The Core of Democracy is not Elections – It’s Rule of Law and Civil Society

*Pundits wonder why democracy is failing judgment based on mistaken assumptions*

It’s hard not to look at the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the broader collection of emerging states without disappointment at what has happened to the democratic impulse that held so much promise at the end of the last century. Whether one is assessing the color revolutions in the former Soviet Union, the Arab Spring, the growth of democratic practices in Latin America, or Central Asia, the verdict is the same—why has democracy failed to grow deep and sustainable roots?The issue of the future of democracy has been addressed in several recent articles that should be required reading for anyone interested in something more than sound bites about freedom and progress. The core issues these articles address are: what are the ingredients that make democracy enduring and what are the factors that slow or inhibit its growth at a time when “people power” seems to have replaced the ballot box as a leading edge of change?

A major criticism directed at the “democracy now” crowd is their over-reliance on elections as the primary vehicle for expressing and managing change. The key question this bypasses is how to determine what people really want—is it a constitution that describes power sharing and the process of getting there, or is it a bill of rights that guarantees basic civil and human rights to the broadest possible number of citizens in a country?

In the MENA at least, where elections are an event rather than a reliable indicator of democratic values, the clear preference of the majority of Arabs, based on anecdotal and polling evidence, is to have their rights, with less concern about who can guarantee them, which goes to the longevity of the former leaders of Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria in the present, and others. Democracy/elections are perceived as a way to better determine distribution of economic benefits. This should come as no surprise, considering the lackluster progress in promoting democratic participation in governments, the weak mobilizing and educating roles of political parties, and the general sense of malaise when it comes to making institutional political reforms.

Resetting Assumptions about Democracy

In thinking through the future of democratic governance, a review of the indicators in the Freedom House Index, Freedom in the World, and the Fund for Peace’s Failed States Index, demonstrates the complexity and singularity of the process of effective and equitable self-government. Rankings that are high on stability do not necessarily line up with those that reflect public participation in political space. Speaking to the brief attention span of reporting on political change, Anne Applebaum wrote “the creation of democratic institutions—courts, legal systems, bills of rights—is a long and tedious process that often doesn’t interest foreign journalists at all.”

In a similar vein, Stephen M. Walt wrote about the confusion between “a democratic government and a liberal society.” His point is that “democratic procedures do not guarantee that human rights will be protected, that individual differences will be tolerated and respected, or that public institutions—to include the press and intelligentsia—will not be corrupted or compromised.”

Reflecting on the source of much of the conflict within today’s emerging democracies, Walt writes that “Most importantly, a liberal society emphasizes toleration…” He raises a critical question in this regard, which goes to the heart of raising a liberal democracy today: “But it is much harder to convince a population to prize individual rights over collective identities and local traditions—and to impart in these citizens a sense of toleration for those who are different and for ideas that might seem dangerous or distasteful.”

Struggling for Clarity in the Democracy Debate

While the term democracy invokes a paradigm of responsible civic participation, it is difficult to balance the image with the reality. As Paul Pilar points out, “We should not apply the label of democracy where it does not belong.” In deciding how best to spend US democracy-promotion funding, it would be worthwhile to look at those countries that are growing the credibility of elections as well as focusing on capacity-building for civil society.

Civil Society Summit in MoroccoMorocco is a useful case in point. It not only has successfully held local and national elections that international observers have judged free and fair, it also continues to invest heavily in advancing its civil society capabilities. In the late 1990s, the late King Hassan II, sensing the shift in public sentiment towards having a greater role in governance, undertook two important reforms. He allowed the largest party in Parliament to nominate the Prime Minister, and he opened up opportunities for an empowered civil society as an antidote to bickering political parties. Over the next fifteen years, especially under his son King Mohammed VI, civil society continues to evolve as a potent force in defining political, human, economic, and social development priorities—quite separately from the political parties. More than 40,000 NGOs are currently registered in all areas of the country.

King Mohammed encouraged this activism by convening a year-long civil society dialogue under the National Committee for Dialogue on Civil Society. During the past year, the committee held 18 meetings that drew nearly 10,000 civil society activists, stakeholders, and officials who shared their perspectives on proposed legislation related to the forward status of NGOs. According to El Habib Choubani, the Minister for Parliamentary Relations, the goal of the effort is “to create a legal arsenal that can guarantee the freedom to create organizations” and ensure the “independence of civil society activity and governance.” Rather than treat civil society as adversaries or passive partners, the dialogue seeks to further the goal of the 2011 Constitution to enable civil society to play a major participatory role in the political life of the country. These efforts reflect the essence of building a liberal democracy—knowledge, access, power, and respect.

Growing Investment Opportunities in Morocco – Strength behind the Numbers

*Morocco continues to build eco-system bona fides for regional leadership*

After the US-Morocco Business Development Conference (BDC) held last week in Rabat, news stories continue to confirm that Morocco, and particularly Casablanca, are rising stars in Africa as an investment destination and platform for regional business development.

The most emphatic indicator is the ranking of Casablanca on the Global Financial Centres Index 15. In its first ever listing on the index, Casablanca came in ahead of all sites in Africa except Johannesburg. The Index is an internationally recognized report that looks at key characteristics of a country’s profile as a financial center — within the country, off-shore, and regionally — and ranks them based on analyses of data and questionnaires filled out by financial professionals.

Although Casablanca was not mentioned in previous reports, it recently made impressive strides in creating an “eco-system” of financial regulations, reputational credibility, physical infrastructure, and support services required to operate domestically and globally, largely centered in the Casablanca Financial City (CFC). Even among Arab countries, Casablanca is ranked in the top 10 in the Middle East and Africa, right behind the energy-driven powerhouses of the Gulf, a significant achievement.

Casablanca scored high on a number of indicators, and its category as “transnational specialist” underscores its regional role in brokering business in broader African markets. No other African or Middle Eastern country earned this designation, as they primarily service their domestic economies. In addition, when respondents were asked which centers may be “most likely to become more significant in the next few years,” Morocco led all cities on the list.

US-Morocco Private Sector Leaders Ink MOU

During the BDC, The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the General Confederation of Moroccan Enterprises (CGEM) signed a Memorandum of Understanding to expand and deepen their joint efforts to increase Morocco-US trade and investment. In addition to hosting “seminars, meetings, delegations, conferences, and trade fairs” the partners agreed to hold semi-annual meetings to align their efforts, and “exchange on a regular basis relevant data, trends, knowledge and information in order to reinforce and enhance the economic links between Morocco and the United States.” This last point addresses a continuing challenge in doing business in Morocco: access to up-to-date information in English that will serve the interests of both parties.

The agreement with the US Chamber means that Morocco will now have the resources of the largest American business organization with affiliated Chambers world-wide (there is an Am-Cham in Casablanca) as an advocate in the world’s largest economy. Along with the FTA, this gives Morocco important tools for promoting trade and investment as well as economic penetration into the larger region.

Building a Regional Business Platform

Morocco as a hub to Africa is not only relevant to US companies. An article in Forbes focused on plans by Canadian company Bombardier Aerospace for its $200 million Casablanca manufacturing facility due to open in late 2014. It will create some 850 jobs by 2020 and, according to Bombardier, “will improve its cost competitiveness…and “provide solutions to respond to African airlines’ profitability issues.” Aviation demand forecasts show a huge upside both in terms of travel and replacement of existing aircraft. For example, Morocco announced that its tourism industry is picking up after 2012’s stagnation, with 10 million visitors in 2013 and an eight percent jump forecast for 2014, according to Tourism Minister Lahcen Haddad.

The Forbes article went on to say that “Bombardier believes its investment in Morocco, a location chosen for its internationally competitive manufacturing costs, low shipping and transportation costs and proximity to Europe, will serve as a springboard to the rest of the region and help it win an important part of the continent’s demand for new aircraft.” As importantly, “Bombardier brings know-how and expertise to the region and is currently in talks to develop its local supply chain. By training local talents and bringing them into their operations and involving local suppliers, it can be a catalyst for an industry that is so closely tied to the continent’s growth.”

It is this clear potential for long term profitable growth that is on the minds of the experts who responded to the Global Finance Centres Index, marking Casablanca as the top growth prospect in the cities rated. Location plus human assets plus a supporting policy framework give Morocco a critical edge in the regional business environment.

Slideshow photo: Magharebia/Flickr.

Focus on the food-water-energy nexus promotes smarter environmental policies

Who will benefit from investments in Africa’s underused arable land resources?

Experts agree that Africa has the capacity to feed itself and become a major exporter of food globally on the basis of coherent and integrated policies that incorporate the impacts of the food-water-energy nexus. Enormous foreign investments are being made in agro-industries in Africa yet few benefits seem to have percolated across those populations living on less that $2 a day. While transparency and a weak regulatory environment are key challenges, without strategic choices and policies dealing with the links among food, water, and energy, this may end up being another tragic case of resource exploitation that undermines the aspirations of the African people.

Projected population and urbanization growth rates for the next 20 years and increased per capita consumption due to the expanding middle classes throughout Africa are already dramatically affecting the continent. This in turn will impact global food, water, and energy resources. Many of the limitations on solutions derive from the reality that natural resources are finite. Yet others, including pollution, overuse/abuse of water supplies, poor agricultural practices, massive subsidies for inefficient industries, and similar constraints are driven by uneven and short-sighted priorities that seek short term benefits without attention to medium and longer term impacts.

Africa is particularly key to the global discussion of the food-water-energy nexus for at least three reasons: trends in population and economic growth that demand greater efficiencies from the continent’s ecosystem; its position as a major geographic and geo-economic hub with its long coastlines, abundant aquatic life, burgeoning hydrocarbon profile, and underutilized arable land; and its vulnerabilities ranging from security threats to exploitation by domestic and international actors that impede its capacity to maximize its options.

Framing the discussion to move towards solutions

In his testimony before Congress in January 2014, James Clapper, US Director of National Intelligence remarked that “competition for and secure access to national resources (e.g. food, water, and energy) are growing security threats…Many countries important to the United States are vulnerable to natural-resource shocks…Demographic trends, especially increasing global population and urbanization, will also aggravate the outlook for resources, putting intense pressure on food, water, and energy.” The US is not alone in this concern. Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia are particularly vulnerable to shifts in the security and stability of Africa. One only has to look at the piracy issue – diminishing along coast of East Africa, now a growing threat in the Gulf of Guinea and beyond.

Sub-national conflicts, such as the Western Sahara stalemate between Morocco and the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, are increasingly focused on resources as sovereignty issues become more about exploitation and distribution than identity. Northern Mali, the Niger Delta, Somalia, Ethiopia/Eritrea, and the Congo are long-simmering and often violent explosions driven to a significant degree by resource control issues. Yet no matter which party dominates, the more essential and basic concerns with food, water, and energy are still core challenges to the continent’s economic and human development.

As global demand begins to outstrip productivity gains, it is even more imperative that Africa, with its huge underutilized resources, becomes a stronger advocate and manager of its natural resources. There is no better starting place than policies and programs that integrate the food-water-energy nexus into infrastructure, sectoral, and security planning. From the potential for conflict over the impact of changing the Nile River’s (or any shared water source) upstream configuration, to migration resulting from climate change and overuse of water or degradation of arable land, to the clear link between volatility in food prices and stability, the indicators for increased conflict over resources is clear.

This scenario, with all its complexities and nuances, makes it imperative to build multilateral frameworks in concert with Africa to address the fool-water-energy nexus. The key begins with acknowledging that every delay robs Africans of another day to engage stakeholders from rural farmers to city-dwellers, from the public and private sectors, and international NGOs and foreign and technical assistance programs to build the local and regional solution options.

Slideshow photo: Green Prophet1/Flickr.

Weaving Together the Neighborhood: How Progress Grows through Regional Integration

King of Morocco building strong transactional network among West Africa partners

There may be political issues on which political leaders disagree, but one common goal unites them – generating jobs, especially ones that change citizens from low wage earners to middle class workers. This is the revolution that is being projected for Africa, and one of its interlocutors may well be King Mohammed VI of Morocco.

On his recent visits to Mali, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, and Gabon, the King presided over the signing of more than 80 agreements. As details emerge, their specificity and substance deviates from the usual niceties of “will work towards” and “intend to” that characterize more diplomatic and non-impactful documents.

While the crucial next steps of financing and project management included in the agreements cannot be overlooked, it is also worthwhile to understand the strategic direction in which they will take Morocco and its partners in the coming decade. Setting aside the security and religious/cultural accords, there are discernible patterns in the agreements that make it clear why international donors should consider Morocco’s expertise in the region when funding triangular aid projects.

Mali, Cote d’Ivoire Agreements

In Mali, the first order of business was a series of agreements to strengthen the financial sector through advanced skills training, human resources, and enabling a more modern infrastructure. Mutual interests in commercial transactions, tax regulations, and investments were also addressed, as well as industrial cooperation in mining, and cooperative programs in health care. In all, 17 agreements were signed.

The same concentration on economic, social, and human development was evident in the 26 public-private partnerships signed in Cote d’Ivoire, which included government and private sector-funded initiatives. Of potentially great benefit to both countries are protocols affecting the fishing industry, including the joint construction of an unloading point in the town of Locodjoro, uniform clearance procedures between three Moroccan ports (Dakhla, Agadir, and Casablanca) and Abidjan, construction of a fish processing plant, and a joint committee to implement the agreement on sea fisheries and aquaculture. In terms of jobs and human development, there are agreements to build social  housing units, tourism projects, a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility, more scholarships for higher education in Morocco, greater scientific and research collaboration, and a series of government and bank-related accords focused on project funding, credit access for business, and tourism, export, and trade promotion.

Accords in Guinea and Gabon

In Guinea, 21 bilateral agreements were signed, and the pattern of building on Morocco’s strengths to best serve regional economic integration continued. Several technical agreements were signed to facilitate trade and investment by eliminating double taxation and tax evasion. Once again, the fishing industry received special attention. Formal mechanisms were set up between the relevant ministries for cooperation and capacity building for staff in Guinea’s Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture. The two allies also agreed on the construction of two developed landing points, cooperation of sea fisheries, the merchant navy, and maritime transport. The construction of 6,000 units of low-income housing was announced, as well as accords on technical training, support for small business development, and banking cooperation. Two special projects were highlighted: a state-of-the-art Moroccan military field hospital to provide surgical and advanced medical care for Guineans and a joint venture to build a flour mill near the capital to address local needs.

On the last leg of the king’s trip, in Gabon, there was no let-down in the level of activity. The 24 agreements that were signed covered agriculture, health, housing, vocational training, finance and banking, transportation and tourism, and stronger legal cooperation. Some of the more prominent accords include cooperation on food safety standards, the merchant marine and maritime transport; long-term collaboration on tourism development; scientific and technical cooperation on mining; real estate development; social housing; a license to Maroc Telecom to operate a 3G/4G network; expanded scholarships for university students; and a tax and customs agreement. A noteworthy project on the humanitarian front was the visit of the King and President Ali Bongo Ondimba to the Libreville Cancer Treatment Institute, a joint project with the Lalla Salma Foundation for Cancer Prevention and Treatment, headed by the King’s wife. The two leaders also presided over a new strategic partnership, as Morocco and Gabon signed a $2.3 billion joint-venture fertilizer project that will promises to significantly increase agricultural output and improve food security in the region.

Implications for regional development

The bottom line is that these programs are driven by the need for results: to elevate the capacities of countries in the region to cooperate at a higher level on financial issues, transport and maritime concerns, human and social development, industrial and agro-industrial projects, trade and investment, and a range of educational and tourism efforts, among others. The King certainly recognizes that he has a key role to play, and that his leadership will be judged by his ability to set  a clear direction for Morocco’s growth and development. Through his continuing efforts to extend this vision through regional partnerships that support and benefit the African people, he is firmly committed to the future of Africa.

Slideshow photo: abdallahh/Flickr.

To Fight Corruption, Understand its Dynamics

typewriter page with word "corruption"

Corruption continues to serve as a major obstacle to development.

Several recent articles remind us of how easy it is to pass judgment on various indicators of a country’s behavior, without truly understanding how conditionality affects the behavior in question and proposed remedies. In this case, it is the issue of corruption on the agenda, with a focus on actions for promoting transparency.

The point here is not to encourage a free pass for corrupt practices that suck the strength out of emerging economies and widen income inequality between the gamers and victims of corruption. Rather, just as there is no perfect model or even a template for democracy, one cannot avoid the realities that underlie the role of corruption in any country — realities which must be dealt with for transparency to become a national value.

Some will argue that acceptable practices in certain countries — such as the amount of monies that can be raised in political campaigns in the US versus outright buying of votes in other parts of the world — are not equivalent. That is, “legalized” corruption is not the equivalent of other conforms, but instead more to the traditional practices of “public servants” in countries with much less experience in the rule of law.

Sources of Judgment

The sire of most of the world’s reporting on corruption is the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), published by Transparency International (TI). It is sometimes overlooked that the CPI’s subheading notes that it “measures the perceived [emphasis added] levels of public sector corruption in 177 countries and territories.” TI has learned over the years that its reporting regime can be skewed by its methodology and, therefore, is keen to caveat its efforts so that its work can be taken seriously without becoming a distraction to evaluating a country’s profile.

Like the Failed States Index, the CPI draws attention to behaviors that indicate issues which a country must consider in prioritizing its national goals. The link between perceptions and realities is often obscured by the fuzzy line separating them and can be manipulated by politicians, analysts, and multinational organizations to provide convenient excuses for inaction or condemnation.

An article by Jason Hickel on Al Jazeera English illustrates the nay-saying from critical reviewers on the left. In his assessment, corruption in developing nations is a result of the actions of Western countries that have blunted growth and perpetuated poverty to enrich their economies at the expense of less “developed” states.

While this may be a satisfying bludgeoning for some, it does not begin to address the responsibilities of individual countries for the behavior of their public officials, which is at the heart of the CPI. It is one thing to indict the long shadow of the West for utilizing corruption as a tool for its economic benefit, and quite another to absolve developing countries of their practices — whether fed by Western aid policies or corporate influences.

Illustrative of the problems regarding definitions, origins, and solutions is the European Commission’s first-ever report on corruption within the European Union (EU). The report notes:

“Corruption continues to be a challenge for Europe. Affecting all EU Member States,corruption costs the European economy around 120 billion euros per year. Member States have taken many initiatives in recent years, but the results are uneven and more should be done to prevent and punish corruption.”

Yet even the EU takes issue with its ability to affect member states’ behaviors aside from issuing guidelines, studies, and recommendations for best practices.

In releasing the report, Cecilia Malmstrom, EU commissioner for Home Affairs, stated:

“Corruption undermines citizens’ confidence in democratic institutions and the rule of law; it hurts the European economy and deprives States from much-needed tax revenue. Member States have done a lot in recent years to fight corruption, but today’s Report shows that it is far from enough. The Report suggests what can be done, and I look forward to working with Member States to follow it up.”

While this broad effort is to be applauded, there is certainly a great deal of difference between countries with the best results, such as Denmark and Germany, and conditions for the worst offenders in Bulgaria and Romania.

In a companion poll that was conducted regarding perceptions of corruption by people in the EU, it is no surprise that the poorest countries are the ones with the highest responses to the question: “Are you personally affected by corruption in daily life?”

The Road to Transparency

These kinds of studies are useful for cataloging challenges to countries that are serious about tackling corruption; integrating the informal market into the economy; reducing the burden of illegal payments to procure health, education and social services; and raising the professional standards of public servants.

Yet the bottom line is that corruption would not be so prevalent if not fed by collusion between public officials, citizens, and companies that cannot rely on rule of law, transparent regulatory regimes, acceptable levels of government services, and greed.

It is refreshing to see that the European Commission does not treat corruption as a problem of the south alone, and that it hopes the public airing of these issues may lead to standards and reforms which will enhance transparency throughout the EU. This will also create momentum in the EU’s dealing with countries that have further to travel on the road to transparency.

Originally posted at Fair Observer. Slideshow photo by

Unemployment Numbers Mask Job Solutions

In an interview published in the newspaper “L’Economiste,” Moroccan Minister of Employment and Social Affairs Abdeslam Seddiki, made it clear that “to solve the problem of unemployment, we should not count only on growth.”

He went on to say that “according to estimates, 1 percent of growth rate generates an average of 30,000 jobs, and we have a labor market that is witnessing an annual arrival of 180,000 job applications. To meet these arrivals, we need a growth rate of 6 percent, without including the existing stock of unemployed people.”

He pledged to work towards “setting the balance between innovative investment” and those in more traditional sectors that produce direct jobs and “investment in infrastructure that creates indirect employment.”

This distinction is quite important, particularly in the high tech and tourism sectors, since they often create many more indirect jobs than the core employment generate by a specific project.

For example, both high tech and tourism projects have three phases: development, start-up, and operations. During development, many of the employees are related to the planning phase, are engaged off-site and overseas, may be largely expatriates, and perform high-value and capital intensive (as opposed to labor intensive) functions.

Abdeslam SeddikiStart-up requires looking to a broader employment pool to attract qualified expatriate and local employees to provide the services required to bring the project to the operational stage. These workers may or may not stay with the project beyond the short and medium term as their special skills are not needed once the project is up and running.

It is during the operations phase that most long-term jobs are created because other functions are needed, ranging from logistics and maintenance support to marketing and packaging, household services, administrative tasks, and whatever else is needed to sustain the project.

Operations management looks to purchase local goods and services from the most cost-efficient and acceptable sources, thus creating opportunities for indirect jobs that support the project in the functional areas mentioned above.

This is where government programs that promote local business development can play a facilitating role as a broker between the project and the skills and resources available locally.

Morocco is moving in this direction as the Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs is focusing government training programs on a more collaborative relationship with investors in order to anticipate what jobs and local companies will be needed by various projects over the medium and long term.

Government plays a key role in enabling job growth

This is also the target of entrepreneurs in Morocco – finding where opportunities exist locally, regionally, and internationally for their products and services.

Saad Jennane, founder of Kipintouch (left), with Abdelhamid Chakiri of Shorein, Mehdi Tamli of Secret4sale, and Meryem Bennani of Creative Group. Wamda

At the recent Casablanca-based New Work Labs competition called PitchLab, the winner, Kipintouch’s founder Saad Jennane noted that Moroccan entrepreneurs must have a global mindset, not just focused on Morocco.

“We can target the world or an entire region like the Middle East.”

As I have written previously, without an enabling environment, from access to finance and administrative support to friendly legal and regulatory regimes, obstacles will force entrepreneurs to abandon their efforts.

A second major area on which the government is focusing its efforts is the informal sector in Morocco. With an estimated value equivalent to 60 percent of Morocco’s GDP, bringing the informal sector into the marketplace through ease of entry regulations that encourage and reward these small firms will formalize the tens of thousands of informal jobs that are outside the country’s official employment roles.

This would have three immediate impacts: increased tax revenue and participation in social security and related programs, increased opportunities for collaboration among these largely micro-enterprises to enable them to have access to banking and administrative services, and, most importantly, for those with ambition, to provide the means for growth by attracting funding to expand their businesses.

The government’s role in ensuring a positive and business-friendly regulatory environment and in making training and resources accessible is vital and critical to the success of this effort.

The Minister, who noted that the “pressure on the labor market is still high, said that his department can act immediately on existing employment creation policies, namely the Taehil, the Idmaj and Moukawalati programs.

The Taehil program provides pre-employment training partly paid by the government with private sector partners. The Idmaj provides employment training for those with disabilities; and the Moukawalati project is the core entrepreneurship program in Morocco that is built on a public-private sector partnership.

Through greater collaboration with the private sector, more involvement of industry in boosting local sources and skills, and with increased joint investments in training, education, and entrepreneurship development, Morocco can generate the growth in jobs that will meet its needs in the coming decade.

Originally posted at Morocco on the Move. Slideshow photo of Twin Center in Casablanca by YoTut/Flickr.

Facing Challenges in the Food-Water-Energy Nexus

The fragility of water resources and how it impacts energy and food are moving rapidly to the top of the world’s environmental agenda. This should come as no surprise.

A key principle in understanding core issues in the Middle East is that all Arab societies, bar none, have evolved around maintaining water supplies and managing their relationship to food, land, and survival. This is not uncommon given that human habitats emerged in regions where water was plentiful, accessible, and provided the means to sustain basic food production, transportation, and oftentimes defensible settlements.

A recent article carried by Voice of America made note of a meeting of Agricultural Ministers and other top officials from the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region in Rome at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to discuss the newly launched Regional Water Scarcity Initiative.

One estimate “warns the availability of fresh water in the region could drop by 50 percent by 2050.” While the existing impression may be that this is more of a problem for the desert rich countries of the Gulf, the reality is that growing populations are depleting water resources throughout the region, with little prospect of replacing damaged, drained, and destroyed aquifers.

The Regional Water Scarcity Initiative aims to identify and streamline policies in agriculture water management. The FAO says these are policies “that can significantly contribute to boosting agriculture productivity, improving food security, and sustaining water resources.”

In a press release, the FAO’s representative in Egypt Pasquale Steduto remarked, “This region is already known to be very scarce [in water supplies] – one of the most scarce in the world.  But we are observing that there is an acceleration and an intensification of water scarcity that in the next 40 years will bring this scarcity to the highest intensity in history.”

The FAO reports that in the previous 40 years “per capita freshwater availability in Near East and North African countries plummeted by two-thirds.” Steduto says it’s a complex situation. “Several things are coming into play from the population [growth], but also climate change. So, we need to be ready to address all the challenges that will come and the region will face in the coming years,” he said.

According to the FAO report, the chief culprit seems to be the agricultural sector, which uses more than 85 percent of the “available rain fed, irrigated, and groundwater resources.” With the rapid growth in populations, the demand for food is outstripping current agricultural capacity and underscores the link between water, food, and the energy needed to make future growth sustainable.

Food Demand Will Continue to Escalate Costs

Cognizant of the need to view food, energy, and water as interrelated parts of the ecosystem, the IMF’s Research Department cooperated with New York University’s Center for Technology and Economic Development, and Morocco’s OCP Policy Center for an in-depth analysis of the “causes and socio-economic challenges of food price volatility” February 25-26 in Morocco.

Experts from around the world examined the conceptual, policy, and operational issues related to food in the marketplace.  According to IMF Deputy Managing Director Min Zhu, “The conference will enhance our understanding of the drivers of food prices and thus help devise policies to improve food security and keep inflation in check…This is of great importance to many, indeed all, of our member countries.”

The conference examined both the causes and socio-economic challenges of food price volatility, ranging from “drivers of food prices and policies to ensure food security to defining the appropriate monetary policy response to food and fuel price fluctuations.”

And for the Future?

As James Clapper, US Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), testified to Congress in January, “competition for and secure access to national resources (e.g. food, water, and energy) are growing security threats…Many countries important to the United States are vulnerable to natural-resource shocks…Demographic trends, especially increasing global population and urbanization, will also aggravate the outlook for resources, putting intense pressure on food, water, and energy.”

It is inevitable that Morocco has become a central player in the food-water-energy nexus policy discussion as it works to reconcile four overlapping conditions that shape its future: heavy reliance on imported energy, increased population and urban migration taxing local services, fluctuations in rainfall that have a significant impact on GDP, and the need to create employment opportunities at all levels.

irrigated field in Morocco

Timing is critical for reducing or ameliorating Morocco’s challenges in all these areas, and only a coordinated and integrated strategy will reduce dependency on imported fuels, increase capacity to service rapidly growing cities, continue to expand and enhance water management strategy, and generate jobs from the introduction of new and more efficient technologies across the food-energy-water sectors.

Morocco is not waiting for a prescription to emerge from multinational organizations and think tanks. The Kingdom is reaching out to experts, analysts, practitioners, thought leaders, and a range of stakeholders to assess its assets and challenges and mobilize support for its grassroots and national strategies. Its 2020 national energy plan is already underway, making extensive investments in renewable energies.

Morocco has pioneered two major agricultural plans that include the utilization of extensive water management technologies, as well as enhanced agricultural production technologies. And it is working with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (ERBD) to promote the use of small scale renewable energy products by consumers and small business.

Overall, the integration of these efforts is a promising start to addressing the food-water-energy nexus.

Originally posted at Morocco on the Move.

King of Morocco Promotes Development in Africa by Africa

While much of the news coverage of Western and Central Africa focuses either on security concerns or problems related to balanced growth, the King of Morocco took the debate in another direction, all but unnoticed in the Western media. At the Moroccan-Ivorian Economic Forum, which opened in Abidjan on February 24, King Mohammed VI laid out a compelling vision for Africa’s development. He said that “Today, it is the economic dimension which predominates. It is a crucial component of diplomatic relations. At one time, cooperation was based on trust and on historical ties. Today, it increasingly hinges on efficiency, performance, and credibility.”

The King is concerned that too much time is spent on political discussions rather than concrete actions to spur development. With respect to credibility he opined that “it requires that the continent’s wealth should benefit African peoples in the first place. This means that South-South cooperation should be at the heart of intra-African economic partnerships.” His words reflect the increasing disenchantment of Africans with international firms, backed by their governments, which extract commodities, undersell local manufacturing, and leave no long-term tangible benefits to citizens of the host countries.

Employment and economic growth received special attention, “job creation and the expansion of small and medium-sized businesses and industries, which are the continent’s real engine of growth and the main job provider for its young people.” Clearly understanding these challenges from similar ones in Morocco, he commented that “Africa is a great continent. It therefore has to take its destiny in its own hands.  Africa is no longer a colonized continent. This is why Africa should learn to trust Africa [emphasis added].”

Partnerships not Handouts

According to studies by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Atlantic Council, Morocco and Africa are too often treated as “part of a problem.” The King took exception, as did these leading think tanks, with that characterization.

King of Morocco speaking“Our continent does not need assistance so much as mutually profitable partnerships. Africa needs human and social development projects more than it needs humanitarian aid…The 21st century should be that of African peoples’ triumph over the ravages of underdevelopment, poverty, and exclusion.”

The King believes that there is much to be gained from partnerships for development. “Africa should forge further fruitful partnerships with the many developed countries that show a constant interest in and sincere commitment to economic progress and human development in Africa, while being actively involved in them…It should also benefit from the opportunities offered by triangular cooperation as an innovative tool that facilitates joint efforts and helps achieve optimum use of resources.” Morocco has much to offer in this regard, as it has used its networks and regional expertise to carry out a number of triangular projects in Africa using funding from international sources.

The bottom line, according to the King, is implementing strategies that utilize African expertise to expand economic growth. “It is our collective duty to make sure globalization becomes a positive force conducive to development in Africa…the creativity and dynamism of the private sector should focus on specific promising areas such as agriculture, industry, science and technology, and infrastructure development….Leveraging South-South public-private partnerships and the transfer of technology are key elements in this respect.”

Achieving Its Potential

King Mohammed VI did not avoid the tough issues of the impact of local conflicts and growing threats from extremists. “These challenges [which threaten stability and hinder development] can only be met through cooperation, solidarity between African peoples, and respect for the States’ sovereignty and territorial integrity.” He emphasizes that “This makes institutional capacity-building in African States a strategic objective. Better governance, progress based on the rule of law, and the peaceful settlement of conflicts must constitute shared priorities.”

map of north AfricaHis message about the need for change is clear. “This objective [prosperity for future generations] will even be more readily attainable when Africa overcomes its Afro-pessimism and unlocks its intellectual and material potential as well as that of all African peoples. Just imagine what our continent will look like, once it frees itself of its constraints and burdens!”

The King’s optimism on these visits to Mali, Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Gabon is striking. In Mali, the two governments signed 17 bilateral agreements, and another 26 investment and public-private partnerships in Ivory Coast, more indicators of the substance behind King Mohammed’s messages.

These are hopeful signs that Morocco and Africa, which are not without challenges to achieving their goals of prosperity, equality, and security, can forge commitments and partnerships to advance Africa towards its continental potential.

Originally posted at Morocco on the Move.