TWO weeks ago I met an old friend, who heads one of the government agencies, on a flight to Paris.

TWO weeks ago I met an old friend, who heads one of the government agencies, on a flight to Paris.

On hearing that I was to catch a connecting flight to Casablanca, Morocco, the friend asked me what I was going to do "in a country that has turned its back on Africa and given its smiling face to Europe".

My friend's comment is actually a reflection of the kind of relationship Morocco has or does not have with several African countries - including South Africa.

As it is Morocco is not part of the African Union. The Northwest African monarchy withdrew its membership from the then Organisation of African Unity in 1984. This was after the OAU's decision to accept the Saharawi Arab Republic as a member.

The Saharawi Arab Republic was proclaimed by the Popular Front for Liberated Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro - commonly known as Polisario Front in 1976.

Polisario was formed to fight against the Spanish control of Western Sahara.

In 1976 Spain signed the Madrid Accords with both Mauritania and Morocco. Western Sahara was then divided between the two governments.

The Algeria-backed Polisario Front proclaimed the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic on February 27 1976, and waged a guerrilla war against both Morocco and Mauritania.

In 1979 Mauritania signed a peace deal with Polisario and withdrew from Western Sahara region it controlled.

King Hassan II of Morocco immediately claimed the area of Western Sahara evacuated by Mauritania.

Polisario has been operating from Algeria with most of its followers staying in refugee camps in Tinduff in western Algeria.

In 1991 Morocco and Polisario signed a cease-fire deal and their conflict is currently in the hands of the United Nations Security Council. Morocco has come up with a proposal to grant Western Sahara autonomy, ala the Swedish cantons. But Polisario insists on total independence.

The situation is further compounded by the fact that key AU members like South Africa regard Morocco as a colonial power in Western Sahara. Despite this seemingly intractable situation it finds itself in, Morocco has achieved some success when it comes to serving its people's needs.

There are some lessons that other African countries - including South Africa - can learn from the monarchy.

In 2004 Morocco established its own version of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission modelled on the South African pattern.

The objective of the commission was to deal with human rights abuses perpetrated by the Moroccan monarchy under King Hassan 11.

Redress for those who were victims of the abuses either directly or indirectly included financial reparation, collective reparation for communities affected by the abuses. Reparation included actual financial payments to victims, establishment of income generating projects for families and communities affected, as well as providing access to social services such as education, health and housing to the victims.

This clearly went further than the South African TRC, where reparation was largely symbolic - with some victims of the abuses by apartheid security remaining marginalised and poor.

Just like South Africa, Morocco has a plan to rid its cities of shanty towns by 2012.

The Moroccan housing programme is run by a government housing agency led by experts in the field of housing, including architects, quantity surveyors, civil engineers and social scientists. Unlike the situation in South Africa, they do not need consultants to come and develop implementation plans for them.

Morocco, like South Africa, is a very dry country. To deal with the shortage of water the Moroccan government has launched a massive dam building project.

During his tenure as Minister of Water Affairs, Kader Asmal pinpointed the need to build dams, but South Africa, for whatever reasons, has not caught on in this regard.

A city like Laayoune in Southern Morocco, which is close to the sea, uses desalination to augment its water supply. South Africa has a lot of salt water which can also be desalted and used for drinking.

Granted, desalination is an expensive process, but the Moroccans are also exploring ways of developing technology that can make the process more cost-effective.

When it comes to democracy, our neighbouring Swazi monarch can also learn a lot from Morocco.

Although a monarchy, Morocco is also a multiparty democracy with several political parties in Parliament. The king appoints the cabinet in consultation with an advisory council.

Parties are allowed to nominate their candidates, who are then sanctioned by the council and eventually appointed by the king.

This has led to, for example, members of opposition parties becoming members of the cabinet depending on their field of expertise.

Swaziland's King Mswati III can take a leaf from the Moroccans and establish a multiparty democracy in his country - without undermining the traditions of the monarchy.

l Ido Lekota was in Morocco as a guest of the Moroccan government.