Over the weekend, Morocco became the first African country to make it to the semi-finals of the World Cup. But that wasn’t their only first: just a few days ago Morocco agreed to supply spare tank parts to Kyiv.
This also makes them the first African nation to provide military assistance to Ukraine.
Since the start of Russia’s invasion, Morocco has strived to maintain a detached position, avoiding decisive diplomatic or financial measures to one or the other side. In March, when the UN General Assembly met to pass a resolution condemning Putin’s military operation, Morocco absented itself.
So their agreement to send equipment may have come as a surprise to some.
But, as Professor Jamal Machrouh noted in an interview with Institut Montaigne, the nuance of Morocco’s stance should be given more credit. Absenting is not the same as abstention – which is taken as a more decisive practice. Morocco’s absence from the UN votes, “should not be seen as a mark of indifference towards the question under debate,” says Machrouh.
In fact, on the same day it was first absent from the General Assembly – March 2nd – Morocco released a statement that “Morocco’s non-participation cannot be the subject of any interpretation in relation to its principled position regarding the situation between the Russian Federation and Ukraine”.
Morocco’s Stake in the Ukrainian War
Firstly, Morocco is Europe’s biggest partner in the Maghreb, making it important for Ukraine’s Western allies to secure decisive support from Morocco. The US, in particular, has been putting pressure on its “major strategic ally” to take a clearer stance in the conflict – it was US officials who convinced Rabat to transfer the spare parts for T-72 tanks to Ukraine.
On the other hand, Morocco’s economy is also pretty involved with Russia. Rabat is a major recipient of Russian exports, including cereals, machinery, cosmetics, food products, commercial vehicles and hydrocarbon derivatives.
And vice versa, Morocco also exports a variety of foodstuffs and chemicals to Moscow. The Kingdom of Morocco is Russia’s main trading partner in Africa, with the overall trade balance between the two sitting at $1.6 billion.
The war in Ukraine has wreaked havoc on oil and wheat prices – two products Morocco relies significantly on imports for. And because Europe receives almost 60% of Morocco’s total exports, the economic chaos in the region does spell trouble for their trade network.
More broadly, Morocco’s shifting policy on the Ukrainian conflict is emblematic of the underlying tensions many African and Arabic nations face in participating in ‘global’ politics. The colonial legacy in these regions makes many countries reluctant to actively support a ‘Western cause’, especially in geopolitical institutions set up and influenced by their historical oppressors.
Russia also has quite a bit of influence across the African continent, through arms supply lines and mercenaries, complicating the issue further. Regional skirmishes can also play a role – for example, Morocco has been locked in the ongoing conflict in the Western Sahara with its neighbour Algeria. Algeria is a long-term ally of Russia.
It’s a delicate balance, and hopefully Morocco’s latest decision will prove to be a positive one, throwing more support behind international backlash against Russia’s abhorrent actions.
But as Prof Machrouh warns, “developing countries could quickly become collateral damage of the war in Ukraine as they do not have the same capacity for resilience built through alliances as more powerful countries do.”
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