Gabon — have had coups up to now three years.
“It’s uncertain that political instability is sweet for enterprise,” Ibrahimi concedes. “We perceive that there is likely to be some worry from worldwide companies. However Morocco is admittedly invested, and we don’t really feel that such instability can cease the way in which we’re approaching the continent. We’re a rustic with a plan, and we’ve a long-term imaginative and prescient.”
Different African international locations, together with Egypt and Ethiopia, have been invited to change into members of the Brics: the coalition of growing international locations made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Morocco has explicitly rejected the thought of becoming a member of, although. With its dependence on Europe as a market, Rabat has proven little curiosity in choosing sides in a fracturing geopolitical panorama. “We’re extra of a bridge than a wall,” says Ibrahimi.
One ingredient of that bridge is Casablanca Finance Metropolis, an financial improvement zone the place greater than 200 worldwide corporations are registered. In addition to tax breaks, establishing in Casablanca provides potential corporations a well-developed authorized, monetary and regulatory system examined in lots of African markets, and direct flights to greater than 20 African cities by way of Royal Air Maroc.
Boston Consulting Group manages its Africa apply from Casablanca. Town can be the francophone Africa headquarters for Huawei, the Chinese language telecoms companies and manufacturing firm.
Mustapha Mourahib, managing accomplice at Clifford Likelihood’s Casablanca workplace, says: “We made the choice to open an workplace in Casablanca based mostly on varied standards. We wanted political stability, a rustic present process progress and financial improvement and the place the regulatory regime and regulatory authorities are refined.”
Even so, Casablanca has competitors from different cities in its bid to change into the African headquarters for world companies. Cape City, Johannesburg, Nairobi and Mauritius are amongst its greatest rivals. In west Africa, Dakar and Accra are additionally establishing enterprise clusters.
Sanjeev Gupta, government director for monetary companies on the Africa Finance Company, a pan-African infrastructure financial institution based mostly in Nigeria, reckons the Gulf metropolis Dubai could also be Casablanca’s most formidable adversary.
“They’re making an attempt their greatest, however it’s arduous to compete with Dubai, which has hyperlinks to just about each nation on the earth and which is in the perfect timezone between Asia and Europe,” he says.
Nonetheless, Hakim Khelifa, senior accomplice at Africinvest, a personal fairness outfit specialising in Africa, says this agency made a minimum of two investments initially in Morocco earlier than increasing operations into different African international locations, together with Senegal and Kenya.
“The Moroccans are trying south,” says Khelifa. That makes the nation a pure jumping-off level, he believes, for these trying in the identical course.