Morocco: Dakhla, the future economic center of Africa

The opening of a US consulate in Dakhla will allow the city, and by extension the southern regions, to position itself on the economic agendas of international decision makers.

After recognizing Morocco's sovereignty over its Sahara, the United States announced the upcoming opening of an economic consulate in Dakhla. This decision positions Morocco as the economic gateway to North and West Africa, and will turn the city of Dakhla into a growth center for American companies wishing to develop in this part of the continent. What are the strengths and potential of the Dakhla-Oued Eddahab region?

An exceptional geographical location

The Dakhla Oued Eddahab region covers an area of ​​130.898 km2, or about 20% of the national territory. Its advantageous geographical position gives it the role of center and platform for exchanges between Morocco and Europe through the Atlantic Ocean, on the one hand, and between Morocco and Sub-Saharan Africa, through Mauritania, on the other.

The Region has more than 150.000 inhabitants in 2020. According to Mounir Houari, president of the Dakhla-Oued Eddahab Regional Investment Center (CRI), it generates 2% of the national GDP.

According to the latest HCP statistics, the region's GDP per capita reached 85.669 DH in 2018, more than double the national average, which is 31.473 DH.

On the employment side, in 2017, the region had 86.468 active workers, with a regional employment rate of 66,6%, the national average of 41,9% and a regional unemployment rate of 7,4% compared to the national average. by 10,2%. Young people under 35 years of age represent more than 65% of the workforce in the region.

Significant economic potential

The Dakhla-Oued Eddahab region has significant economic potential, particularly “in the sectors of sea fishing, agriculture, tourism and energy”, confesses Mr. Houari.

"The fishing sector alone represents 45% of the region's GDP and employs the largest number of people" (around 47.000, including 20.000 indirect).

With a coastline of 667 km, the region is one of the richest fish-rich areas in the Kingdom, and whose waters hide abundant and diversified fishing resources.

"For tourism, there has been a great development during the last 5 years with the creation of new hotels and accommodation establishments (1.471 beds and 692 rooms in 2018)", continues the president of the CRI. “Of course, this sector does not represent much in terms of regional GDP, but it is a real showcase to promote the region. Many tourists, who came as visitors, later became investors'.

“The agricultural sector is in full development. Irrigation through the desalination plant, under construction, will allow the region to position itself on the chessboard of the sector at the regional level. The climate in Dakhla-Oued Eddahab favors several crops ", mainly early vegetables, especially tomatoes and melons, and" sunlight is more important than in other regions. "But the most important thing," he emphasizes, "is precociousness." "Agricultural products grown in Dakhla reach the European market earlier than other products (two to three weeks), which is an important asset and a major competitive advantage."

Thus, the latest focus of global attention given to the region will allow these sectors to develop even more, as new export opportunities to the American continent are presented to professionals in the fishing and agricultural sectors. As for the tourism sector, from now on it will be promoted by US tour operators.

Existing infrastructure and ongoing projects

The region already has an international airport, the traffic of which increased by more than 23% between 2018 and 2019.

It is also home to a port complex that includes two ports that are located in the bay of Oued Eddahab. The first, the old port, was transformed into a military port and the second, the new, was put into service in 2001. The activity of the latter is mainly based on the exploitation of fishing resources, the importation of fish. hydrocarbons and cruise flows. This port has an industrial zone of 270 ha, of which 20% is developed for processing industries, storage areas, administrative areas and a free export zone.

Other projects are currently underway, as part of the development program for the southern provinces started in 2015 by King Mohammed VI.

These include:

  • New port of Dakhla Atlantique, which should promote direct trade between Morocco and its African partners. The construction launch is scheduled for next year, with an investment of MAD 10.000 billion. The site will last for 6 years. According to the director of CRI, “an industrial and logistics zone of 1.000 ha will be annexed to this port, which will allow the creation of a free zone. This is anchored in the Moroccan strategy of consolidation Associations and South-South trade «.
  • The seawater desalination plant, with an investment of close to MAD 2.000 million. "The project is under construction and will eventually allow the irrigation of 5.000 ha in the region."
  • The Tiznit-Laâyoune-Dakhla motorway project, which runs for approximately 1.000 km, at a cost of MAD 10.000 billion. The section that connects Tiznit with Laâyoune, over a distance of 555 km, will be completed this year. The Guelmim-Zerouila section (22,6 km) registered a 98% progress rate in December 2020, compared to 90% that of Tarfaya-Doura (57 km).
  • The deployment of two logistics platforms at the border post of El Guergarate and Bir Guendouz of 34 ha each. "This will allow the region to position itself as a true gateway to Africa and an important exchange center."

“Other projects are carried out by the private sector, in particular the American Soluna Investment Fund project, which will allow the creation of a wind farm with a production capacity of 900 megawatts. This park will have the support of data centers, used in blockchain technology by several global financial institutions. The objective through this project is to provide international computing capabilities for institutions that use this technology.

Still, according to Mounir Houari, "there are currently more than 80 industrial units in the region, but this number will increase after the opening of the new port of Mhiriz, in the municipality of Bir Gandouz, and after the start of the new port of Dakhla" .

Attract more American investment

As several international experts have emphasized, the opening of an economically-minded US consulate in Dakhla will attract more foreign direct investment, particularly from the United States.

Contacted by us, confirms Mehdi Abdelkrim, president of the regional dynamic commission and PPP at CGEM.

“First of all, you should know that with the United States, we have a strategic dialogue on the Morocco-United States partnership, in terms of investments, and I believe that the decision to recognize Morocco's sovereignty over the Sahara will facilitate direct American investments and investments. joint ventures with Moroccan partners, at the level of the southern provinces ”.

“We are talking about the potential of the region. The southern provinces have benefited from a development plan launched by King Mohammed VI, of 77 billion dirhams which increased to 85 billion dirhams, that is, the importance of the projects in the region and their potential « .

“Fishing in Dakhla and Laâyoune is a very important ecosystem. In addition, many calls for demonstrations are launched in the aquaculture sector, and the projects on renewable energy and tourism are on the right track, not to mention the projects that are very structural in the region, in particular the Guelmim airport, the stations desalination, the port of Dakhla and the road connecting Tiznit with Dakhla. Upon arrival, US investment will find promising sectors and infrastructure that will facilitate investment and co-investment, ”added Mr. Abdelkrim.

Furthermore, “tourism continues to develop with Air Arabia's air connectivity and the multiplication of flights from different countries, and hotel units are experiencing remarkable development. We are no longer in the city of Dakhla d '10 years ago. Tourism is taking over the region, and several hotel units are full in normal times. We are no longer in tourism that is not programmed, but programmable ”, he concludes.

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