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PSC Report Interview: Finding a Libyan solution to the Libyan crisis

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The PSC Report spoke to Nasser Bourita, Morocco’s minister of foreign affairs, about the recent Libyan peace talks and about the threat of terrorism in Africa.

Morocco recently hosted talks between representatives of the Libyan Presidential Council and the Parliament of Tobruk that have been welcomed by the international community, including the United Nations (UN), European Union (EU) and African Union (AU). The PSC Report spoke to Nasser Bourita, the Moroccan minister of foreign affairs, about these talks and about the threat of terrorism in Africa.

In your view, what has been the most significant outcome of the talks?

In my view, the major breakthrough in the Bouznika talks was the willingness and commitment of the Libyans to sit down together and talk about ways to end the current political stalemate. This needs to be commended. It also explains the vast support these talks have received from the international community, including the UN and the AU.

An additional achievement was the format of these talks, as they were Libyan-led and Libyan-owned. They were held between representatives of institutions whose legitimacy derives from the 2015 Skhirat Agreement, which remains a valid Libyan framework that Libyan representatives can update, adapt and amend as they see fit.

Overall, the outcomes agreed upon in Bouznika are encouraging. They represent an important milestone that transforms a years-long impasse into a real momentum. A political track is definitely open, hopefully paving the way for a global political solution to the Libyan conflict.

The Bouznika talks were based on Article 15 of the Skhirat Agreement. In fact, both delegations, the Libyan High State Council and the Parliament of Tobruk, agreed, for the first time, on the dispatching and incumbents of several sovereign leadership positions. Moreover, they agreed, in the final joint communiqué, to continue this dialogue in order to complete the necessary measures that guarantee the implementation of this agreement.

As always, Morocco stood and will stand by the Libyan people to help them regain their stability, progress and well-being. Nevertheless, it is a Libyan–Libyan process. I want to stress that. Morocco did not put forward any proposals or even a recommendation, other than encouraging Libyan brothers to sit, talk and be solution-oriented not process-oriented. At this point, only Libya matters.

In the context of external interference in the Libyan conflict, do you believe the dialogue between the Libyan parties can produce a lasting agreement?

I definitely believe that Libyan brothers can find a Libyan solution to the Libyan crisis.

The principled stand of His Majesty King Mohammed VI is that the solution will be Libyan or will not be! It will be political or will not be! It will be inclusive or will not be! And most and foremost, it should not and cannot be military.

It can work, should external interference in the Libyan crisis cease immediately, including especially the arms flow that is fuelling the conflict, playing with fire and gambling with the security of the entire Sahelo-Maghrebian region.

The Libyan conflict is not only a tragedy for Libya and the Maghreb, it is also a strategic nonsense and a no-win situation for all in the long run. It is high time for wisdom!

The Skhirat Agreement and the outcome of the Bouznika talks have shown, without a doubt, that the Libyans can overcome their differences if allowed to resolve their problems by themselves, without interference.

Morocco has full faith in the Libyans. We strongly support what they agree upon in order to reach a lasting and peaceful political solution to the crisis.

This will ultimately allow the Libyan people to live in peace, harmony and prosperity.

Despite the presence of international and regional forces, the security situation has not improved in the Sahel region. How can countries in the region and the AU engage constructively to find a solution to the global security crisis in the Sahel?

Morocco is monitoring very closely the disturbing trends in the Sahel. The countries and people of this region are near to us and close to our hearts.

The Sahel region is facing structural challenges and mounting complex and interconnected threats. Addressing the root causes of these structural challenges requires collective and resolute action.

His Majesty the King Mohammed VI has always called for

collective action to deal with terrorist groups, which find allies in separatist movements, human trafficking gangs as well as arms and drug dealers, because of their converging interests. These groups represent the most serious threat to regional and international security. (Throne Day speech, July 2014)

His Majesty’s call is even more relevant today as terrorism, separatism and transnational organised crime have formed a toxic nexus, undermining the stability, sovereignty and territorial integrity of many countries in the region.

Nevertheless, despite the unquestionable interest of many international partners in supporting this region, the multiplicity of initiatives and, sometimes, their diverging agendas, complicate the dynamics on the ground. As a matter of fact, more than US$4 billion in public aid are disbursed each year, yet little has been achieved when it comes to tackling the root causes of the crisis. The poverty rate remains at a 40% high, and youth unemployment is stuck between 40 and 50%. In the short run, the myriad of initiatives did not help Sahelian states that much at the end of the day. The recent developments in Mali are the perfect illustration of this state of affairs.

I see no alternative to closer and more resolute cooperation between Sahelo-Saharan countries, together and with relevant subregional organisations – I think of the G5 Sahel, CEN-SAD [Community of Sahel-Saharan States] and ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States], as well as the AU. We need to enhance border and security cooperation and to cripple the various illicit flows (drugs, arms, trafficking) that financially sustain this dangerous nexus in the Sahel.

We, in Morocco, believe that this should go hand in hand with a human security endeavour. That is why we continue to provide support to the development efforts of the brotherly countries of the Sahel region. His Majesty King Mohammed VI has undertaken many visits to the Sahel in the past two decades.

Each visit has given rise to various socio-economic and human development projects and allowed for greater economic partnership. Our overarching goal is contributing to enhancing the living conditions of the population in the region, through economic growth, youth employment, countering the impact of climate change such as on food security, and helping on health issues – including in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

We have also been working with Sahel countries to strengthen security cooperation and establish a pioneer programme aimed at training imams and female preachers (morchidates).

Finally, yet importantly, the security crisis in the Sahel calls for an urgent and sustainable resolution of the Malian and Libyan crises. These crises have gone on for far too long, allowing for the continued deterioration of the situation on the ground.

What can be done about the current political crisis in Mali?

Mali is essential to the Sahel’s stability. That is another reason why the timing of the current political crisis in Mali is particularly worrisome. It is no secret that terrorist groups are expanding their activities in the region, particularly in the tri-state border of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

The 2015 peace agreement was a minimum minimorum consensus, reluctantly accepted by those who were to implement it. Everyone has claimed to support the agreement, yet no significant progress has been made in implementing it in the last five years. To put it plainly: none of the five pillars of the agreement has been implemented satisfactorily.

No doubt the Malian crisis is complex. The solution can only come through an endogenous initiative that benefits from the vigorous support of all components of the Malian nation.

Mali’s brotherly people need to draw on the richness of their history and culture, from their longstanding tradition of living together peacefully and from their political experience.

Our wish is that Malian brothers can continue to talk and listen to each other. Wisdom is needed to make good use of the transitional period to strengthen social cohesion and undertake essential reforms. That will enable transparent and credible general elections, for instance. Let us not forget that the initial trigger of the political crisis was a contested legislative election.

All of us – neighbours, Africans and the international community – have to respect the choices of the Malian people. In this regard, Morocco stands alongside ECOWAS and encourages the ongoing talks aimed at finding an outcome that sets out the modalities for the transition period.

I strongly believe that Mali has the necessary experience and wisdom to overcome this crisis. I remember the national entente in March/April 2017, the meetings of the National Inclusive Dialogue in December 2019 and recently the national consultations at the beginning of September 2020. Mali is a great nation. Its people are a great people!

Terrorism and violent extremism have become one of the major peace and security threats to the entire African continent, from the Maghreb to Southern Africa. What concrete initiatives has Morocco undertaken to curb the threat of terrorism and violent extremism from which other African countries can learn?

The last two decades have regretfully witnessed a steady increase in terrorist violence, including in Africa. The continent went from one active terrorist group in the early 2000s (AQIM) to a dozen currently. Boko Haram alone has carried out more than 3 400 attacks since the start of the decade, killing 36 000. Deaths from terrorist attacks have quintupled in two years, going from around 900 in 2018 to more than 4 500 in 2019.

The Sahel region in particular has registered the most dramatic escalation of violence – up seven-fold since 2017 (from 147 attacks in 2017 to 999 by mid-2020). But no region is unaffected: from the Horn of Africa (more than 1 500 attacks from mid-2019 until mid-2020) to Southern Africa, and from the Lake Chad Basin (506 attacks in 2017 to 964 until mid-2020) to Central Africa and the Greats Lakes region, nebulous terrorist organisations keep trying to establish a foothold. North Africa is the only region that has seen a continuing decline in terrorist violence since 2015 (from 900 attacks in 2015 to around 400 by mid-2020).

As for Morocco, the Casablanca terrorist attacks in 2003 were a sinister wake-up call, which prompted the Kingdom to put in place a sturdy and multifaceted counter-terrorism strategy.

First and foremost, the legal arsenal has been updated and reinforced.

Second, the National Initiative for Human Development (INDH) has been put in place to address the socio-economic root causes of extremism, through fighting poverty and social inequalities with bold and unprecedented public investments.

Furthermore, structural reform of the religious sphere was launched in 2004, by His Majesty King Mohammed VI, aimed at immunising the religious sphere against extremist ideologies and advocating balance, moderation and tolerance.

In this context, the Mohammed VI Institute for Training Imams, Morchidines and Morchidates (male and female preachers) was established. It today trains hundreds of imams and preachers from Morocco and all over the world, including more than 2 000 African imams from Mali, Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire, Tunisia, Senegal, Nigeria, Chad, The Gambia and Gabon.

The Mohammed VI Foundation for African Ulema was also launched in order to encourage Muslim ulema from African countries (I quote His Majesty King Mohammed VI) ‘to make concerted efforts to fulfil their duty and turn a spotlight on the true image of the pristine Islamic faith as well as on its open-minded values, which are based on moderation, tolerance and coexistence’. (2016).

Most recently, in 2017, Morocco adopted the ‘Moussalaha’ (reconciliation) programme for former violent extremist offenders. This programme is a process for de-radicalisation and reintegration, based on three main pillars: reconciliation with oneself, reconciliation with the religious text, and reconciliation with society.

Less than two decades after the Casablanca attacks, Morocco has been able to establish one of the most comprehensive and effective counter-terrorism strategies in Africa. The Kingdom is also a respected actor on the international stage, as highlighted by Morocco’s election as co-president of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) for three terms in a row.

All the lessons learned from these counter-terrorism programmes are being shared with brotherly African countries, at both bilateral and multilateral levels, in an inclusive and solidarity-based approach.

Finally, through triangular cooperation with international partners such as the US, Morocco contributes to the development of counter-terrorism capacities and cooperation in the Maghreb and Sahel regions.