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World Bank Approves $150m For Morocco

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 08:14

Arab News
AFP

Female farm labourers pick strawberries in the Kenitra province country side of Morocco as the world marks the International Women’s Day, in this March 8, 2017 photo. (AFP)

RABAT: The World Bank (WB) says it has approved $150 million in financing to support small enterprises in Morocco and improve social programs in the North African country.

The funds, approved on Friday, will help the government “modernize its national identification system and provide financing to promote innovative startups and job creation,” a statement said.

According to the WB, almost 5.3 million Moroccans “live under the threat of falling back into poverty due to their socioeconomic conditions.”

Friday’s statement said that $100 million will “aim to develop systems to ensure that social programs are better targeted and reach the most vulnerable Moroccans.”

The remaining $50 million “will help address a market gap in the supply of equity financing for innovative young small and medium enterprises (SMEs),” it said.

Exploration Group Sound Energy Closes In On Gas Reservoir In Morocco

Fri, 03/10/2017 - 13:21

Proactive Investors
Ian Lyall

The well will be drilled to a vertical depth of 2,977 metres.

Sound Energy PLC (LON:SOU) said its latest well on the Tendrara licence in Morocco has reached the final casing point.

TE-8’s liner is being cemented at a depth of 2,603 metres and is just two metres from the main reservoir in the TAGI formation. The well will be drilled to a vertical depth of 2,977 metres.

Assuming gas is encountered in the main well bore, a further 30-day side-track will be drilled to prove a potentially deeper gas contact 900 metres to the north-west.

TE-8 is around 12 kilometres from the last successful hole and is what’s called a step out well because it will test the lateral extent of gas that has been discovered in the TAGI reservoir.

Whatever comes in the next two months, the firm has already enjoyed considerable success at Tendrara.

Results from TE-7 were revealed on January 19 with the company telling investors that over a 56 day period of continuous flow the well has yielded just under 1bn cubic feet of gas.

That figure is made all the more impressive given that the gas flow was constrained in test conditions, at a maximum of 40% drawdown, in order to protect the integrity of the well completion to date.

No formation water was produced during testing – as the company had expected – and there were no indications of barriers.

As such Sound said that the result had confirmed a “significant connected volume” of gas is present at Tendrara, and it would now monitor pressure across past wells to confirm the physical connectivity of the reservoir.

The programme on TE-8 is scheduled to last 40-50 days, according to the City research firm Capital Networks.

It is one of a number of value-accretive catalysts expected in 2017, said Capital’s analyst, Lionel Therond.

“We believe the stock provides investors the opportunity to gain exposure to one of the few growth story in the sector, with the potential to benefit from substantial appreciation as assets get de-risked and material resources are added,” he said in a note.

Earlier this week Sound said it had begun drilling the hotly-anticipated Badile well in Italy, adding more spice to the investment story.

Sound’s Italian assets were the foundation stone on which the company was built and it has two producing wells – although their output is modest.

Badile, however, could be a changer. An independent assessment suggests the target could be host to around 178bn standard cubic feet of gas with a net present value of £400mln.

That figure is what’s called a ‘best case’, unrisked estimate. It sits at in the middle of the range with the ‘high case’ forecast being 670bn cubic feet and the ‘low case’ 46bn cubic feet.

Anyway, work on the well, located in the north of the country, around 10 miles from Milan, began on Tuesday (March 7).

The plan is to go down to a total depth of 4,445 metres with drilling and logging expected to take 100 days.

Assuming gas is found, it will take a further 25 days for completion and testing.

Ian Lyall

Morocco Arrests 2 IS-linked Suspects In Casablanca

Fri, 03/10/2017 - 05:10

Xinhuanet
Source: Xinhua

The Moroccan police arrested on Thursday two people with links to the Islamic State (IS) group in the city of Casablanca, the Interior ministry said in a statement.

According to the statement, the suspects planned to carry out terrorist operations in Morocco and had begun to acquire devices used in making explosives.

This operation has allowed the seizure of copper cables, a thermometer, electric batteries, a bottle containing a suspect liquid, a bag of powder and other equipment suspected of being used in manufacturing explosives, the statement pointed out.

The arrested people will be brought to justice once the investigation is completed, it noted.

The north African kingdom has seen a growing threat from terror groups, especially IS.

According to official figures, Morocco busted 19 terrorist cells and arrested 273 suspects in 2016, most of them linked to the group, which control large swaths of Syria and Iraq.

Morocco Applying To Join ECOWAS – Issues To Consider

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 08:32

Ghana Business News
By Emmanuel K Dogbevi

Morocco has recently expressed interest in joining the West African regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The news was received with mixed feelings across the region, and questions are being asked.

Located in North Africa between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, the distance between Morocco and Ghana in West Africa is some 2714km.

A country that takes pride in its Arab heritage and culture, in spite of the mixture of Berber and the influence of European culture, Morocco is more Arab than anything else.

With a population of some 35 million people, Morocco until recently wasn’t even a member of the African Union (AU). The country left the continental organization for more than 30 years over the AU’s recognition of Western Sahara, a territory that Morocco laid claims to. Early this year, it reapplied to the AU and was readmitted. That wasn’t surprising, but Morocco’s recent expression of interest to join the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS is raising eyebrows.

ECOWAS is a regional bloc of some 15 countries close to each other, and mostly sharing borders. The countries are Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal, Togo, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, The Gambia, Mali, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Benin and Cape Verde.

While this won’t be the first time that north African countries have joined organisations originally meant exclusively for countries in other regions of Africa, as Libya and Egypt are members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), a group of countries in East and South Africa, Morocco’s bid to join ECOWAS sounds bizarre.

The country Morocco

With its diverse Arab, Berber and influence of European culture, Morocco describes itself as a constitutional monarchy. In 2011 it adopted a new Constitution, which laid the grounds for what it describes as a more open and democratic society, with separation of powers and increased decentralization. Despite the claim to democracy, the monarchy has a tight grip on the country.

Its economy

The World Bank reports that after a good performance in 2015, the Moroccan economy is decelerating in 2016. Economic activity slowed to 1.4 per cent in the second quarter as a result of a 12.1 per cent contraction in agriculture production, while growth outside the agriculture sector remained sluggish at around 2.5 per cent. Inflation has remained muted at under 2 per cent, reflecting prudent monetary policy and the fall in international commodity prices.

The Bank further indicates that based on performance since the beginning of 2016, Morocco is expected to reduce its fiscal deficit to 3.5 per cent of GDP.

“This would be the result of strong revenue performance and the continued reduction in consumption subsidies. Morocco should thus be able to stabilize its central government debt at around 64 per cent of GDP,” it said.

The country’s trade deficit narrowed down in recent years as a result of fiscal consolidation efforts and the emergence of Morocco’s new industries, especially automobiles. The current account deficit should not exceed 1.5 per cent of GDP for 2016, and Morocco’s international reserves reached $24.9 billion—the equivalent of 7.3 months’ worth of imports at end-June 2016, the World Bank said.

Considering its sound economic performance, despite all the headwinds, which is an indication that Morocco might be seeking to take advantage of the West African economy – with a population of 335 million, West Africa has a GDP of $345 billion, and Morocco already has bilateral relations with almost all the 15 countries of the ECOWAS.

While Morocco might be a good trading partner as it is also one of the leading producers of phosphate in Africa, there are already existing trade relations with these countries, raising questions about the exact reasons behind Morocco’s interest in becoming a member of ECOWAS.

The ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Governance

The ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance Article 1, emphasizes on separation of powers, and among others the independence of the Judiciary and judges.

The Protocol is also clear on the secularism and neutrality of the State in all matters relating to religion, but does not preclude the right of the State to regulate with due respect to human rights.

Besides, ECOWAS protocols such as this one are binding. What that means is that, for a constitutional monarchy that operates quite differently, it remains to be seen how Morocco can subject itself to these universal principles of this particular ECOWAS protocol.

African integration dynamics

In March 2006, at an AU Summit in Banjul, the African Union — in its wisdom — decided and resolved to rationalise the numerous regional economic communities (RECs) from 14 to 8, so that each region would have its own “regional” reference. This meant that, for example, West Africa’s REC would be recognised as ECOWAS (even as there is UEMOA / etc); and in Central Africa (where discussions to rationalise the groupings there are far advanced than in West Africa), the only REC would be ECCAS.

Now, something seismic is happening in Africa’s integration. The request by North Africa’s Morocco to join ECOWAS does not only complicate Africa’s integration efforts, but makes nonsense of that 2006 decision as it will set a horrible precedent for any country to find justifiable and self-serving reasons to join any REC they want. We do know Rwanda re-joined ECCAS last year, and now belongs to both the East African Community and ECCAS. This may be problematic but not at the scale of Morocco wanting to join ECOWAS.

This Moroccan request has been troubling since the news broke. Algeria, long-term nemesis of Morocco, is deeply-troubled by Morocco’s request. In articles in both the Moroccan and Algerian press, it is clear there is no love lost between the neighbours, and that Algeria remains confused by Morocco’s apparently, inexplicable turn to West Africa.

In the event that Morocco’s adhesion to ECOWAS happens, it will serve a bad precedent for Africa’s integration by allowing any AU Member State to subject the flawed AU to its whims and caprices. Already, that Chad got the AU Commission position over Kenya’s Amina Mohammed by just two votes reflects, it is speculated, how Idris Deby used his influence as AU Chair to leverage and rally support for the dark horse that was Chad’s Moussa Faki Mahamat.

Although one has yet to read of or detect any resistance from the West African diplomats in Abuja, what we now know is that, the Togolese government has registered its opposition. In a faux pas by the state-supporting republicoftogo.com, it posted days after the request to join ECOWAS on February 24 that the Togolese government “is not hostile to the adhesion” of Morocco. Now, an article on the same site that was posted March 3, explained that the Presidency had denounced the assertion that he would use all his influence to support Morocco’s bid.

A recent interview of ECOWAS Commission President, Marcel de Souza to RFI sounds neutral in its opinion of the fate of Morocco. When you read between the lines, de Souza’s insistence that it will be up to the Authority of Heads of State to decide, — and that admitting Morocco will set a “precedent” — speaks volumes about the fate of Morocco.

Why ECOWAS and not CEN-SAD

Even more curious is why Morocco did not opt for the 28-member CEN-SAD, which was established by the late Qaddafi in 1998.

In 2014, at the cusp of Morocco’s hosting of A CEN-SAD meeting, Carnegie Endowment wrote; “Of these alliances, CEN-SAD must be particularly attractive to Morocco, for several reasons. Its preeminence in the organization will likely go uncontested; no other member has the spur, stature, and stability to lead it. Other potential leaders (namely Nigeria and Kenya) are firmly ensconced as anchor states in existing, functional RECs—Nigeria in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Kenya in the East African Community (EAC), among others.”

It went on to argue, “Egypt remains deeply embroiled in regional diplomacy and its own internal affairs, and Algeria’s absence from CEN-SAD should allow Morocco free reign to guide the organization independent of its neighbor. Moreover, the Kingdom may enjoy novel forms of influence within a REC based on a projection of Africa’s Arab and Muslim North into the continent’s South; CEN-SAD, apparently an abbreviation taken from Arabic letters sin and sad (for al-sahil and al-sahara), covers over half of Africa’s nations, and what unites such a diverse set of countries—from the Gambia to the Comoros, and Somalia to Sierra Leone—more than any connection to ecoclimatic or environmental conditions, is Islam.”

Chad and Morocco share an important affinity: both have sought to become members of ECOWAS, and both have played instrumental roles in CEN-SAD, too.

The Chad factor

In 2011, Chad was, in fact, granted observer status of ECOWAS. Then the Mali coup happened in 2012 — and suddenly, Chad offered support to the Africa-led support mission in Mali (AFISMA) to the tune of around 3000 troops, which is around a third of what all ECOWAS troops offered.

One of the critical reasons why Chad was an important country to look out for was what happened in February 2013 when Chad’s President Idris Deby hosted some eleven leaders of the CEN-SAD regional economic community. The capital N’djamena played host to what should have been 20 members of the populous grouping. Even if a little over a third of the Heads of State showed up, it was encouraging to see that the 17 other member states dispatched representatives. Furthermore, it has shown that the raison d’être for the establishment of the grouping might still be relevant.

Some of the major outcomes included a revision of the Charter, to reflect the fact that the organisation is interested in two major things: peace and security; and sustainable development. Two permanent organs will be established to this end, and Egypt is likely to host the peace and security organ. That Egypt was, in 2016 at a CEN-SAD meeting, recommended as the headquarters of the host of Counter-terrorism Centre, speaks to a level of confidence reposed increasingly by African states of North African countries on security matters.

One wonders, given Morocco’s acknowledged world-class expertise on counter-terrorism, why it did not consider using CEN-SAD as an opportunity to reinvent itself on the continental stage — as it appears it wants to do by joining ECOWAS. The real question — as may be asked of Tunisia that has also expressed an interest in joining ECOWAS — is whether ECOWAS really needs Morocco!

By Emmanuel K Dogbevi (edogbevi@gmail.com) & Emmanuel K. Bensah ( ekbensah@gmail.com)

Morocco Says Determined To Develop Western Sahara

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 03:05

News 24
AFP

Morocco is “more determined than ever” to develop the Western Sahara, Interior Minister Mohamed Hassad said on Wednesday on a two-day visit to the disputed territory.

Rabat insists the former Spanish colony is an integral part of its kingdom, but the Algeria-based Polisario Front demands a referendum on self-determination there.

The two sides fought for control of the Western Sahara from 1974 to 1991, with Rabat gaining control of the territory before a UN-brokered ceasefire took effect.

“We are more determined than ever to continue to develop the Sahara region,” Hassad told AFP.

“Unfortunately there are many people who don’t like this, particularly the fact that we are building roads,” he said, referring to the Polisario.

Hassad spoke after Morocco pulled back from the area of Guerguerat near the Mauritanian border in late February at the request of the United Nations.

Tensions flared last year after the Polisario set up a new military post in the same area.

That was in response to Morocco starting to build a tarmac road in the area south of the buffer zone separating Moroccan troops from Polisario fighters.

Rabat sees the road as key to trade between Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa.

Hassad said Morocco has invested around $8.5bn in the territory in projects expected to create more than 10 000 jobs by 2021.

The projects include a university to teach medicine and a 1 000km highway along the coast, he said.

Morocco Tightens Border Control To Stem Illegal Migration

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 02:18

Xinhuanet
Source: Xinhua

This photo taken on February 17, 2017 shows a general view of the fence between the Moroccan city of Fnideq and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, which was built to keep out migrants, traffickers, or an enemy group. (Xinhua/AFP Photo)

Morocco will further tighten border control with Algeria to counter illegal migration of subsaharan Africans and arm trafficking, local media reported on Wednesday.

The regional council of Oriental (eastern) region decided to build new control points to go along with the building of 100 km border fence with Algeria, the daily Akhbar Al Yaoum said.

The same source noted that authorities have raised vigilance in the region which is regarded as a main entrance of illegal migrants from subsaharan Africa.

Sound Energy One Of The Few Companies To Be Playing And Winning In The Exploration And Production Game – Says Broker

Wed, 03/08/2017 - 20:44

Proactive Investors
Ian Lyall

WH Ireland’s comments followed news earlier the company had begun drilling its hotly anticipated Badile gas well in Northern Italy.

First to the ball? Sound is certainly ahead in the high stakes E&P game.

Sound Energy PLC (LON:SOU) is one of the few companies to be “playing and winning” in the exploration and production “spectrum”, according to one City broker.

WH Ireland’s comments followed news earlier the company had begun drilling its hotly anticipated Badile gas well in Northern Italy.

The house said oil services giant Schlumberger’s involvement with Sound’s projects in Italy and the successful exploration programme in Morocco has “brought technical validation” to the business.

But it added: “The bulk of the risk and reward resides with Sound.”

Earlier, the company said work on the Badile well, around 10 miles from Milan, began on Tuesday (March 7).

The plan is to go down to a total depth of 4,445 metres with drilling and logging expected to take 100 days.

Assuming gas is found, it will take a further 25 days for completion and testing.

To date the company has scored significant success at Tendrara, in Morocco, where it has discovered significant accumulations of potentially commercial gas.

However, Sound’s Italian assets were the foundation stone on which the company was built and it has two producing wells – although their output is modest.

Badile, however, could be a game changer. An independent assessment suggests the target could be host to around 178bn standard cubic feet of gas with a net present value of £400mln.

That figure is what’s called a ‘best case’, unrisked estimate. It sits at in the middle of the range with the ‘high case’ forecast being 670bn cubic feet and the ‘low case’ 46bn cubic feet.

On Badile, WHI said: “The structure is classic fault and dip bound structure as seen below.

“The key risk in our opinion relates to reservoir quality as carbonates are inherently prone to regional variations.

“Regardless of the result, we believe that getting anything done in Italy is a noteworthy achievement.

“We also note that we believe the source rock could be more oil prone than anticipated.

“A porous/permeable reservoir of this scale might need only three wells to develop and infrastructure is in the immediate vicinity.”

Sounds shares inched higher in late morning trade to 89p, valuing the business at a touch over £600mln.

A year ago the stock was changing hands for 17p with the success in Morocco driving the meteoric rise in the price.

In March 2016 the company’s future, in the minds of some investors at least, was predicated on the success or otherwise of Badile.

Now, according to natural resources boutique SP Angel, its significance has been “de-emphasised” by Sound’s success in North Africa.

“That said, for investors, we believe that even a drilling failure will be an opportunity as although Badile has been the pivot on which Sound changed direction, its value has not really been reflected in the market cap, hence we believe any weakness in share price following Badile will offer an in point,” SP Angel said.

“This is one of those rare moments where the term often applied to drilling, that it is ‘better to travel than to arrive’ actually isn’t true, as the journey has been impressive and the destination (Badile’s result) will (ultimately) be positive for investors for the aforementioned reasons, no matter what.”

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