The M&A Dating Game V: This Country Separated by a Huge Wall of Sand (and 7 Million Landmines)

This is the fifth article in a series about countries that have not had an announced M&A event in the past 20 years. In my opinion, there are a lot of M&A opportunities dealmakers are missing out on.

21 August 2014


This is the fifth article in a series about countries that have not had an announced M&A event in the past 20 years. In my opinion, there’s so much that these countries have to offer that it’s a shame that they’re being left out. Therefore, I have decided to take it upon myself to drum up some business for them.

The last time, I left you with this hint: “If this northwest African country were a U.S. state, it would be the ninth largest by area, but the smallest by population.”

Here are a few more hints about the country to get your creative juices flowing:

  1. It has the fifth lowest population density in the world, and the lowest overall in Africa
  2. Spain occupied it until 1975
  3. This is a disputed territory

Not up to date on your obscure geopolitical trivia? I’m of course talking about …

Western Sahara


Source: RNW

Drive a Water and Grass Guzzler

Where to begin on Western Sahara? It’s basically a desert sandwiched between Morocco, Mauritania, and Algeria.

It was a Spanish colony for about a century; the Spanish departed in 1975, leaving a power vacuum. In stepped Morocco, as well as a group named the Polisario Front — these two have never ceased to dispute the territory. Today, a large sand berm and seven million mines effectively divide the country between the Moroccan and Polisario sides.

Opportunities for M&A

On a macro level, the country’s GDP is around $900 million. Western Sahara has two major things going for it: large phosphate reserves; and extensive fisheries off the coast (both controlled by Morocco).

  • Phosphate: Morocco and Western Sahara are home to over 75 percent of the world’s phosphate. The current phosphate prices are twice what they were in 2000 (although largely flat since 2010). Since Western Sahara exports untreated phosphates, there might be an opportunity to build fertilizer factories in Western Sahara for export into Africa where agriculture accounts for over 30 percent of the African continent’s GDP.
  • Fishing: Accessing this resource (which includes sardines) is apparently a bit tricky. In 2006, the European Union signed an agreement with Morocco granting EU fishermen the right to ply these waters. Critics raised an interesting point: Under international law, Morocco lacked authority to grant such privileges in the first place. The intermittent fishing agreement was renewed in 2013 — to much ridicule from critics. So, extracting the fish doesn’t look like an easy proposition.

Limited Prospects in Western Sahara

So, to fish contested waters, well, you do that at your own risk too. And, let’s just say the phosphate mining industry in Western Sahara isn’t squeaky clean, either.

Other prospects outside of these are gloomy, but if you’d like to take a huge risk, you can try oil and natural gas prospecting. Unfortunately there are no companies here for you to acquire so you’d have to go into greenfield territory.

The next blog will be a bit different from the previous ones since I will write about a few countries at once — all are located in the Pacific Ocean.

Now, for the next edition’s hint: You can make an anagram from these countries, which reads as follows: “American awful unvaliant usual as a tumour islands.” See you next time!

Ronen Cohen

Ronen Cohen

Ronen is a Senior Associate in Strategy and Product Marketing at Intralinks where he helps shape the direction and marketing of Intralinks Dealspace and DealNexus for the M&A community. Prior to joining Intralinks, Ronen was a management and strategy consultant for several years. Ronen has also worked in the financial sector, specifically in the venture capital and private equity fields. He graduated from New York University’s Stern School of Business with a dual degree in Economics and International Business, with a specialization in Entrepreneurship.

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