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Signs of an Emerging France-Algeria-Tunisia Axis to Restrain Morocco by Samir Bennis



The three countries appear to be rallying around a shared goal of countering Morocco’s growing diplomatic assertiveness at both the regional and worldwide levels.

Washington DC – In a speech he gave last November, King Mohammed VI emphatically laid out what good diplomatic relations with Morocco require or entail.  Rabat, the King insisted,  will not enter any trade deals with countries that hold ambiguous or hostile positions regarding its territorial integrity.

He confirmed this in the speech he gave last week, and it is already showing which countries are friendly to Morocco and which are opposed to its strategic interests.

The high-level reception with which Tunisian President Kais Saied honored the leader of the Separatist Polisario Front is a strong indication of Tunisia’s (newfound) stance on the Sahara dispute.

While the Tunisian Foreign Affairs Ministry has since tried to play down the political significance of President Saied’s gesture, lavishing on the Polisario chief honors traditionally reserved for a visiting head of state is perhaps to date the best evidence that Tunisia has chosen its side in the complex Western Sahara saga. It has joined the ever-irrelevant — though unceasingly active and vocal — axis of countries supporting the Algerian regime’s agenda of opposing Moroccan territorial integrity.

It, therefore, seems that Morocco has yet again entered a crucial and very sensitive phase in its efforts to settle the Western Sahara question. Underlying the apparent resurgence of this anti-Morocco axis is that the diplomatic breakthroughs that Rabat has achieved in the past few years have started to annoy some countries that Moroccans used to look to as allies and friendly states.

There is no doubt that the Tunisian president’s move, which amounts to a de facto acknowledgment of the Polisario’s fictitious state, was a shock to the Moroccan people. To Morocco, President Saied’s gesture was nothing short of a betrayal: of the historical, social, and cultural ties binding the friendship of the Moroccan and Tunisian peoples; and of the traditionally strong diplomatic ties between Rabat and Tunis.

The best demonstration of these ties was King Mohammed VI’s visit to Tunisia in 2014. Traveling to what he called a “sisterly nation” amid post-Arab Spring turmoil characterized by a spate of vicious terrorist attacks in Tunis and elsewhere in the country, the Moroccan monarch roamed the streets of the Tunisian capital in a show of fraternal support to a people that needed a morale boost to embark on the perilous journey of a political transition.

The goal of the visit was to send a strong message to the international community: That Tunisia was fine, and that it was stable despite those attacks. The visit was well received by the Tunisian people.

Throughout the past decades, whether in the era of Habib Bourguiba, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Moncef El Marzouki, or Beji Caid Essebsi, Tunisia has strived to stay neutral in the Western Sahara dossier, notably by distancing itself from any action that could sour its relations with  Morocco.

The broader context of the Polisario leader’s visit to Tunisia – the escalating Rabat-Algiers tensions, King Mohammed VI’s remarks about the centrality of the Sahara to Morocco, and France‘s Emmanuel Macron visit to Algeria amid Paris-Rabat tensions —  – points to the birth of a trilateral Algerian-French-Tunisian alliance aiming to further prolong the Western Sahara conflict and stand in the way of Morocco’s widely applauded and increasingly successful efforts to close this file.

Signs and Motives of the Emerging Anti-Rabat Axis 

The signs of this alliance started showing more than a year ago. Perhaps one of the most important was Tunisia’s abstaining from voting on a Security Council resolution concerning the Sahara last October.

That abstention upended the tradition that Arab countries have upheld since the late sixties, a tradition whereby Arab members of the UN Security Council typically strive to vote for decisions that enjoy wide support from other Arab countries.

Put differently, Arab countries sitting on the UN Security Council have continuously voted in favor of resolutions concerning the Western Sahara dispute. Even Algeria itself voted for “relevant” Security Council resolutions when it was a member of the UN body in 2004 and 2005.

Tunisia’s abstention was thus crucial as a sign that President Saied’s regime has become an appendage of the Algeria regime, working faithfully to implement its agenda. The first sign of Tunisian-Algerian convergence and President Saied’s resolve to align with Algeria at the cost of  Tunisia’s decades-long neutrality on the Sahara question was his decision to make Algeria the destination of his first official visit abroad as president in February 2020.

During President Saied’s visit, the Algerian regime eagerly announced its decision to deposit $150 million in the Central Bank of Tunisia in the form of a grant that could help Tunisia facilitate payments for access to Algerian gas.

The visit was thus a telling declaration of intentions from both the Tunisian and Algerian regimes, who have ever since appeared to be striving to deepen bilateral ties to form a Maghrebi bloc to undermine Morocco’s strategic interests.

Responding to Tunisia’s President’s nicety, Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune visited  Tunisia in December 2021. During that visit, he granted Tunisia a $300 million (MAD 3.2 billion) loan to help it overcome its dire economic crisis.

High-level visits between the two countries continued, with the latest being a visit by Algerian Foreign Minister, Ramtane Lamaamra last June, and he too was welcomed by President Kais Saied.

While Tunisia secured financial and political support from the Algerian regime, France rushed to support Saied politically and give him the legitimacy he lacked at the domestic level.

France’s support was on display during the meeting that the French Ambassador to Tunisia held with the country’s Foreign Minister in January, when he stressed Paris’s commitment to supporting the Tunisian regime’s efforts to secure loans from the International Monetary Fund.

He also expressed France’s support for Saied’s efforts to “strengthen democracy and the rule of law” in Tunisia.

Conversely, Moroccan-Tunisian relations entered a period of unprecedented stagnation and a nearly total absence of communication between the countries’ high-level officials. One major evidence of this stagnation was the fact that it took the Tunisian president two years and three months to receive Morocco’s ambassador Hassan Tariq. The Moroccan diplomat was only able to present his credentials in January.

Neither did Tunisia’s President respond to the invitation that King Mohammed VI extended to him in January 2020 to visit Morocco.

Tunisia’s decision and Moroccan-French tensions

Tunisia’s decision to host the Polisario chief should also be analyzed in relation to simmering tensions between Morocco and France over the past four years, which deepened when the United States recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over the Sahara.

While France has ostensibly supported Morocco at the UN Security Council in the past 15 years, that support was never absolute, nor did it translate into a genuine desire to undo the damage France inflicted on Morocco’s territorial integrity at the height of Europe’s struggle for Morocco’s spoils in the early 20th century.

France has simply kept using the same phrase over the past decade, stressing that Morocco’s Autonomy Plan is a “serious” and “reliable” basis on which the parties to the Sahara dispute could build a lasting political solution.

This stance has come at no political risk for France, for while it has appeared to be supportive of Morocco, Paris has made sure to never take a position that could alienate Algeria. France has thus labored to keep its strategic interests in Algeria unscathed while paying lip service to Morocco’s territorial integrity.

At the same time, preserving this half-hearted French support has come at a great economic cost for Morocco over the past 15 years. To please France and maintain its symbolic support of the Moroccan Autonomy Plan, Morocco was forced to give it preferential treatment by granting French companies the lion’s share of huge infrastructure projects in the country over the past two decades.

But Morocco has increasingly taken steps to diversify its diplomatic base, and France’s erstwhile monopolistic economic interests in the kingdom have appeared to be on shaky grounds since Morocco secured the US recognition of its sovereignty over Western Sahara.

One could safely argue that the US recognition was a shocking blow that took the French political class off guard. It came at a time when Morocco was visibly growing weary of France’s double-speak and its apparent lack of genuine desire to end the Sahara dispute.

It also came as relations between Paris and Rabat had witnessed several bouts of tensions since 2014. Morocco had undertaken to curtail French dominance over its economy and to chart its own path both at the domestic and international levels. Not only has Morocco sought to diminish France’s stranglehold over its economy, but it has also sought to compete with Paris in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially in West Africa where Morocco is now among the most important foreign investors.

If France was truly serious about its support of Morocco’s Autonomy Plan, the political atmosphere could not have been more ideal to unambiguously say so after the US recognition. Yet, instead of following in the steps of the US — and Spain, more recently — France has chosen to look the other way, thus conveying a clear message about its eagerness to prolong the dispute in order to protect its economic position in Morocco.

Over the past decade, Morocco has given clear signs of its intention to break free from France’s stranglehold over its economy. The country has done so by diversifying and strengthening its strategic partnerships with China, Russia, India, Brazil, Japan, and South Korea.

Naturally, this Moroccan “rebellion” does not sit well with France, where the political and media elite have grown accustomed to regarding  Morocco as an exclusively Frenchs backyard.

For the French political establishment, this paradigm shift in Paris-Rabat relations, especially Morocco’s persistence to be treated as an equal partner based on the principles of mutual respect for strategic interests, is an unacceptable and intolerable development.

From the neo-colonial perspective of the French elite, Morocco is but a peripheral state that should remain within France’s sphere of influence, toe the Francafrique lines, and obey Paris’s diktats. Every Moroccan move to break this paradigm is considered a crime of lese-majesty that ought to be nipped in the bud.

The signs of France’s annoyance with Morocco’s new direction started showing when it took Spain’s side during the migration crisis in May 2021, in the midst of a Madrid-Rabat diplomatic crisis that eventually pitted Morocco against the European Union.

The French stance was in contradiction with the supposedly strong Franco-Moroccan relations. In particular, France’s support for Spain was in stark contrast to former French President Jacques Chirac’s endorsement of Morocco during the Perejil Island crisis in July 2002. Taking Morocco’s side against Spain, Chirac had sought to preserve what he saw as a deep-rooted and profoundly strategic “Franco-Moroccan friendship.” The second sign of French discontent at Morocco’s growing diplomatic assertiveness could be the French government’s decision to lower the number of visas issued to Moroccan citizens by 50%. In a bid to fend off suggestions that the visa move was primarily and specifically targeted at Morocco, France added Algeria and Tunisia to the visa restriction list.

In an equally preemptive gesture, Paris claimed that the decision to slash the number of visas annually issued to Moroccans was due to  Morocco’s “refusal to cooperate” on the repatriation of Moroccan nationals illegally established in France. Instead, the main reason for the visa move was that, in addition to being displeased with Morocco’s efforts to diversify its strategic partnerships, Paris was increasingly exasperated with Rabat’s constant pressure to clarify its position on the Western Sahara dispute. Another contributing factor is that Morocco has prevented French companies from securing the kind of important, large economic deals that they had traditionally felt entitled to in the North African country.

This included the Dakhla port project, which Morocco’s government has assigned to a Moroccan company. More recently, there have also been signs that France will not be in charge of building a high-speed rail line between Marrakech and Agadir.

All of this shows that French influence will dwindle more in Morocco, as the kingdom shifts more toward forging strategic partnerships from a pragmatic standpoint of mutual benefits.

King Mohammed VI’s speech last week underlined that Morocco intends to continue with its policy built on demanding its traditional allies clearly acknowledge the Moroccanness of the Sahara.

This especially applies to France for playing a major, historical role in laying the groundwork for the start of the Sahara dispute at the beginning of the 20th century, when it divided Morocco up and gave Spain control of the kingdom’s southern provinces when it was still an independent country.

France seems to have received the royal speech’s clear message, which might be a sign of new chapters in the tumultuous relationship between Paris and Rabat. With bilateral relations, there is a high probability that the fabricated video that has been shared since August 24 might have actually been the doing of French intelligence.

France has chosen its camp

President Macron’s recent visit to Algeria after his election for a second term can be considered a sign that France has picked a side in the decades-long Algeria-Morocco rivalry, and that it no longer looks at Morocco as a strategic partner or “political twin.” Additionally, France could work through the alliance it formed with Algeria and Tunisia – who have not rebelled against its political and economic dominance – to undermine every effort Morocco makes to settle the Sahara dispute.

France is well aware that, unlike Algeria and Tunisia where the political regimes suffer from fragility and illegitimacy, Morocco’s political system is built on strong foundations.

The most important of these foundations is the pledge of allegiance between the people and their king, as well as their attachment to the monarchy. The King and People’s Revolution of August 1953 and the political turbulence that followed for two years are the best evidence of the Moroccan people’s loyalty to the monarchy and the sanctity of the pledge of allegiance that ties it to its legitimate kings. This is the best evidence of the failures of the various attempts by France to create a regime that follows its influence, obeys its orders, and serves its interests.

France’s stubbornness and its refusal to support Morocco’s efforts to resolve the Western Sahara dispute stems from its entrenched conviction that Morocco has all the necessary foundations to get rid of its dependence on French influence. For Paris, should Morocco succeed in ending the Sahara conflict in its favor, it would set its sights on reviving the historical role it played before colonialism and again become a link between the Arab World and Africa with the rest of the world.

As France still indulges in its imperialist mindset, with its leaders have failed to make peace with the fact that nations’ histories change and that no status quo is eternal, they maintain the hope of maintaining the century-long influence that France has enjoyed in the Maghreb.

The post-colonial ambitions of France clash with the ambitions of a state like Morocco, which is working to occupy “the position it deserves” in world affairs while diversifying its diplomatic connections and preserving its territorial integrity. As France’s elitist and expansionist mindset considers Morocco as a rebellious satellite state that needs to be put in its place, it will work on building an alliance with two illegitimate regimes to serve its interests and obstruct all efforts by Morocco to get rid of the consequences of French occupation.

It goes without saying that countering this intricate, emerging anti-Morocco axis requires the mobilization of all the political, economic, strategic, and human assets Morocco can — and should — muster to preserve its recent, wide-ranging diplomatic breakthroughs and defend its territorial integrity.

Strictly Personal

Zambia’s Fiscal Dilemma, State Compensation Ethics and Treasury Stability, By Misheck Kakonde



The recent judgments overseen by the Attorney General in compensating individuals like Hon. Mwaliteta, Hon. Frank Tayali, Mr. William Banda, and the late Mapenzi a case that should be treated separately raise pertinent concerns. These compensations, while important to acknowledge, have led to substantial payouts from the state treasury, prompting a critical evaluation of their judiciousness.

It is essential to recognize that these compensations do not originate from personal accounts, be it President Hakainde Hichilema’s savings or those of the Attorney General and associated lawyers. They derive from public funds, necessitating prudent management to safeguard the state’s financial health. President Hichilema’s prior observation regarding the nation’s empty coffers adds weight to the significance of responsible fiscal governance.

The present scenario demands intervention from the President to prevent an unchecked depletion of the state treasury. While acknowledging the importance of compensations, there’s a call for the Attorney General to negotiate more reasonable amounts in these consent judgments. The substantial sums being awarded arguably exceeding what’s reasonable ought to be revised downwards, ideally to around K200,000 or lower. Unless in the loss of less of mapenzi, Vespers and many more, their life has no amount to be attached and it is hard even for me to attach a price, may their souls continue resting in peace and those involved are investigated and prosecuted. Such a move would prevent the disproportionate drain of state funds due to payments to a select few individuals.

The Attorney General holds the crucial responsibility of representing Zambian interests and should not succumb to undue pressure from a minority seeking exorbitant compensations. Their role necessitates negotiations for fair consent agreements that safeguard the nation’s fiscal stability.

However, within the confines of consent judgments, wherein both parties cannot appeal, the flexibility for direct alteration is limited. Yet, there exists a possibility for future generations to revisit these decisions through legal means, reassessing their impact on the Zambian treasury. Therefore, the Attorney general and President Hichilema should appreciate this truth.

This situation emphasizes the need for checks and balances to ensure the judicious use of state funds. The Attorney General’s role should extend beyond mere legal representation, incorporating a broader responsibility of safeguarding the nation’s financial interests. President Hichilema’s intervention can steer a course correction, addressing the trend of excessively high compensations that strain the state treasury.

Ultimately, this scenario underscores the delicate balance between honouring just compensations and ensuring responsible fiscal management—a balance that requires prudent negotiation and oversight to protect the interests of all Zambians.

The author is a legal scholar, comparative politics specialist, History and Cultural Studies, expertise in international relations, negotiation, and protocol (ZIDIS).

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Strictly Personal

There is more worth in what is public than in what is private, By Jenerali Uliwengu 



A conversation I have been having with my compatriots can suffer some escalation to the regional level, especially because our different countries have had largely similar experiences in many respects.

In the 1960s, Dar es Salaam had a more or less efficient bus transport service, run by the Dar es Salaam Motor Transport Company (DMT) organised along lines not dissimilar to the London metropolitan bus service. The city service once even boasted double-deck buses, immortalised in the Kilwa Jazz song, Kifo cha Penzi ni Kifo Kibaya.

The buses ran on strict timelines, and when a bus scheduled to pass by a stop at 7.15 came at 7.20 people waiting at the stop would be seen impatiently looking at their watches.

Some of us in the media would take the matter up as soon as we got to our newsrooms to ask of the transport company officials why our bus had delayed a full five minutes on a working day.

By 1983, the company had been nationalised and called Usafiri Dar es Salaam (UDA) and soon acquired the distinctive Ikarus articulated buses manufactured in Hungary, but soon even thy ran out of steam because of the usual, multifaceted problems attaching to public owned institutions.

Around that time, then prime minister Edward Moringe Sokoine decided to bring in minibuses operating in Arusha and Moshi to rescue Dar es Salaam “temporarily, while the government is making plans for a permanent solution” to the problem.

From that period, it is only now that Dar es Salaam is beginning to see what looks like that “permanent solution” with the introduction of the Dar es Salaam Rapid Transport (Dart), which was initiated by a former mayor, the late Kleist Sykes.

Political skulduggery

It was delayed for so many years due to political skulduggery and the inevitable corruption in all our public institutions.

In the meantime, a former transport minister, Harrison Mwakyembe, had the rare presence of mind to remember that the city had had, since colonial times, railway tracks linking different districts but which lay fallow; he took action, and this initiative — which created what has come to be dubbed as “Mwakyembe’s train” — has contributed to the easing of the transit system congestion, but only just, because of issues such as the infrequency of train rides and the lack of security lights, ventilation and so on.

As it is right now, the Dar Rapid Transit is hobbling along, packing the human press the way you would pack cattle if you are not a keen meat seller.

Surely, our people deserve better than that, and the so-called “Mwakyembe train” needs replication in other parts of the city, as I suspect, there are many other fallow railway tracks waiting for some smart alecks to collect them and sell them as scrap metal.

Amidst all this, we have young people with hardly an income to speak of dying to own and drive a personal car, not for anything else but that owning a personal car makes them “somebody.”

What I have been telling them is, you do not have to own a car to be somebody; you are somebody because you are a useful member of society, and, surely, if you are predicating your personality on ownership of material things, you’re not.

What our young people — including not-so-young people, like me — should be doing is to militate for public transport to be expanded, and for it to work well; that is what they do in Europe and the US. The collaborative cries should be for Dar rapid service to improve: This past week, I was in the Coast region and wanted to ride on the service, only to be told by the bored girl at the stop that they had no tickets. Shame!
I understand there is too much red-tape restrictions in the processes attaching to getting more buses run by private operators. If that is so, what are the myriad officials running around like headless chickens doing?

Luxury cars

Why are they paid all the big salaries and allowed to drive such luxury cars if they cannot do a repeat “Mwakyembe train,” increase buses, and ensure tickets are available for rapid-transit bus rides?

These should be the issues our young people have to be fighting for not driving their cars, except if they belong to the Diamond Platmuz or Ali Kiba cohort.

With an efficient public transit system, we all become part-owners of our collective means of transport.

The opposite of that is when you forget what a car is for and you begin to think like the backward tribesman for whom the car is a mystical contraption which confers miraculous powers on the owner and driver, a far cry from the evolved, modern citizen.

Unfortunately, I know I am preaching to the unhearing, but this should not discourage anyone.

In the fullness of time, the message will sink home when the hordes of the lumpen motorcar realise they have more important things to seek for their lives to be better and more meaningful, instead of the trinkets that are being dangled before their noses.

I stand ready, as ever, to engage in a conversation.

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