"With our geographical position, with our development, with our knowledge, historical and cultural relations with those people, we can be the good partners for the others to go and have competitive places in the Sub Saharan countries"
You mentioned in an interview last year that Spain and Morocco should increase efforts to build a platform for energy interconnection in order to capitalize on the energy demand in both continents. The Spanish Minister of Energy José Manuel Soria was in Morocco last September to further develop energy relations both institutionally and commercially. What can you say about the current situation vis-à-vis energy and Spanish relations?
That meeting was at ministerial level. What I can say is that we are totally dedicated to strengthening our regional integration. And Morocco has participated in several regional commissions on creating an integrated electricity market. We are also part of several specific institutions for electricity and energy globally and in the Mediterranean area. Regarding Spain, two lines under the Strait of Gibraltar interconnect us, and we are working to increase the capacity of those lines so that we can export green electricity from Morocco to Europe in the future. Currently we import electricity from Spain on a daily basis to meet our needs.
You were part of the delegation that went with King Mohammed on the four-nation Africa trip to Gabon, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, and Guinea. This trip led to the signing of 80 bilateral agreements that deepened Morocco’s strategic partnerships throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Can you tell us about how Morocco is positioning itself as the gateway for investors to the African continent and how ONHYM is contributing to this strategy?
We have very deep and old historical and cultural ties with several African countries. Under the vision of His Majesty we have strengthened those relations in the areas of finance, housing and health. And for several years the energy sector of Morocco has also been working towards a similar vision. We are working in more than eleven countries to bring our expertise in rural electrification. Many large financial institutions such as the World Bank, the African Bank Development and the Islamic Bank of Development have considered Morocco as a model for rural electrification. We have several programs underway right now in the energy sector regarding training and technical assistance in Mali, Guinea Conakry for mining and oil & gas exploration. Those countries are sending geologists to us at ONHYM for skills acquisition.
We can bring adapted solutions to different countries in the Sub Saharan region. This can be done by Morocco through bilateral cooperation; but we also aim to develop trilateral cooperation. Thanks to our geographical position we can be a hub for trilateral cooperation and co-investment. That’s the way Morocco is looking for the future of developing its economic relationships, not only bilaterally but also in a trilateral vision with another third party, and Spain can be one of those third parties. For example regarding solar energy programs with MASEN (Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy), we can export our combine expertise to Sub Saharan countries.
Morocco is active in the field of energy in Senegal, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Niger, Cape Verde, and then we have added Guinea Conakry, Ivory Coast and Gabon since the last visit of His Majesty.
Oil & gas and mining exploration requires time, long-term investment and an investor friendly environment with transparency and clear laws. Morocco’s prospects in deep waters and the new mining law have caught the attention of international investors and the media. What are the current prospects and how has the investment scenario been changed by the new mining law?
You mentioned discoveries, not yet unfortunately: we have indicators, but still not the important economic discovery. We have to continue to evaluate the sedimentary basins and to better understand and interpret all the data. We already have indications of gas in Sidi Mokhtar and Tendrara, indications of oil in Sidi Ifni and indication of heavy oil in South of Tarfaya. So there are several indications but not yet the big discovery or the interesting discovery that everybody is waiting for. However we have to manage people’s understanding because sometimes they do not understand really how this works and how difficult it is and how risky it is. At a certain point you make an evaluation of “maybe there is here for instance 100 million barrels of oil”, this is based on hypothesis, not on reality. But geologists have the right to make this hypothesis.
Another key element is the need for human capital—human resources with the talent that is required for mining and oil & gas exploration. How is ONHYM improving the knowledge, capacity and expertise of its geologists and adding value to Morocco’s human resources?
You can’t have development if you don’t have human resources. One of our focuses of attention is to give to each category of people the adequate training. For instance, the young people that we hire: once they are appointed to a permanent position, we send them to do an MBA with the Repsol foundation in Madrid, or with IFP (French Institute of Petroleum) in France, or at Colorado School of Mining. We also send them to the office of our exploration partners. Apart from that we also have in-house training.
Regarding environment, as you well know, mining and oil & gas are sensitive topics. Morocco has made a strong point regarding this matter. How is ONHYM working with its partners to ensure environmentally responsible development of Morocco’s natural resources?
In the mining sector we have the law on environment. Each project that has to be developed in Morocco has to present a Environmental Impact Study, which is presented to a regional committee in the area where the project takes place, then to the national committee which will give its observations, recommendations or reject the study if it considers that it has not been done adequately or if it doesn’t fit with the requirements. Concerning oil & gas, we don’t have specific conditions yet, but we oblige all our partners to use the best global practices especially during the drillings offshore or onshore.
Changing topic: Jeune Afrique has selected you last year as one of the most influential businesswomen in Africa. What are your views on the role that nowadays women are playing in this social and economic development of this continent?
With evolution of education, women are more and more implicated in the development of their community, but there is still a lot to do because we are at different levels of evolution in this continent. In the last 15 years Morocco has established a new family code and launched the INDH (National Initiative for Human Development), more and more women are going to schools and they are part of a dynamic civil society. You have women in all areas of the political and economic arena right now and they are playing a key role also in their families, in their community and in the society. We have a lot to do in some rural area where girls still don’t have the opportunity to go to school and the main thing to do is to help girls to go to school, because when you educate a girl you can be sure that you will have after, a person that is aware of her rights and obligations, that will be able to defend herself against the society or the difficulties she can meet in her life. So my main word is education, education, and education.
In other countries, there are different levels of evolution. I have met for instance in the last years several leader women in an Oil and Gas Company in Gabon or in Equatorial Guinea. I think that there are more and more women involved. And I think that this will increase in the future because women are aware of their role, are more and more educated, and they looking to play their role in society. They will not let others decide their role for them.
Last year you were talking about the myths that Spanish people still have about Morocco. And there were preconceptions or lack of information: not many years ago you would talk about Morocco and it would be about Marrakech, nice tea, nice textiles. Now that the region is in conflict and groups like IS or Boko Haram are active, people tend to think that Muslim countries are also all the same. What would you say is the uniqueness of Morocco’s economy, what makes it more attractive today and why they shouldn’t fear to enter Morocco to do business?
Firstly, Morocco is one of the oldest countries and States in the world with deep roots, with a real State and Nation structure. Secondly, Morocco has always been an open country with respect to all the others’ thinking and religions. We are a Muslim African and Arab country but we have always been in a very good situation with others.
Third, despite what has happened in our region, Morocco has safe, secure and stable. We have conducted reforms for more than 15 years right now. With His Majesty Mohammed VI, big reforms have been conducted on the political side, on the consolidation of democracy, and there have been big economic reforms. What is also important is that we have a vision for the medium and long term for many sectors: in agriculture, in industry, in energy, in mines, logistics, housing, tourism. When you have vision, when you have plans, you do your work quite clearly. So with those parameters of stability, of big, deep reforms, of social and political stability, of security and economic vision and development, there is an environment, which is attractive for foreigners and investors. We have prepared the global environment to attract more and more investors to construct with us all the projects we are doing. If you look at what has happened in the automotive sector or in the aviation sector where big companies from the US, North America, Asia and Europe have chosen Morocco to construct their plants. All these aforementioned factors make Morocco a land where you can choose to be if you want to develop your trade and your operations for the local market but also for the African continent.