MUHAMMAD: Morocco — The Gateway to Africa

Askia Muhammad | 2/12/2014, 3 p.m.
I'm far from a wealthy person to whom folks with money pay attention for investment advice. Yet I can say ...
Askia Muhammad

I’m far from a wealthy person to whom folks with money pay attention for investment advice. Yet I can say with certainty a couple of things about the financial future of Africa, which history, I believe, will reward my accuracy.

Around 20 years ago I was a member of a delegation of National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA – the Black Press of America) members in Nigeria. We met with then Nigerian President Sani Abacha, who told the group that Blacks in America should invest in Africa.

Africa, President Abacha said, was (is) the last virgin economic territory on earth. Latin America has been gobbled up by mostly western interests. The “Asian Tigers,” he said are an economic force of their own. Europe, North America, and Australia, are the economic province of Caucasians he said, correctly. But Africa, he predicted is a land which is virtually unexploited.

Even today, almost 20 years later, President Abacha’s words ring true – even in the face of rampant purchases of African resources by Chinese investors during the last decade or so. Geographically, Africa’s territory is larger than the United States, China, and Europe combined. That’s huge.

But for a variety of predictable reasons, most folks with money are frightened to death about putting money into Africa. That’s where Morocco, of all places comes in.

During a recent visit with another NNPA delegation to Africa – this time to Morocco – I heard the same refrain about African investment opportunities repeated from, of all people a “fertilizer king.” Now, when most of us think about fertilizer, the unappealing prospect of “manure” is generally the first thing that comes to mind. Yuck.

In a meeting with Dr. Mostafa Terrab, the CEO and Chairman of OCP, Morocco’s first industrial powerhouse, a company which began as a simply a mining operation, but which has grown into a leading force in the future of world food security, I learned that Africa still has an unbeatable investment future, and that aside from the shrewd Chinese, the investors there are few.

Dr. Terrab earned both his masters and his Ph.D. degrees at MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), and he worked at all the usual high profile World-Bank-IMF-type jobs before returning home to work for his country. Now he heads OCP, which is a powerhouse in phosphates, the key ingredient in all modern fertilizer, and bedrock of the world’s future food security! That’s because fertilizers make the land produce more abundant crop yields.

Behind the United States and China, Morocco and Western Sahara is the world’s third largest producer of phosphate rock. What’s more, of the world’s known phosphate reserves, 64 percent of them are, guess where: on the African continent! What’s even more important is that 84 percent of those phosphate rock reserves are in Morocco and Western Sahara: 84 percent!

Have I gotten your attention yet, Mr. Moneybags? Then keep reading.

What’s even more important is that the vast majority of the world’s arable land – at least that part which is not yet under cultivation – is on the African continent. Are you starting to see the picture here? The future of world food security is in Africa, both in terms of available land and in the fertilizer which will be needed to make that land productive, still up until now, investors, except for some in China, have a “hands off Africa” policy. And for good reason.