Dakhla will play a key role as a centre of operations for Africa

The director general of the Dakhla Investment Centre assures that "we have all the advantages to attract foreign investment"
Mounir Houari, director general del Centro Regional de Inversiones de Dajla

PHOTO/GUILLERMO LÓPEZ  -   Mounir Houari, Director General of the Regional Investment Centre of Dakhla

It is evident as you walk around the city of Dakhla that its growth and development is imminent from the developed plots of land you come across in various places. Dakhla has about 150,000 inhabitants, most of them in the city, and it is expected that there will be a notable increase in population with the hundreds of workers from abroad that will be needed for the construction of a new port, with similar characteristics to Tangier Med and which will be strategic for trade in the Atlantic between Europe, Africa and America.

Another sector with many opportunities for construction is tourism and there are already several projects under construction and many more possibilities along more than a thousand kilometres of coastline. In addition, there are renewable energies, fishing and agriculture.

All this potential to be developed is managed by the Regional Investment Centre of the Dakhla Region and its director general, Mounir Houari.

How significant is the impetus you intend to give to the development of Dakhla?

The development of the Dakhla region started many years ago, under the leadership of the King. Our government is investing a lot in infrastructure, which is important for the development of any region. 

What would you highlight to a potential foreign investor?

If we want to name some of these investments, we can start with the road infrastructure and especially the motorway that would connect Dakhla with other major cities.

Another important project is the port of Dakhal, the Atlantic port, which will be similar in size to Tangier. We hope to have an industrial and logistics platform of about 1,000 hectares. 

We are also investing in Morocco's border logistics platform in Guerguerat. As you know, Morocco's strategic vision is for the Dakhla region to play a key role as a hub for Africa.

Puerto pesquero de Dajla PHOTO/GUILLERMO LÓPEZ
PHOTO/GUILLERMO LÓPEZ-Dakhla fishing port.

What are the prospects for Africa's neighbours?

We have a free trade zone in West Africa. Morocco also has the ambition to strengthen its economic relationship with the African continent. It is very important that we diversify our routes. We have the road that crosses the border to Africa through Mauritania. And, with this port, we will have a maritime channel to our African neighbours and other continents. 

What other advantages does the Dakhla region have?

Because of its climate, especially the availability of wind, there are many renewable energy projects underway. We have the largest seawater desalination project. This project will be powered by a wind farm of almost 50 MW. 

I would also like to highlight, within the wind projects, one of the biggest bets is being made by American and German investors. It is a 950 MW wind farm that would power blockchain platforms. In addition, Dakhla has enormous potential in agriculture due to the climatic precocity of its crops, which are available on the market three or four weeks before those of other countries. This is a huge competitive advantage.

There are many other projects in the pipeline that will contribute to the development of the region and reinforce Dakhla's key role as a hub for Africa.

What are the conditions for foreign investors?

As director general of the Regional Investment Centre, I see our role as working with investors. We try to accompany them throughout the administrative process, providing them with information on the different sectors. We provide macroeconomic and microeconomic information related to each sector. This is how we help investors. 

Puerto pesquero de Dajla
Mounir Houari talks to Omar El Alaoui and Moamane El Belghiti of the Nord-Sud Action Association.

Are investment procedures made easier?

Morocco has recently launched a reform of these regional investment centres, promoting regional economic opportunities. We assist investors in all administrative processes. We now use digital platforms that provide all the necessary information, and also shorten the time it used to take for authorisation in the past. Thanks to these electronic platforms we have been able to shorten the decision time from 180 days to 20 days.

Is there a skilled workforce?

Well, we have different programmes that include incentives. The government wants and is contributing to vocational training. We know that we are in the south of Morocco and therefore, we may have some difficulties in accessing qualified human resources. So the best way to overcome this challenge is to promote vocational training. The Moroccan government is helping investors and financing some of these costs.

What about tax incentives?

Regarding taxes and corporate tax, there are several incentives. There are differences between sectors, but all these packages are put in place to anchor and help companies to be more competitive and to establish themselves in the region.

Do these incentives include profits and can foreign companies repatriate their profits back home? 

Yes, profits are included and foreign companies can repatriate their profits. The law allows any foreign investor, who brings money from abroad, to be able to transfer the amount of the investment plus the profits to their home banks. There is a very clear legal framework that allows this. 

Sucursal del Bank of Africa (BMCE) en Dajla PHOTO/GUILLERMO LÓPEZ
 PHOTO/GUILLERMO LÓPEZ- Bank of Africa (BMCE) Dahkla

Banks have been mentioned, is there any special financial support from some banks for foreign investors or does the investor have to find his own financial support?

The Moroccan banking system is well developed and is here to support productive investment. As long as the business model is sound, as long as there is a market and a need, the banks will always follow the investor.

Has the US decision to recognise Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara encouraged investors to take an interest in the region? 

We have to say that due to recent developments, especially the recognition of US sovereignty in the southern region, many foreign companies, especially US investment funds are looking to finance projects in Morocco, which will give another advantage and another support to foreign companies that want to invest in the region.

Does Dakhla offer the same security as other regions in Morocco? 

Yes, of course, if you look at Morocco's ranking in the World Bank's Doing Business ranking, we have moved up 19 places in the last two years. Our legal system has become very strong, we have easy access to land and building permits... Our goal is to improve in this ranking in the future.

This puts Morocco as a very strong place compared to its neighbours in the region and we can see that Morocco, due to its reforms started in 2011, has been able to overcome all the challenges that other countries have faced in the past.

Investors are very cautious about legal certainty...

Yes it is a safe place, I can say that foreign investors have never talked about security issues. Their concerns are geared towards the challenges of accessing qualified human resources, getting administrative processes moving quickly or accessing clear and transparent information. This is what matters to us when we talk about foreign investors and thanks to this latest reform Morocco has been able to make good progress in recent years.

Construcción de nuevas viviendas en Dajla PHOTO/GUILLERMO LÓPEZ
PHOTO/GUILLERMO LÓPEZ-Construction of new housing in Dakhla.

Does the US recognition of Morocco's sovereignty over the Sahara set the tone for other countries such as the UK, France and Spain? 

Yes, of course, I think it will be more obvious now for other countries and they will follow the American way. We all know that Africa is a very big market. We are talking about 500 million people. There are a lot of needs. There are a lot of things to do. If investors are looking to access this market, I think the southern region of Morocco is a good base to establish their business and to access the rest of the continental market from here. Morocco has already invested in a good infrastructure and in facilitating all the processes that investors are looking for before starting their business. We have all the advantages to attract foreign investment.

What do you expect from Spanish companies, for example in renewable energy or tourism? 

I believe that in Dakhla and the southern region we present an opportunity for Spanish companies. There is a great and close historical and economic relationship between Morocco and Spain. We must combine the availability of resources in this region with the know-how that has been developed in different sectors in Spain. We can do great things together here. 

We talk about the tourism or fishing industries, where Spanish investors have good experience. We also have aquaculture, oyster farming, seaweed farming... There are endless possibilities. We are confident that we can create solid partnerships between Spaniards and Moroccans, based on win-win. We can go to the top, and together we can go and explore the African market so that it can grow and be beneficial for both parties.

What are the strengths of tourism in Dakhla?

Well, the strength of Dakhla is its beautiful natural ecological system. We also have the sea and the desert. You can imagine the number of opportunities and how we can explore different niche markets in the sector. Wind sports, such as kitesurfing, also stand out here. 

Colegio francés en Dajla PHOTO/GUILLERMO LÓPEZ
PHOTO/GUILLERMO LÓPEZ-French school in Dakhla.

Is sustainable development a condition?

Dakhla is one of the most beautiful places in the world, so we have a great opportunity to invest in tourism. However, what we have to consider is an economic development focused on the preservation of the environment. The ecosystem is very fragile, and we have to combine this economic development with the need to ensure sustainability and respect for the environment. We have to be able to take all these challenges into account.

Have you assessed the benefits of a negotiated settlement of the Sahara conflict with Algeria?

Honestly speaking, our main concern is to work together with the other administrations to promote investment in Dahla. Our main objective is to have a real impact on the population here and to be a model for other regions and countries to follow. Therefore, our main concern, regardless of whatever events are happening outside, is to focus on our development and the leadership we are looking for. To continue to work and collaborate with our partners in Spain, Europe and the United States to work together and have an impact on the population.

Do you coordinate with other regions? 

We always work with other regions because we want to know what the strengths of each region are and how we can collaborate and complement each other rather than compete. So sometimes we exchange challenges, good practices and solutions that have worked in other regions and see how we can replicate them.

That is why this reform of the regional investment centre is very important. It has been able to overcome and address different issues. 

How do you see Dakhla in 20 years' time?

I think Dakhla in 20 years' time will be a key player, not only in Morocco but in the whole region, thanks to all these ongoing projects. I believe that Dakhla will be the main gateway to Africa and will also be the first choice for any investor who has the ambition to access the African market.

As I said before, economic development must take into account a good balance between other developments and respect for the environment.