The Moroccan Ambassador to Finland and Estonia with residence in Helsinki, H.E Mr Mohamed Achgalou came to Finland almost three years ago. He has been able to establish himself among the African diaspora stakeholders. In this interview, he talked about the mission, challenges, bilateral relations of his country with Finland and investment opportunities in Morocco.
1. How long have you been in Finland? Please could you share some experiences in Finland?
I was appointed to serve as Ambassador of Morocco to Finland and Estonia with residence in Helsinki, in June 2019. I am particularly honoured to be the Ambassador of His Majesty the King in Finland. Obviously, the most important experience for me as a diplomat is the opportunity to serve the highest interest of my country and my fellow citizens. Having the opportunity to contribute to strengthening the relations we have with Finland and Estonia is a privilege. Unfortunately, the pandemic was a difficult experience. We all have been stressed by uncertainty and being far from our relatives. Probably, this episode is behind us, but now it’s time to reflect on the lessons of the past two years, especially for Africa where there is an urgent need for a significant shift in the “health sovereignty” building process.
2. Could you share some of the challenges that you have encountered in the course of discharging your duty as an ambassador?
The major task remains, for sure, the defence of the Territorial Integrity of the Kingdom of Morocco, the explanation of its national cause and its efforts to settle the regional dispute around the Moroccan Sahara in a peaceful way. This question is considered by all Moroccans top priority issue. It is our national cause. Another challenge remains the establishment of channels of contact between economic and business actors in both countries. Identifying the best opportunities and advantages that each country can offer to the other in their respective regional spaces is a key element to achieving some good results in the field of economic diplomacy. Deconstructing some minor stereotypes and old-school narratives about Morocco has also been on my task list. I am happy to state that the majority of Fins have a general positive perception about Morocco and the values it is associated with. The mutual understanding and the common conviction on both sides about the universal values intrinsic to human dignity make the positive views dominate on both sides.
3. How big is the Moroccan community in Finland?
The Moroccan community in Finland now amounts to nearly 3,400 citizens. Moroccans living in Finland are well integrated into Finnish society. As all members of our diaspora over the world, Moroccans of Finland and Estonia are bound to their homeland by strong ties. They are deeply attached and strongly committed to Moroccan values and institutions. In fact, each Moroccan is an ambassador of her or his culture and values. As such, they play an important role in building bridges between the two counties.
4. You have been supporting African projects and attending many African events. What advice do you have for the African diaspora in Finland towards building a strong and united community?
It goes without saying that the Embassy of Morocco remains active for African issues and supports several wonderful events led by the Afro-diaspora in Finland. Africa is the natural extension and the strategic depth of Morocco. Everywhere and on all occasions, the Continent is indeed a priority for my country. This historic approach has been confirmed, anchored, and further consolidated under the reign of His Majesty King Mohammed VI through his 50 visits to the African States leading to more than 1000 cooperation agreements in different fields. Regarding the second part of your question, I would say that I am not in a position to give advice. Therefore, it is worth reminding that solidarity is, par excellence, an African cultural and civilizational value. However, you have to be an expert to find out the growing trend towards individualism and self-interest in today’s world. The role of Africans to the world is to remain united for the preservation of the momentum of solidarity that characterizes our social behaviour all over our rich history, enriching all humanity.
5. What are the investment opportunities available for foreign investors who want to be in Morocco?
Thanks to its most attractive business climate in the region, the Moroccan economy possesses tremendous assets for investment. It offers plenty of advantageous opportunities at the closest African trip to Europe and the USA. With its 710,850 sq km territory and unique maritime extension of 3,500 km along the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, Morocco is strategically the best location for successful investments. I can briefly identify some promising areas for Finnish companies in key emerging sectors such as renewable energy, the agri-food industry, pharmaceutical, health infrastructure, education, and outsourcing. I would also suggest that industry, tourism, agriculture, and ITC are the main sectors where Finnish companies may meet huge opportunities and proper advantages. More specifically, I would recommend some sectors such as water management, on which our two countries last year signed a cooperation MoU. Regarding innovative solutions and high technology expertise of Finnish companies, I might state that there is almost in every sector in Morocco an opportunity for a given Finnish company. The reason is that there are 12 regions in Morocco all under construction, reconstruction, or modernization. It’s “an open big project” of new ports in Dakhla and Nador, hospitals in Laayoune, Agadir and Tangier, highways between Agadir and Laayoune and also the extension of airports of Rabat and Casablanca. The package of incentives will certainly enlarge within the next few weeks, bearing in mind new reforms recently adopted by the Government including a new Investment Charter. It comes straight after the pandemic and the international and regional context that have shown that business is vulnerable without an overall climate of peace, security, and sustainability that only Morocco offers in North Africa.
6. If a Finnish company decides to invest in Morocco, what are the most important issues the company must take into consideration to succeed in the market?
The first simple step would be to take the decision to reach out to the Embassy for first general information guidelines and how to best enjoy the possible advantages of the existing set of incentives I already mentioned. For instance, the legislation and procedures can be discussed during the decision-making
the process through Regional Investment Centres established offering simplified and 100% online procedures in different regions of the Kingdom. Likewise, the platform Morocco Now is an open space where investors can know about success stories and discover new opportunities. It is also important for Finnish companies to go out of the box and challenge the old-school perceptions about Morocco and Africa in general. It might be
beneficial for them to avoid the one-sided focus on issues based on non-verified assessments.
7. Can you briefly describe Morocco’s bilateral relationship with Finland? What are the focus areas?
Morocco and Finland enjoy excellent and long-standing relations. Leadership and People of both countries are driven by a strong desire to deepen their cooperation in the future, with a view to strengthening political, cultural, and economic cooperation. In Morocco, there is a conviction that our relations with Finland must always be at an excellent level that can build a better future for us and the Finns.
8. Tourism is considered one of the main foreign exchange sources in Morocco. Can you share with us what the government did to boost the tourism sector?
Indeed, tourism has been one of the country’s main assets for the past twenty years. It occupies a central place in the Moroccan economy. The kingdom’s authorities consider it a strategic sector contributing to development through business and job opportunities it creates. The sector now generates an average of 7 % of the country’s GDP. Before the Covid crisis, Morocco welcomed 13 million tourists in 2019, including about 10,000 Finnish tourists according to 2018 data.
In the post-Covid context, several measures were adopted to double tourist arrivals by 2030. The reinforcement of digital communication, encouragement of sustainable tourism, strengthening and rehabilitation of infrastructure constitute the major assets of the government policy in the tourism sector. I seize this opportunity to encourage Finns to consider their vacation in different wonderful regions of the Kingdom of lights, Morocco visited first half of 2022 by more than 6 million tourists.
9. The Finnish Government approved Finland’s Africa strategy in 2021. It will be used to diversify and deepen Finland’s relations with African countries, the African Union (AU) and regional organisations, with a focus on political and economic relations. How best can this be achieved?
The best means to achieve concrete results of the FAS resides in its raison d’être clearly highlighted by the Finnish Government: “the development of relations between Finland and each one of the 54 African countries”, who are indeed responsible for their own development and security. In my point of view, it is a particularly wise and genuine approach. In the end, the importance of the Strategy will be measured by its capacity to meet this objective. The starting point is a deeper understanding of the diversity, culture, and social facts about the Continent. Then comes the identification of instruments of implementation. Some might build on the already existing and functioning ones such as the South-South cooperation. In some cases, this instrument encouraged by the UN was extended to triangular cooperation successfully witnessed with Japan, Morocco, and African states individually or collectively and also with Morocco, EU, and African states through the Link Up Africa project signed in Rabat on March 2022. Morocco’s experience and a strong commitment to Africa are internationally recognized. Using the kingdom as the hub of the African continent could thus be an option that Finland might explore for the implementation of its African strategy.
My country is fully available to cooperate in this context and so many other issues. It is also interesting to target specific areas where each stakeholder can find some interest, particularly when it comes to local communities in Africa and local businesses that might generate job opportunities, wealth, and significant changes