Opening up the Sahel and connecting coastal countries: King Mohamed VI's "Atlantic Initiative" at stake Spécial

Analyzing the King of Morocco's speech on the occasion of the recent commemoration of the "Green March", the Timbuktu Institute's weekly column, "L'Hebdo Africain", is devoted to the stakes involved in the "Atlantic Initiative", its strategic dimension as well as its "symbolic" significance. This initiative aims to make the Atlantic seaboard a center of economic integration and a focus of continental and international influence. The establishment of a maritime economy, the development of road, port and rail infrastructures in southern Morocco, and the creation of a national merchant marine fleet, illustrate a new long-term vision for the region. Similarly, the idea of opening up the countries of the Central Sahel to the Atlantic is one of the most significant aspects of this initiative advocated by the King of Morocco. In this interview, Dr. Bakary Sambe answers Medi1TV's questions.

Bakary Sambe, in your response to HM King Mohamed VI's speech at the commemoration of the Green March, you spoke of the royal strategic vision underpinning such an ambitious project for Africa. Could you elaborate on this dimension beyond the immediate economic benefits?

Yes, with this historic speech, the King is reiterating the importance of Morocco's geographical position as an Atlantic country, offering complete access to Africa and a window on the American space, while considering the Atlantic seaboard as a key element of the national strategy. In fact, the spectacular development of the Southern Provinces (Moroccan Sahara) has reinforced Morocco's vocation as an Atlantic country. Morocco remains one of the few African countries that, aware of its geographical advantage, has equipped itself with the essential means to develop human and economic exchanges with neighboring countries and continents. Beyond its neighbors, the Kingdom is connected to the whole world, as one of Africa's leading air hubs. In all respects, this Atlantic initiative is the expression of Moroccan leadership, whose King has not only convinced us of the need for South-South cooperation, but has also connected his strategic vision to the new paradigms of integrated development, notably by transforming the Southern Provinces into viable models, demonstrating the efficiency of his approach to Morocco's socio-economic transformation.

Dr. Bakary Sambe, following your analysis of this Atlantic initiative in the Moroccan press, you also defended the idea of an opportunity to be seized by African countries as part of the pooling of development efforts. How do you see the realization of the King's vision, particularly in the field of energy cooperation?

It's true that this initiative reaffirms the Kingdom's irreversible African option, as King Mohamed VI made clear in his historic speech in Addis Ababa. So, at the same time, it sets a course for all the states in the region at a crucial time when the quest for African solutions to African problems is seen as a continental imperative of sovereignty. His speech underlined Morocco's determination to strengthen its cooperation with the countries along Africa's Atlantic seaboard, by turning the Morocco-Nigeria gas pipeline project into a lever for regional integration. In fact, the construction of this pipeline is seen as a strategic initiative aimed at creating the conditions for a common economic take-off, while ensuring a secure energy supply for European countries. But, at the same time, with this far-reaching initiative, in collaboration with Nigeria, and in consultation with others, Morocco is taking concrete and very significant steps to promote economic integration in the ECOWAS region and beyond.

But you also speak of, and I quote, "a fruitful idea" on the part of His Majesty the King, with his ambition to open up the countries of the central Sahel by offering them access to the ocean. How do you see this as a strategic turning point, especially in the context of infrastructure development on our continent?

As far as the Sahel is concerned, His Majesty puts forward a number of important responses, warning against the "all-security" approach, which has shown its objective limits, and advocating initiatives that address the root causes and strengthen resilience, based on cooperation and "joint" development.  The aim is to find a response to one of the Sahel States' most vulnerable factors, namely landlockedness. In a truly win-win spirit of South-South cooperation, the King of Morocco's proposals for upgrading and interconnecting the road infrastructures of the Sahel states are fully in line with the ECOWAS strategy. But it is important to note the King's strategic approach to Morocco's relationship with its sub-Saharan neighbors, both symbolically and strategically. In fact, while Western countries have created NATO, a transatlantic military framework for the collective defense of their territories and values, His Majesty has set out a far-sighted and humanistic vision of an African Atlantic front, a link between the North and South Atlantic, as a "Mecca of human communion, a pole of economic integration and a focus of continental and international influence". This vision is all the more remarkable in that it advocates a partnership approach to tackling the enormous security deficits in this vast geopolitical space, and exploiting the immense potential of the blue and sustainable economy.