India’s engagement with Africa has got renewed vigour with Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi visiting three African nations - Rwanda, Uganda and South Africa. Ever since India's outreach to Africa started in 2008, the country’s relation with Morocco has been of particular significance. When India hosted the India-Africa summit in 2015, King Mohammed VI of Morocco was the first to arrive - and the last to leave - and the ties were upgraded to strategic partnership.
It is often forgotten that for the last 15 years, Africa has a Look East Policy which has its focus on economic development. After globalization, there was felt a need to diversify partners and India with its shared values and history became a natural choice for Morocco. The new modern Morocco is one of the oldest nation-states in the world and between the 8th and 15th centuries, it was the centre of enlightenment for both Europe and Africa. It stood as an example of how a Muslim civilization had contributed vastly to the advancement of science, astronomy, history and geography. It was also known for taking out expeditions to different parts of the world.
H.E. Mr Mohammed Maliki, Ambassador of Morocco to India, was the guest of a SPS Roundtable held at the India International Centre on July 24. It was attended by select experts on the region, including a number of former ambassadors, IR writers, representatives of think tanks strategic analysts, scholars and students. The two-hour event followed Chatham House rules.
A lot of Morocco’s achievements are closely tied to religious reforms within the country. The Maliki school of Islam which is practiced in Morocco has demonstrated the ability to move according to the times. Another important factor is that, in Morocco, there is no conflict between the authorities as the King has both religious and executive powers. It is among the few countries which has always maintained that the essence of Islam is choice.
The one incident that led to Morocco redefining its place in Africa as well as the global order was the bomb blasts in 2011 that opened the nation’s eyes to new challenges. Three approaches were charted out to prevent an incident like that from ever taking place. The first was the socio-economic approach wherein the government handled the economy and created more jobs. It was done with the purpose of closing the vaccum that might have led to possible indoctrination of youth. The second approach rested on strengthening of intelligence agencies. The third approach and perhaps the most innovative one was to bring about religious reforms. It was done with the purpose of religion staying relevant in the 21st century. Under this, training was given to Imams including women who were allowed to preach inside the mosque. All these steps were backed by constitutional reforms of 2011 which paved the way for sweeping changes within the country.
After the reforms were introduced, Morocco started looking for more partners and India was seen as an important destination. The relations between the nations dates back to the time of 14th century Moroccan traveller Ibn Batuta, who stayed for ten years in India, a country that was seen as the "road to spices". and the influence that such as interaction had on the people to people links can be seen in the commonalities in cuisine, dresses and traditions. Though the bilateral trade is at present dominated by export of phosphates and its derivates to India, it needs to be noted that this decision was initially taken to enhance India’s food security.
India-Morocco relations symbolize both challenges and aspirations. Morocco’s investment friendly policies coupled with its stated intention of diversifying its economy offers immense potential to India. The only hindrance in taking the ties forward is that no adequate follow-up on agreements are done. Once this issue is fully addressed, the bilateral relations can enter a new phase which will open up more avenues for collaboration.