The Moroccan Sahara has become an economic priority for Morocco. The region could become the strategic link to sub-Saharan Africa, that’s why Morocco has strengthened its economic development. On the 7th November 2020, on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of the Green March, King Mohammed VI reaffirmed his objectives for the economic development of "the great Moroccan South".
For the kingdom, it is now essential to exploit the potentials of "the southern provinces" and to transform this Saharan region into an economic base turned towards West Africa. Morocco has developed an ambitious development plan that contains a hundred projects in the Sahara provinces for the period 2015-2021 which has turned this territory into a hub of growth and development.
Morocco Sahara is a hub of investment
Morocco started the plan from the announcement in 2015 of the largest hub of investment program in the history of the Sahara. The kingdom has allocated some 6,600 million euros for the construction of the new highway between the cities of Tiznit and Dakhla, universities, renewable energy parks, airports, desalination plants, hospitals and the mega-project of the Atlantic port of Dakhla, co-financed by the United States and which will guarantee maritime links with the Canary Islands. With this infrastructure, Morocco is multiplying its efforts to accelerate the socio-economic development of these southern regions in order to consolidate their position as an investment territory and strengthen their status of autonomy.
On the electricity side, the National Office for Electricity and Drinking Water (ONEE) announced that the new Laâyoune seawater desalination station will have a production capacity of 26,000 m3/day, which will be added to the 26,000 m3/day of the first station to bring its production capacity to 62,000 m3/day. In Dakhla, another desalination unit will be set up to irrigate 5,000 hectares of arable farmland for a total budget of 110 million euros.
In terms of renewable energy, the city of Tarfaya is home to the largest wind energy production park in Africa, which amounts to 300 MW, the goal is to provide electricity to 1.5 million households. The mega-park of Tarfaya employs around 50 people and has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 900,000 tonnes per year; it has placed the region of Laâyoune Sakia El Hamra at the forefront of this type of energy worldwide. Morocco has four large solar power plants and eleven wind farms, which makes the country the champion of renewable energy in the continent.
Dakhla port: future hub in the south of Morocco
The kingdom of Morocco is about to complete an expressway of more than 1,000 km between Tiznit and Dakhla, passing through Laayoune. Another major project is the future Atlantic port of Dakhla, for a global investment of about 1 billion euros, with its industrial zone of 270 hectares. Installed on the Ntireft site, 40 km North of Dakhla, it should provide maritime services to Casablanca, Tangier and Las Palmas (Gran Canaria), but also Dakar and the ports of the Gulf of Guinea.
Around a hundred large-scale projects have been included in the 2021 finance bill, presented last October by the Moroccan government, such as the university hospital center (CHU) of Laâyoune, the faculty of medicine or the Cité des Métiers and skills (CMC) of the city.
The region's economic development also involves tourism, with six seaside resorts programmed in the Sahara, including Guelmim Plage Blanche, as well as another in Dakhla, a kite surfing spot, already expanding rapidly.
Several seawater desalination plants will be needed to give tourists and the general public sufficient access to drinking water. The development of the area also involves renewable energies of wind, solar and even tidal power.
Economic strategy, but also diplomatic; referring to the opening of the consulates of sixteen African countries in the cities of Laâyoune and Dakhla, Mohammed VI welcomed the many advances made on the Sahara issue since Morocco's reintegration into the African Union. The recovery and economic development of Moroccan Sahara are at the heart of the kingdom's concerns.
The United States recognizes Morocco’s sovereignty over its Sahara
“The United States recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over the entire Western Sahara territory and reaffirms its support for Morocco’s serious, credible, and realistic autonomy proposal as the only basis for a just and lasting solution to the dispute over the Western Sahara territory,” the White House said last December.
The American position was notified on December 15th to the United Nations Security Council, which has adopted a resolution at the end of October enshrining the pre-eminence of the Moroccan autonomy proposal. This has been constant since April 11, 2007, when Morocco presented its initiative to the UN Secretary-General.
The United States has given official status to its position on the Sahara issue since Rabat presented the autonomy proposal in 2007; it was about ending years of stalemate and the failure of all prior plans. Before been submitted to the UN, the project had been the subject of consultations at the national level with political parties, local Sahrawi populations and elected officials and international levels. With this decision, the United States hopes to move forwards with the process of settling this long-running issue.
Morocco, the American turning point is a natural evolution of the position of the United States, which, since 2007, considers the Moroccan autonomy initiative as a serious and realistic basis for finding a definitive solution to the regional dispute. After the American proclamation about the Moroccan character of the Sahara, the Moroccan autonomy plan is essential as the framework for future discussions and the search for a lasting and "mutually acceptable" political solution.
An autonomous territory in a sovereign state
The Moroccan initiative is presented as a "win-win compromise". The state preserves its territorial unity while transfers part of its power to the Sahrawi population, who can manage themselves democratically. The sovereignty and integrity of the Kingdom over its Sahara remain the starting points. The autonomy of this region only exists and operates within this framework.
The prerogatives of the Autonomous Region of the Sahara cover, according to the project, the field of taxation. The competent bodies could in this sense enact taxes, fees and territorial contributions to finance the development of the region. The autonomy project lists among the financial resources the income from the exploitation of natural resources allocated to the Region; the part of the income from natural resources located in the Region and collected by the State; the necessary resources allocated within the framework of national solidarity and the revenues from the heritage of the Region.