Tag Archives: Morocco

Mali Conflict Continues as Press Turns Away


The conflict in Mali could be creating a “ticking time bomb” for neighbouringWestern Sahara, the UN secretary general has warned, amid growing concern about the threat of terrorism in west and north Africa.

Ban Ki-moon said in a report to the UN security council there was “serious concern” that the war against al-Qaida-backed Islamists in northern Mali could spill over into other countries in the region, infiltrating refugee camps where hundreds of thousands of people from Western Sahara – known as Saharawis – have lived since Morocco annexed the territory in 1975.

First Niger and Chad, now Morocco, the long time US ally, which has kept the Western Saharan people under great duress for decades, promises to feel the costs of this conflict in Mali.

Colonially drawn borders are fickle. Ethnic allegiances and alliances, and their inevitable conflicts  do not contain themselves to these neatly drawn borders. The French, in invading Mali, have tried to renew that colonial influence, though it appears that it is not that effective. Suicide attacks are becoming part of everyday life for many Malians, even though Mali likely went through its entire history without a single suicide bomb (as Iraq did prior to US invasion). 

The food emergency also does not adhere to national and economic borders, and is likely going to intensify this year despite the good harvest last year:


The situation this year is exacerbated by a lower than expected harvest in Nigeria (pdf), which produces a lot of the grain consumed in the Sahel – prices have shot up. The crisis in Malihas prevented thousands of families there from planting at all.

According to the CIA factbook, the Western Sahara must bring in foodstuffs due to the lack of arable land. Morocco may need to make up the difference if these food shortages in the Sahel continue. 

The conflict in Sahel is obviously far from over, and expect to see more news coming out of the region over the next year. 

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North Africa Turns to Solar while Phosphate Mining Ramps Up


Juan Cole posted in his “Top Ten Reasons Fracking Won’t Last” that Algeria was hoping to become a solar energy powerhouse (sadly, pun intended). The Sahara desert has almost infinite potential for solar energy production because, well, it’s a desert. 364 days a year there is full sunlight, and given the equatorial nature, for days longer than other geographical areas.

This is coming on the heels of growing interest in north African phosphate mining:


Miners have been working in Khouribga for almost a century, but only now is the area poised to become central to the global economy. Back in the 1920s pioneers started tunneling through the earth here, digging through layers of sediment formed under an ancient sea, looking for phosphate-rich rock and occasionally plucking out the tooth of a 30-million-year-old shark. The phosphate extracted from the rock, used in fertilizer, detergent, food additives, and more recently lithium-ion batteries, sold for decades in its raw state for less than $40 per metric ton. Those days are gone. It’s currently trading at about $130.

Phosphates are used in a diverse set of industries, from agriculture to tech. It is the building block of modern food production, meaning that cheap phosphates are key to cheap food for a growing world population.

This is good news for King Mohammed VI, 47, who owns more than half the world’s phosphate reserves. James Prokopanko, chief executive officer of Plymouth (Minn.)-based fertilizer giant Mosaic (MOS), has called Morocco the Saudi Arabia of phosphate,

This sounds great on paper: an African nation, friendly to the West, providing raw materials critical to food production  to the nations of the world.

However, since our job here is to examine indirect costs, it might behoove us to consider the plight of other African nations that are inundated with mineral resources. Nigeria comes to mind as a worst case scenario: the country is a wild west for oil and mineral production, and is currently struggling with popular insurgencies dedicated to liberating areas plagued by the problems with mining. Minerals are a blessing and a curse. Closer to home, United States municipalities are struggling themselves with the very real and present dangers of hydraulic fracturing. I cannot imagine that phosphate mining is any different for ground water.

The question now becomes one of competing industries. On the one hand, we have Algeria and others striking ahead with solar power production, a clean energy alternative to the fossil fuels that Algeria also possesses. This would attract money from Europe and others without being a political and social liability. On the other hand, we have untapped mineral resources in the Atlas mountains that will make it the center of international attention when it comes to agriculture. I cannot imagine that the regime of King Muhammad VI will be any better than the United States when it comes to mining for these phosphates, and the looming specter of Western imperialism for mineral resources should be in the minds of policymakers in Morocco.

This is something to keep your eye on.

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