The Trilateral North Africa Alliance Initiative

NESA Center Alumni Publication
Dr. Arslan Chikhaoui
Geopolitics expert and Chairman of the Consultancy and Studies Center (www.nordsudventures.com) and member of the Istanbul Economic Cooperation Platform (UIP)
13 May 2024


1. Overview

Algeria has initiated in the 2024 first quarter a new North Africa trilateral regional cooperation alliance gathering Tunisia and Libya. According to observers, this is driven by real politics and pragmatic needs. Indeed, the Maghreb has been bogged down by political inaction and endless quarrels for decades. Therefore, by implementing this tripartite regrouping, the hope is to create a precedent for successful cooperation, proving the advantages of joint development over continuous isolation and encouraging the revitalization of a broader North Africa cooperation. In this regard, an eventual invitation to Morocco and Mauritania can be extended later as a signal that the initiative is not aimed at disbanding the entire Maghreb but enhancing its integration, forming a strong and united North African region. There is a pragmatic need for regional cooperation over historical political stagnation, and the initiative’s success could serve as a model for revitalizing broader Maghreb cooperation, including with Morocco and Mauritania. At medium run, the strategy aim to resettle the 5+5 cooperation framework between the two shores of the Mediterranean and to extend it to the five Sahel countries bordering the North African countries. From the observers perspective, the three key pillars of this geopolitical initiative are:

  • Geostrategic relevance: This initiative strategically positions Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya as proactive actors in North Africa, capable of shaping regional dynamics and influencing broader Mediterranean and African affairs.
  • Economic integration versus political tensions: While recognizing past tensions, particularly with Morocco, this alliance emphasizes economic integration as a pathway to resolving political disputes, proposing that enhanced economic ties can lead to improved political relationships.
  • Security cooperation: The initiative provides a platform for coordinating on security matters that are crucial for European and African stakeholders, thus enhancing the region’s capability to address regional and sub-regional security challenges collectively.


2. The Integration of the North Africa Region

Cross-border challenges, such as desertification and security issues, have made integration difficult to implement joint projects and coordinate policies between Maghreb countries. These challenges required considerable resources, which sometimes relegated regional integration to secondary importance. Moreover, these problems have exacerbated political tensions and hampered the mutual trust necessary for effective cooperation.

The construction of the Maghreb sub-region depends on a policy of convergence undermined by disputes and political and diplomatic differences. The Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) has proven incapable of asserting itself as a sub-regional entity. The joint achievements appear very modest.

The economies of the Maghreb countries have moved in a dispersed order despite a few initiatives, such as the creation of a Maghreb Union of Employers (MUE) in February 2007 and a Maghreb Union of Fairs in January 2008, and which held its first trade fair in Algiers in November of the same year. While the creation of the Maghreb Bank of Investment and Foreign Trade (MBIFT), expected since 1991, never saw the light of day. Despite the 37 conventions and agreements in economic and commercial matters concluded to date, common achievements have remained far below expectations and common objectives.

The situation of inter-Maghreb trade reveals a weakness of inter-Maghreb flows which contrasts with the rates of trade of Maghreb countries with the European Union (EU). The latter remains the main customer and supplier to the Maghreb countries. Thus, these exchanges are approximately 75% with the EU and do not exceed 5% between the Maghreb countries. A very low rate compared to that of other regional groupings (80% between EU countries, 23% between ASEAN countries, 16% between Latin American countries, and 9% between West African countries). In terms of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), the shortfall is estimated at five billion USD for the entire Maghreb region while they should be, on the contrary, attracted by an area offering a market of more than 100 million consumers.

Experts highlighted the Maghreb economic integration in a peaceful climate of mutual respect and good neighborliness could have saved each country nearly 8 billion USD, which corresponds in terms of trade to the transactions concluded between 2,000 and 3,000 Maghreb SMEs per year. Also, the establishment of a Maghreb Free Trade Zone could have boosted the economies of the zone and would have had a direct impact in the short term. Intra-Maghreb trade in its entirety could have increased to reach four to five billion USD and FDI five to seven billion USD per year. Cross-shareholdings would have developed the industrial fabric in particular.

In sum, there have been some economic cooperation initiatives within the AMU, but their impact has remained limited due to political obstacles and implementation gaps. Although they have helped promote economic and commercial exchanges between countries in the region, their effectiveness has been hampered by persistent political and diplomatic tensions and pending disputes matters since the independences in the 60s which have hampered the development of a common market and deterred regional investment. As a result, trade with the European Union has become predominant, highlighting the untapped potential of regional integration to boost economic growth in the region.

It is undeniable that North Africa has many assets likely to facilitate the integration of the region. These include:

  • Cultural homogeneity;
  • A young population;
  • Energy, industrial, and agricultural potential;
  • A geostrategic position with its proximity to Europe and its gateway to Africa.


Representing a natural reservoir of development for economies seeking dynamism, and even more so in the current global economic situation, North Africa is increasingly attracting the interest of major economic actors. It also constitutes an essential component of the future long-term economic growth.


3. Conclusion

A homogeneous North Africa subset, pacified, stable and respectful of the fundamental rules of good neighborliness would represent a dual geopolitical and economic interest. To reach this objective, Algeria recently engaged in a trilateral political approach of a comprehensive neighborhood partnership with Libya and Tunisia to be gradually enlarged and thus allow time for inhibiting disputes to find their solutions.

It is clear, as has been clarified through the diplomatic channels of each of the three states, that this initiative is neither a substitute nor an alternative to the existing one and is in inclusiveness logic. It is undeniable that the multiplication of regional grouping initiatives, whatever their spatial size, has become a contextual and geostrategic survival imperative.



The views presented in this article are those of the speaker or author and do not necessarily represent the views of DoD or its components.