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Why Morocco’s OCP and Africa Need Each Other, By Jasper Hamann

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Nearly all African ambitions depend on thriving agriculture to support modern economies across the continent.

Having a thriving domestic agricultural sector is a key factor in reaching nearly all of the buzzwords that regularly roll off politicians’ tongues. Source: IDFC/Fertilizer Focus

Rabat – Countries across the African continent currently stand at a crossroads, facing choices that could determine their fate for decades or even centuries to come. While developed countries around the world are currently focusing on Artificial Intelligence (AI) as the driver for economic growth in the coming years, African countries are still struggling with issues that keep their economies stuck in the 20th century. Left behind?

Decision-makers at last week’s World Economic Forum summit in Davos salivated over the potential of AI as a means to boost their primarily service-oriented economies. Meanwhile, most African countries are still struggling to fully industrialize. African economies are making a sincere effort to reach a stage of development, that of an industrial manufacturing economy, which is a type of economy that the richest countries in the world have abandoned decades ago…

This disturbing trend can be attributed to a multitude of factors, and there are various interesting articles that point to corruption, poor leadership, the lingering effects of colonialism, as well as ongoing conflict and poverty as the prime or even sole reason for Africa’s continued lagging behind in the global economic race. While these articles often provide well-reasoned arguments to point to one factor or the other, in reality it appears to be exactly the complexity of these intertwining issues that has kept African nations where they currently are.

So how can such a complex web of issues be resolved, on a continent that has witnessed an onslaught of coup-d’etats, famine, drought, violent extremism and poverty? I would argue that the key is to start with the absolute fundamentals, the core drivers of stability and sustainable growth. This is the first stage that developed nations have taken, and it is a stage only a handful of African countries have (partially) reached.

I am talking about a country’s ability to produce enough food to feed its population, and the resulting freeing up of labor to support other sectors of the economy. Most European countries reached this stage during the “agricultural revolution,” between the 17th and 19th century, which freed up large parts of the population to instead work in trade, industry, the arts, or academia.

Often referred to in the rather abstract term of “food security,” this phase is crucial in a nation’s development because it creates the foundation for a stable economy where the nation’s talents can flourish.

African ambitions

Still, African nations are definitely not lacking vision when it comes to their economic development. There’s Senegal’s “Emerging Senegal” plan, Ethiopia’s “Growth and Transformation plans,” or Morocco’s own “New Development Model,” which embarrassingly still features a typo in the title of its official English government publication.

If you crave more vision, just have a look at Kenya’s “Vision 2030,” or Egypt’s “Egypt Vision 2030,” or perhaps you can find inspiration in Tanzania’s “Vision 2025.” If that is not enough vision for your liking, there is always Rwanda’s “Vision 2050,” or Cameroon’s “Vision 2035.”

What these documents lack in terms of originality in their naming, they all share in ambitious targets and dreams of becoming a thriving modern economy.

Yet nearly all of these documents also recognize a significant issue plaguing this development. Africa’s top resource, its vibrant young and talented population, is stuck tilling the soil to produce meager yields at their family farms. While farming is arguably one of the world’s most noble professions, ideally as a modern country you would like to have as few people as possible doing it, while producing rich yields that support both domestic consumption and exports. 

Having a thriving domestic agricultural sector is a key factor in reaching nearly all of the buzzwords that regularly roll off politicians’ tongues. It is vital to sustainable development, clean energy, technology-driven economies and being a genuinely competitive international player in the coming AI era that is likely to change our labor markets and economies like never before.

Africa’s handicap

One factor that is often left unspoken in these visionary documents, is what can be considered to be Africa’s handicap, the thing that leaves it trailing its Northern and Western neighbors, as well as other developing countries in the East. This handicap is as clear as it is ever-present; African countries face more extreme weather conditions and harsher climates, and climate change is only going to make this worse in decades to come.

Still, harsh climates and extreme weather are issues that modern agriculture has its answers to, mostly in the form of modern farming techniques, water preservation, and fertilizers.

A good example is Australia, which receives the least rainfall of any inhabited continent on the planet. Despite this, and the ever-growing effects of climate change, Australia has spent the last three decades boosting its agricultural productivity and output, through modern farming techniques, technology and fertilizers.

The irony is that much of the minerals feeding Australian soil and boosting local farmers’ yields, comes from Africa. In fact, 83% of Moroccan exports to Australia are classified as “mixed mineral or chemical fertilizers,” followed by its next biggest export of “non-knit women’s suits,” at 1.87%.

These fertilizers are primarily made from Morocco’s vast phosphate reserves. This resource is so vital that when Norway in June 2023 discovered its own large reserves, the EU went out of its way to release a statement hailing it as “great news” for the continent.  And phosphate is not just used for vital fertilizers; it is also a key component in various types of electric cars, batteries and solar panels, all important products for Africa’s envisioned economic boom.

Yet for farmers in many African countries, fertilizers have long been the missing ingredient to take the step toward self-sufficiency that could become the foundation of true sustainable economic growth.

Quality fertilizers are often too expensive for African farmers, reducing agriculture from being an “engine of growth” to becoming a brake on national economic development. 

This has dire effects far beyond agriculture, as low yields and inefficient agriculture does not just hurt farmers and consumers, but also limits the amount of people available to work in every other sector of the economy.

It is important to recognize the wonderful irony that boosting agriculture means fewer people have to work in agriculture. This means that smallholder farmers can send their children to universities, and young Africans can focus their talent on building technology, providing healthcare or services or starting businesses.

Perfect match

Moroccan fertilizers have long fed agriculture from the US to Australia, yet remain inaccessible to many farmers in Africa. This problematic fact is not just a concern to those farmers, but also to Morocco’s largest fertilizer producer: the OCP Group.

Over the past decades the state-owned phosphate company has evolved from a modest mining company to a fertilizer giant that outcompetes most of its international competitors from some of the world’s richest countries.

As OCP Group evolved into a global player in its sector, its vision has also evolved, primarily around its focus on Africa, Morocco’s home continent. Over the past years, Morocco and OCP Group have made fertilizers a key part of diplomacy, trade, and south-south cooperation.

This focus has not just been beautiful words on the company’s “vision and mission” page, but instead has led to a variety of bilateral agreements with other African states. It has resulted in fertilizer plants being erected in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Ghana, with Togo and Senegal as two likely next candidates for such production facilities. It hasn’t just led to a wider availability of quality fertilizers, but also to a richer offering of products tailored to the context of African countries.

To support this, OCP Group and Morocco’s Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P) are building state-of-the-art digital soil maps in a variety of African countries, including Ethiopia,Senegal, Zambia, Kenya and others. These maps allow scientists to tailor fertilizers to the exact soil types of the receiving countries, which helps boost yields, while limiting the need to overuse fertilizers, which helps perverse the fertility of the soil and limits the cost of fertilizing land.

Fertilizers have even become a tool for emergency aid, which became apparent in 2022, when Morocco gifted 1,200 metric tons of fertilizer to Jamaica amid the island nation’s disastrous local supply crisis.

Mutually beneficial

It is important to recognize that this larger strategy is not a form of charity, and OCP Group is not trying to act like a benevolent patron. Morocco and its OCP Group need Africa as much as the reverse.

Africa currently is home to 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land, the world’s youngest population, the richest reserves of natural resources, and the most room to develop.

By boosting African nations, OCP Group and Morocco build their own list of clients, closer to home, which means transport can be done more sustainably. It means being a key partner in feeding billions of people with locally-sourced food. It means building positive relations with fellow African countries, and it means being part of the broader economic success of the continental economy, when current treaties like the African Continental Free-Trade Area (AfCFTA) can blossom and become a driving force in a complementary pan-african economic boom.

But the benefits of genuine cooperation on fertilizers and agri-tech go well beyond economics. The results of such cooperation can ensure nations thrive and avoid coups, which in turn can help feed and develop restless remote areas where violent extremism could otherwise rise. In short, societal prosperity brings stability, promotes good governance, and a strong civil society — all crucial needs across the continent.

For Morocco and the wider region, this means using local resources to produce African development, without the need for foreign capital or foreign multinationals to “help” extract a nation’s resources.

Furthermore, when we connect Morocco’s phosphate wealth with Nigeria’s gas reserves, or DR Congo’s vast areas of uncultivated fertile land, the compounding effects of this Africa-oriented approach could help elevate a continent full of young motivated people.

Of all the ambitious national plans and government documents with the word “vision” on their cover, the symbiotic relationship between Morocco’s OCP and the broader African continent represents a potential blueprint for sustainable development. It shows that action speaks louder than words and that trade is not a zero-sum game where one party’s wealth has to come at another’s expense.

This narrative is more than just about fertilizers or agriculture; it’s about rewriting Africa’s story from one of dependence on the outside to one of African interdependence and strength. In this vision, Africa’s potential is fully realized, not just for the continent but as a vital contributor to the global community. The story of Morocco and Africa, therefore, is one of hope, resilience, and the unyielding belief that together, they can rise to meet the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.

But to meet these ambitions, we need a focus on the core issue that handicaps African development. While boosting agriculture might not sound as “sexy” to political leaders as topics such as high-tech manufacturing or AI, recognizing the need to prioritize it paves the way for the continent’s nations to build a new modern economy on a solid foundation.

Strictly Personal

All eyes in Africa are on Kenya’s bid for a reset, By Joachim Buwembo

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Whoever impregnated Angela Rayner and caused her to drop out of school at the tender age of 16 with no qualifications might be disappointed that we aren’t asking who her baba mtoto (child’s father) is; whether he became a president, king or a vagabond somewhere, since the girl ‘whose leg he broke’ is now UK’s second most powerful person, 28 years since he ‘stole her goat’.

Angela’s rise to such heights after the adversity should be a lesson to countries which, six decades after independence, still have millions of citizens wallowing in poverty and denied basic human dignity, while the elite shamelessly flaunt obscene luxury on their hungry, twisted faces.

After independence, African countries also suffered their adolescent setbacks in the form of military coups. Uganda’s military rule lasted eight years, Kenya’s about eight hours on August 1, 1982, while Tanzania’s didn’t materialise and its first defence chief became an ambassador somewhere.

What we learn from Angela Rayner is that when you’re derailed, it doesn’t matter who derailed you, because nobody wants to know. What matters is that you pick yourself up, not just to march on, but to stand up and shine.To incessantly blame our colonial and slave-trading ‘derailers’ while we treat our fellow citizens worse than the colonialists did only invites the world to laugh. Have you ever read of a colonial officer demanding a bribe from a local before providing the service due?

African countries today need to press ‘reset’. A state operates by written policies, plans, strategies and prescribed penalties with gazetted prisons for those who break the rules.  This is far more power than teenage Angela had, so a reset state should take less time to become prosperous than the 28 years it took her to get to the top after derailing.

So it’s realistic for countries to operate on five-year planning and electoral cycles, so a state that fails to implement a programme in five years has something wrong with it. It needs a reset.

A basic reset course for African leaders and economists should include:

1. Mindset change: Albert Einstein teaches us that no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. For example, if you are in debt, seeking or accepting more debt is using the same level of thinking that put you there. If you don’t like Einstein’s genius, you can even try an animal in the bush that falls into a hole and stops digging. Our economists are certainly better than a beast in the bush.

2. Stealing is wrong: African leaders and civil servants need to revisit their catechism or madarasa – stealing public resources is as immoral as rape.

3. Justifying wrong doesn’t make it right: Using legalese and putting sinful benefits in the budget is immoral and can incite the deprived to destroy everything.

4. Take inventory of your resources and plan to use them: If Kenya, for example, has a railway line running from Mombasa to Nairobi, is it prudent to borrow $3.6 billion to build a highway parallel to it before paying off and electrifying the railway?

If Uganda is groaning under a $2 billion annual petrol import bill, does it make sense to beg Kenya for access to import more fuel, when Kampala is already manufacturing and marketing electric buses, while failing to use hundreds of megawatts it generates, yet the country has to pay for the unused power?

If Tanzania… okay, TZ has entered the 21st Century with its electric trains soon to be operating between Dar es Salaam and Morogoro. Ethiopia, too, has connected Addis Ababa to the port of Djibouti with a 753-kilometre electric railway,  and moves hundreds of thousands of passengers in Addis every day by electric train.

5. Protect the environment: We don’t own it, we borrowed it from our parents to preserve it for our children. Who doesn’t know that the future of the planet is at stake?

6. Do monitoring and evaluation: Otherwise you may keep doing the same thing that does not work and hope for better results, as a sage defined lunacy.

7. Don’t blame the victims of your incompetence: This is basic fairness.

We could go on, but how boring! Who doesn’t know these mundane points? We are not holding our breath for Angela’s performance, because if she fails, she will be easily replaced. Africa’s eyes should now be on Kenya to see how they manage an abrupt change without the mass bloodshed that often accompanies revolutions.

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Strictly Personal

The post-budget crisis in Kenya might be good for Africa, after all, By Joachim Buwembo

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The surging crisis that is being witnessed in Kenya could end up being a good thing for Africa if the regional leaders could step back and examine the situation clinically with cool-headed interest. Maybe there is a hand of God in the whole affair. For, how do explain the flare not having started in harder-pressed countries such as Zambia, Mozambique and Ghana?

As fate would have it, it happened in East Africa, the region that is supposed to provide the next leadership of the African Union Commission, in a process that is about to start. And, what is the most serious crisis looming on Africa’s horizon? It is Debt of course.

Even the UN has warned the entire world that Africa’s debt situation is now a crisis. As at now, three or four countries are not facing debt trouble — and that is only for now.

There is one country, though, that is virtually debt-free, having just been freed from debt due to circumstances: Somalia. And it is the newest member of the East African Community. Somalia has recently had virtually all its foreign debt written off in recognition of the challenges it has been facing in nearly four decades.

Why is this important? Because debt is the choicest weapon of neocolonialists. There is no sweeter way to steal wealth than to have its owners deliver it to you, begging you, on all fours, to take it away from them, as you quietly thank the devil, who has impaired their judgement to think that you are their saviour.

So?

So, the economic integration Africa has embarked on will, over the next five or so years, go through are a make-or-break stage, and it must be led by a member that is debt-free. For, there is no surer weapon to subjugate and control a society than through debt.

A government or a country’s political leadership can talk tough and big until their creditor whispers something then the lion suddenly becomes a sheep. Positions agreed on earlier with comrades are sheepishly abandoned. Scheduled official trips get inexplicably cancelled.

Debt is that bad. In African capitals, presidents have received calls from Washington, Paris or London to cancel trips and they did, so because of debt vulnerability.

In our villages, men have lost wives to guys they hate most because of debt. At the state level, governments have lost command over their own institutions because of debt. The management of Africa’s economic transition, as may be agreed upon jointly by the continental leaders, needs to be implemented by a member without crippling foreign debt so they do not get instructions from elsewhere.

The other related threat to African states is armed conflict, often internal and not interstate. Somalia has been going through this for decades and it is to the credit of African intervention that statehood was restored to the country.

This is the biggest prize Africa has won since it defeated colonialism in (mostly) the 1960s decade. The product is the new Somalia and, to restore all other countries’ hope, the newly restored state should play a lead role in spreading stability and confidence across Africa.

One day, South Sudan, too, should qualify to play a lead role on the continent.

What has been happening in Kenya can happen in any other African country. And it can be worse. We have seen once promising countries with strong economies and armies, such as Libya, being ravaged into near-Stone Age in a very short time. Angry, youthful energy can be destructive, and opportunistic neocolonialists can make it inadvertently facilitate their intentions.

Containing prolonged or repetitive civil uprisings can be economically draining, both directly in deploying security forces and also by paralysing economic activity.

African countries also need to become one another’s economic insurance. By jointly managing trade routes with their transport infrastructure, energy sources and electricity distribution grids, and generally pursuing coordinated industrialisation strategies in observance of regional and national comparative advantages, they will sooner than later reduce insecurity, even as the borders remain porous.

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