Morocco: 10 things to know about Fathallah Sijilmassi, the AU Commission’s new director-general

By Fadwa Islah
Posted on Friday, 18 March 2022 09:57

Fathallah Sijilmassi. in Barcelona, Spain on 24 February 2018. © Marta Perez/EFE/MAXPPP

One of Morocco’s former ambassadors to the European Union (EU) in Brussels and Paris, Fathallah Sijilmassi was appointed the African Union Commission’s new director-general last October.

1. Economist

Born on 21 August 1966 in Rabat, Fathallah Sijilmassi graduated with a degree in European Economics from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Grenoble in 1989. He later completed his studies with a doctorate in European Economics from the Université des Sciences Sociales de Grenoble.

2. Banker

Sijilmassi started his career in 1989 at the Banque Commerciale du Maroc (BCM), which was owned by Royal Holding. He held various positions there, including that of the bank’s representative in Milan from 1990 to 1992, when he left the white-collar world to join the public sector and more particularly the Ministry of Foreign Trade.

3. Fearsome negotiator

As early as April 1992, when he joined the minister of foreign trade’s cabinet, Sijilmassi was put in charge of negotiations with the EU because of his economic skills. Later, he also held the position of head of the Bilateral Trade Relations Department at the Ministry of Foreign Trade between April 1993 and December 1994. He was then appointed director of International Trade Relations at the same department from December 1994 to 1999.

He was also director of Multilateral Cooperation from 1999 to 2000. In this capacity, he participated in the negotiations regarding the association agreement between Morocco and the EU, as well as the free trade agreement between the kingdom and the US. Following this success, King Mohammed VI appointed him as Morocco’s ambassador to the EU in Brussels.

4. Born diplomat

Sijilmassi has diplomacy in his blood. He is the son of Mohamed Sijilmassi, one of the most prominent diplomats during the reign of the late King Hassan II. With his brother Tarik Sijilmassi, chairman of Crédit Agricole Maroc’s board of directors, he spent his childhood and teenage years in different countries, as his father was appointed Morocco’s ambassador in Russia, Denmark and Algeria.

This experience helped prepare him for the positions of responsibility that he would later hold, such as that of ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 2003 and 2004, and Morocco’s ambassador to France from 2004 to 2008.

5. Renault in Tangiers

In 2009, Sijilmassi was appointed director of the Agence Marocaine pour le Développement des Investissements et des Exportations (Amdie), a public establishment under the Ministry of Industry and Trade’s supervision. He remained there until 2012.

During this period, he was able to use his extensive list of contacts to develop this very young institution, created to attract investors – both national and foreign – and promote Morocco as a destination. His mandate was marked by a significant influx of direct foreign investments into the kingdom, including the Renault factory in Tangiers.

6. Mediterranean

In 2012, Sijilmassi succeeded his compatriot and colleague at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Youssef Amrani, as secretary-general of the Union pour la Méditerranée (UPM), after a unanimous election.

This Barcelona-based institution aims to promote stability in the Mediterranean region by improving north-south and south-south integration and supporting countries’ socio-economic development. During his mandate, Sijilmassi has implemented several projects, such as the desalination plant in Gaza, Palestine, and creating the Université Euro-Méditerranéenne de Fès.

7. Consultant

In 2018, Sijilmassi launched his own consultancy business by creating Positive Agenda Advisory. This firm focuses not only on supporting large institutions, such as the EU and its donors (European Investment Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, etc.), the French Development Agency (AFD) and the AU, but also Moroccan companies that want to go international as well as European firms investing in Morocco and Africa.

8. Award-winning author

In 2020, Sijilmassi published L’Avenir de l’Europe est au Sud (The Future of Europe is in the South) – with a preface by Hubert Védrine, former head of French diplomacy – in which he stresses how important it is for the Europe-Mediterranean-Africa axis to put itself back at the centre of the major global geo-economic transitional governments’ game. The book won the Prix du Livre Economique Francophone.

9. Afro-optimist

In the wake of Morocco’s return to the AU, Sijilmassi was appointed director-general of the AU Commission (AUC) at the end of 2021, the highest non-elective position in the AUC hierarchy.

This post was created at the end of the AU heads of state and government’s 11th Extraordinary Summit in November 2018, as part of the AUC’s structural reform.

In this position, this staunch Afro-optimist is – among other things – responsible for leading the AUC structures’ cross-cutting governance, ensuring operational coordination between the various departments and with member states, as well as guaranteeing optimal performance by the pan-African technostructure as advocated in the Kagame reform.

10. Honours

Sijilmassi has been decorated several times by the authorities of different countries: Grand Officer of the National Order of Merit (France), Officer of the Legion of Honour (France), encomienda de numero of the Order of Isabel la Catolica (Spain), Star of Merit (Palestine). These distinctions not only are testament to his efforts to promote the Kingdom’s image, but also his activity within the “Franco-Moroccan Economic Impetus Group” and “Morocco Hexagon.”

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