Morocco’s escalates row with South Africa over BRICS membership


Published on Tuesday, 29 August 2023 Back to articles

Morocco has prioritised its Western Sahara policy rather than BRICS membership

Morocco denied that it was seeking membership of the BRICS group of emerging markets — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — which held its 15th summit meeting in Johannesburg on 22-24 August. 

Given the BRICS’ economic weight and political orientation, 23 countries officially applied to join and were keen to attend the summit. South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa invited all of the African leaders to participate as part of BRICS outreach. Despite hints to the contrary a Moroccan foreign ministry source claimed that the Kingdom had never considered attending or applying to join BRICS.

Rabat’s reluctance was squarely based on its troubled relationship with Pretoria because of the latter’s robust stance over the issue of the disputed Western Sahara. It does not recognise Moroccan sovereignty and has long been a staunch supporter of the Polisario which has been a significant thorn in bilateral relations over many years and has been a persistent source of tension. South Africa’s Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Alvin Botes, recently called on Africa to strengthen its support for what he described as the ‘last colony in Africa.’

Rabat therefore felt it could not attend the summit or admit to wanting to join a bloc that included South Africa. Furthermore, Polisario’s leader was invited to attend which was something that Morocco would not stomach. It therefore chose to blame its absence on Pretoria with the and told the foreign ministry source told the domestic media that South Africa had consistently exhibited hostility and accused it of multiplying ‘notoriously malicious acts against the higher interests of Morocco.’ 

Rabat has proved its unwavering commitment to the Western Sahara by prioritising it over all other foreign policy issues. This singular focus may have enabled the Kingdom to chalk up a succession of foreign policy successes regarding recognition of its sovereignty over the disputed territory. Some analysts have, however, expressed concern at the inflexibility of the approach. They argue that Rabat is misguidedly selecting isolation and is disengaging from multilateral arenas for the sake of a sole issue. It was absent from the African Union (AU) for 33 years because of the latter’s recognition of Western Sahara’s independence and only re-joined in 2017. A rerun of this long absence would obviously not serve Morocco’s wider interests. 

Despite his there is little sign that Morocco is ready to shift its position or become any less hawkish on the Western Sahara issue. Thus, while it may well be keen to engage with the BRICS group, it is not going to mend fences with South Africa for the sake of this alliance. 

However, there was one silver-lining for Rabat because Algeria — which was desperately keen to join — was also refused BRICS membership which will have softened the blow of Polisario’s participation at the summit. 

This excerpt is taken from Morocco Focus, our monthly intelligence report on Morocco. Click here to receive a free sample copy.

The August 2023 issues of Morocco Focus also includes the following:

Foreign Relations

  • Morocco denies applying for BRICS membership…
  • Implications


  • King Mohamed returns to the public eye…
  • Imprisoned for criticising the King


  • King issues pardons…
  • Prison overcrowding remains a serious challenge…


  • Fuel price hikes prompt threats of more strikes…

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