Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Western Sahara: When Politics meets Renewable Energy

Crossroad of Politics and Renewable Energy in Morocco

Why Morocco should invest in Solar Power is not a mere question of energy sufficiency but is a deep political statement those who are familiar with the Western Sahara conflict will grasp. Morocco in most of its geography is a sometimes rocky mountain plateau and other times plain fields in the North, while most of the South including the disputed Sahara is a vast desert stretching over kilometers and kilometers. With such a geographic blessing, not only wind power can flourish in the North, but half the country’s area can be covered with Solar panels.

This opportunity spotted by Japanese, Korean, European and US firms and well-studied, has dragged a staunch investment wave which reached its pic with the unveiling of one of the leading world investments in Energy: A multi-billion 12-square-kilometre Moroccan Renewable Energy complex.

With the help of leading Energy companies such as Desertec , and with the generous financing of the world Bank and the European Union among others, Morocco will become the leading Energy producer and exporter across the Mediterranean, calming the fears of the EU policy makers who projected doubts upon the Helios Project in Greece, a 10-GW photovoltaic project meant to assure EU provisioning with Energy.
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Now, the question is: Where does politics come in the frame? And how can Morocco turn an Energy project into a Foreign Policy battle horse?

Those accustomed with the moving strings of diplomacy and foreign affairs will link Energy dependency and political alliance in this case, the same way we ought to do in the case of Iraq where Kurdish oil rich region and US Kurdish favoritism and support have a lot of in common!

Morocco, by allowing international investors pour their billions into colossal Solar Energy sites, not only benefits from infrastructure development and Energy sufficiency advance, but assures for itself a long lasting partnership with Europe and Western Key players both in the political and business world who will be keen in doing political favors for the kingdom when needed. Moroccan consent to host power generating projects aimed at supplying the EU with electricity must be sustained, and the common currencies for such tasks are finance and politics.

One would think that the Energy production process is constrained to turning sunlight into current, yet the most crucial phase extends beyond operating ovens and lighting bulbs with Moroccan electricity, it actually starts for Moroccan policy makers from turning precious Sahara sun light into electricity, then into money and political support.

This political support can be translated into a Western backing in the Western Sahara dossier, a controversial case where a non-self-governing territory is under Moroccan rule against international law and UN resolutions.

An easy way to confirm once and for ever the Moroccan rule over the Western Sahara doesn’t need political assiduity or Foreign policy brilliance. By investing into solar panel fields in the Western Sahara through its local Renewable Energy branches, Morocco would not only escape UN, EU and US restrictions on companies from investing in a disputed territory as well as being the main stake holder in the projects, increasing thus the profit, but would also put the World in front of the “Fait Accompli”. Energy dependency overcomes political and ethical considerations, and so the EU won’t have much of a choice but to import Electricity from Morocco, energy produced in a territory the EU doesn’t recognize Moroccan sovereignty over. This business partnership would have a deep political meaning: We recognize Moroccan control over Western Sahara since we buy goods produced there…As easy as that!

Putting ourselves in the shoes of EU policy makers will give us a clear understanding of the situation:
“Ok, so we’re running out of oil and the prices of fuel are skyrocketing in a time where our economies are shaking. We can import electricity from Morocco with a low price since we are major investors in the country’s Renewable Energy projects and we can lower the prices even more though political support and diplomatic backup of the kingdom, but that would mean importing goods produced using resources of a disputed if not occupied territory, thus breaching international law and recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the WS … Hmmm, I guess hell with international law and ethics, we have an economy to feed and citizens to satisfy, the interests of the EU citizen come first”

Not only would being addicted to Moroccan Renewable Energy supply lay the foundations for political partnerships, but can also set the place for military and security strategic alliance as Energy output in the Power plants is directly linked to social stability and security. The EU would be prone in making sure these plants are operating full time, and if necessary as in the past years where the Western Sahara has witnesses strong clashes and protests by Polisario supporters, disrupting commerce and businesses (Polisario is the Liberation front adopted by the Sahrawis as representative and political body charged of Sahrawi affairs and struggle), would be ready to support the Moroccan government in pacifying the region with appropriate anti-protests weapons and equivalent silence over Human Rights abuses and over use of power with the local “dissidents”. (History taught us about how much can be deployed by states in order to secure resources and industries such as heavy military protection of pipelines or the Gulf war among others)

In conclusion, investments are far more powerful than simple financial tools for economy leverage. Investments can prove to be strategic political cards if placed and set in the right place, and foreign policy sometimes is better served by businessmen and corporations than by cultivated diplomats. 

Mohamed Amine Belarbi

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