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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

Nigeria’s Currency Crisis: Time to deploy Amotekun, By Chinedu Chidi

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I have thought long and hard about just the right solution to the downward spiral of the Naira, and confidently believe I have come up with the perfect response. It is my humble proposal that the time is right to deploy the dreaded Amotekun to arrest this situation. I’ll explain why.

 

Since it is now clear that the Naira’s salvation is not in the hallways of the CBN or the gold-plated policy rooms of Bretton Woods, but in the battle grounds of the nook and cranny of Nigeria, all patriotic Nigerians must now rightly ignore suit-wearing technocrats and search for militant solutions with real promise. As a patriotic citizen, I have risen to this challenge. I would humbly like to thank the patriotic Nigerian leadership, from the CBN to the Executive, for leading us into this new era of mortal combat.

 

Only a few days ago, we were greeted with the live action scene of security operatives combating BDC operators in the nation’s capital, discharging live ammunition in broad daylight in an open civilian space like fearless patriots at the battle front. The EFCC and accompanying security operatives charged forward and backwards as the enemies of state dared challenge them. It was almost like a combat scene from Gibson’s Braveheart. I was touched. I’m not too sure, but I may have heard the humming of the national anthem from these fearless patriots as they battled the savage saboteurs. What a touching moment! Someone who was at the scene mentioned that these patriots recited the pledge before the onslaught. I can’t confirm this for sure, but if it did occur, it would be consistent with the new nationalistic fervour of the Tinubu administration as reported in the news recently that citizens would be required to recite the pledge at events. I also hear the operation is going on in different parts of the country. All these, coming only days after Sahad Stores, a retail supermarket in Abuja, was forcibly shut down for “economic sabotage”, fill me with great joy. Some unpatriotic citizens had shockingly opposed the move, claiming Sahad Stores was one of the good ones, and that deploying force would not resolve the inflation crisis. Cowards and co-conspirators! They’re too distracted by textbook ideas to see that we’re in war. Shame.

 

Normally, I would have recommended the army for this most important national assignment, but they’re overstretched. They’re battling terrorists, bandits, armed robbers, secessionists, their welfare; just about every violent aggressor around. The police would have been my second option but they too are preoccupied and, as some mischievous people claim, have a special DNA for compromise. For these and some other reasons which I will explain, Amotekun has my blessings.

 

I know Amotekun is also seriously engaged with battling bandits in the South West, but they must be pleaded with to spare some personnel for this all-too-important national emergency. Their stealth, daredevil disposition, and my favourite—charms from the gods— will come in handy.

 

I have heard rumours that some of the BDCs hide their stockpile of dollars in forests. This is the domain of the Amotekun warriors. Through their local intelligence gathering and tactical navigation of the forests, they can uncover these dollar chests and win for the country a huge deliverance. Their spiritual protection against wild animals and attacks from dark forces will be very useful here.

 

I am also confident that what has for so long appeared to be the near-impossible goal of finding the dollars some loud-mouthed people claim are hidden by politicians, bank executives and— I struggle to even contemplate it— CBN officials will be spiritually detected by Amotekun. We desperately need this.

 

It was with great joy that I also received the news that our gallant security personnel are now stopping truckloads of food from leaving the country. What took them so long! How can any patriotic businessman think of trade and profit at a time of economic crisis? This beats my imagination. I am even more infuriated by the argument of their unpatriotic defenders that we don’t have food scarcity, just food unaffordability, and that we can’t seriously let them abandon their goods in warehouses while the vast majority of Nigerians can’t purchase them. This is so inconsiderate and sad. Their argument that the exports bring in needed forex at this time of forex crisis is also another textbook nonsense. Shame on them.

 

I am particularly touched by Cardoso’s sincerity and humility. Realizing that the air-conditioned policies have hit the brick wall and that the fight has morphed into street combat, he did not try to deceive the populace about it. This is uncommon (apologies to Akpabio) pragmatism.

 

I want to enjoin the President to rally leaders in the South West towards mass mobilization of Amotekun for this national assignment. We can’t afford to fail!

 

Chinedu Chidi is a public affairs commentator. He can be reached via: chiobe24.cc@gmail.com

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The problem of DRC’s beautiful wife, maize it planted by roadside, By Charles Onyango-Obbo

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Watching the upheaval in the Democratic Republic of Congo in recent days, one is tempted to invoke the African proverb that “the man who marries a beautiful woman and the farmer who grows maize by the roadside have the same problem.”

The police fired tear gas on Monday to disperse protesters who burned tyres and US and Belgian flags near Western embassies and UN offices in the capital Kinshasa, angry about insecurity in eastern Congo.

The protesters claim the West supports Rwanda, which they and their government accuse of backing the M23 rebellion, whose advance could see them seize the strategic border city of Goma in the east.

This is a new phase of what has become an entrenched tradition of the Congolese oscillating between blaming everyone else but themselves for their problems, and demanding that other people solve these problems, including fighting for them.

In recent years — rightly — the Congolese have railed, then attacked, the long-running and ineffectual United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco) for not ending the rebellion in the east.

In late 2022, DRC’s kin in the EAC dispatched the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) to separate the warring sides. Before long, Kinshasa and the people had risen against them, hounding them to go out to the jungle and fight the rebels for them. At the end of last year, EACRF left DRC with its tail between its legs.

Because the Congolese are our brothers and sisters, and we have a responsibility to love them, we also have a duty to tell them uncomfortable truths that will help them overcome.

So, we will return to our proverb. African proverbs are complicated. First, one needs to know that they passed into society through the mouths of men who were not feminists, so too many of them tend to portray women in bad light.

This one paints a heroic hard-working farmer (although it is mostly women, not men, who work the land in Africa) whose maize is stolen by passers-by, in contrast with the beautiful wife who betrays her husband and falls to the charms of other men.

However, African proverbs are also layered, so there is what they say, and the many things they mean. In this case, that people will covet a good thing — a good crop, a beautiful woman and, if we may add, a handsome, enterprising man. The “problem” here is how to keep your maize, beautiful wife, and enterprising husband. If you are better than all the men who hit on her, your beautiful wife will stay faithfully by your side.

Having your wife, husband, girlfriend or boyfriend run off with someone else can be very hurtful, but if you have a cantankerous truth-telling African aunt or uncle, they will also whisper to you that a partner whom no other man or woman has ever or will ever want is probably not worth having.

In real-world Congo politics, then, the reality is rebels will have friends and allies at home and abroad. Even Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), as despicable as a rebel group can ever be, had friends outside who backed it.

The thing that should terrify everyone is a rebel group that no one wants to touch with a 10-metre pole, both in the day and night. The opposite is also true of rebels fighting to overthrow a government. If it is a government that doesn’t have a single friend even in the cynical world of geopolitics, then it’s probably worse than a cabal of cannibals.

For Congo, what is left is how to solve this “problem”. To stay with the farmer and the beautiful wife, what the Congolese are doing is like the strapping young man in old Africa who spent all his time attacking his parents, relatives, neighbours, and their friends because they failed to give him cattle to pay a bride price for a wife and build a hut for him to live in with her.

The scale of surrender of agency by many Congolese, including the political class and the government, is unsettling.

It’s partly understandable, too. The unusually brutal Belgian rule; the exploitation of all sorts of vultures for its vast minerals lasting over 100 years now; and an unbroken long spell of corrupt and cruel rule, have broken its self-confidence. The way to come to terms with the scale of failure and remain sane is to externalise all the problems to evil forces.

It has led to national paralysis, a belief that they can’t do much on their own to overcome.

DRC’s neighbours to the east, Uganda and Rwanda, offer good lessons. When President Yoweri Museveni took to the bush with his small band of rebels in 1981, the odds were stacked up against them. The British had a big programme with a special police force; the Tanzanian army that helped overthrow military dictator Idi Amin was on the side of the government, and hardy North Koreans soon got into the fight against them. They still won.

The prospects were even worse for the Rwanda Patriotic Army/Front when it crossed from Uganda and took to treacherous hills in 1990. Apart from Uganda, it was alone against the world, including one of the world’s superpowers at the time, France, which was in bed with the government in Kigali. They suffered setbacks, picked themselves up, and won.

Congo can win, but first, it will have to plant its own maize and fight its war for its own beautiful wife.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the «Wall of Great Africans». Twitter@cobbo3

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