The fatal terrorist bombing of a tourist cafe in Marrakech that took the lives of 16 people makes it more urgent for Morocco to implement its vision, which is a new social contract. In a rapidly transforming North Africa and Middle East whose people are demanding broad-based socio-economic development and major political reform, Morocco is attempting to meet these critical needs by engaging people in their own development. Morocco’s vision is to invest in development initiatives that result from local people engaging in participatory democratic decision-making. As Morocco’s King Mohammed VI describes it, “the citizen is both the engine for and the ultimate objective of all the initiatives launched.”
Morocco’s vision is integral to its regionalization (or decentralization) structural reform plan to transfer power and responsibilities to sub-national levels to enable closer response to the needs of the public. Regionalization was first announced in 2008 by the king, who stated in his recent speech to the nation that its implementation timetable will be moved up and will include regionally elected members of councils with authority to carry out its decisions. Morocco’s vision to advance development through democratic processes is also reflected in the 2010 amendments to its Communal Charter-requiring locally elected assemblies to create multi-year development plans based on public participation which are submitted to ministries for possible financing. The vision shapes Morocco’s National Initiative for Human Development, created in 2005 to advance sustainable development projects more heavily aimed to serve rural areas, and has achieved mixed results.
As full of potential as these and other programs are that reflect Morocco’s vision, their efficacy is measured to the extent that they actually advance civic engagement in development. The question is: Are members of villages, towns, and neighborhoods together considering their needs, opportunities and challenges, working through conflict, and creating shared development plans that they implement with public-private financial, technical, or other partnering support? Currently, the short answer is not nearly enough to achieve the social changes Morocco needs now.
For Morocco to make its vision a reality, it must finally alleviate the severe poverty of its rural people who make-up about 40 percent of the country, and 85 percent of their households earn less than the national average. The prevalence and low value of cereal crops in Morocco-representing only 10 to 15 percent of agricultural revenues yet occupying 75 percent of usable agricultural surface areas, according to the Agency for Agricultural Development-is indicative of the terrible inefficiency of continuing subsistence agriculture and the anemic pace of rural development. Three percent of rural Moroccans move to cities each year most of whom would prefer to stay in their villages if there were opportunities. This exacerbates urban slum conditions whose residents feel excluded from human development prospects, and some have gone on to commit notorious terrorist acts.
The day before the bomb blast in Marrakech, Morocco’s king made a statement through the Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Maritime Fishing to “strive doubly hard” to achieve the goals of the Green Morocco Plan. This multi-year, multi-billion dollar plan has I believe identified the main agricultural challenges and set its goals and budget accordingly, including emphasizing Aggregates or Cooperatives since 70 percent of farmers own less than 5 hectares. However, the Green Plan must avoid the main drawback of the National Initiative-it is too top-down like the ministries that administer it-and actually create broad-based rural development driven by participatory democracy. The experiences of successful projects in Morocco strongly suggest that these programs should be implemented nationally:
Training locally elected members of rural communal councils and village representatives in their own communities in facilitating participatory planning activities will help villagers to together asses and identify projects they most need and want. The commune is Morocco’s most local administrative tier and they are in the best position to learn from the people the projects most important to them. Morocco’s regionalization should give communal councils maximum allowance, including budgetary and administrative, to pursue the development plans of the people. Council members and village representatives will facilitate participatory democratic discussions leading to development actions of the people, which is Morocco’s vision forward.
Most common rural priorities communities express are fruit tree agriculture, irrigation, potable water and women and youth empowerment. Morocco should greatly expand building community nurseries of tree varieties that grow naturally (the country is fortunate to have many). This will enable rural people to retain some of the value added from their transition to a cash crop economy. It is a loss of economic value and self reliance to rural families when agencies provide them with fruit trees that are on average thirty times the cost of young saplings that can be planted in community nurseries that local people are trained to manage. The price of trees inhibits Morocco’s agricultural transition, and decentralizing nurseries to communities could enable them to provide at cost most of the billions of trees that are needed. Tree nursery programs with women’s cooperatives and youth centers and schools are immensely empowering.
These recommendations developed from hundreds of village meetings that resulted in dozens of sustainable projects in different parts of Morocco that were facilitated by the High Atlas Foundation, of which I am a part. Will the agencies given the responsibility to bring Morocco’s vision forward train leaders to really listen to local communities to implement their project priorities across the country? Morocco’s vision forward depends on it.
Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir is a sociologist and president of the High Atlas Foundation (www.highatlasfoundation.org), a non-government agency that was founded by former Peace Corps Volunteers and is dedicated to community development in Morocco.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.