Tell me again, what does “fragile states” mean?

Fund for Peace releases 2014 Fragile States Index

This week, the Fund for Peace (FfP) and Foreign Policy magazine released the 10th edition of the Fragile States Index (FSI). At the launch event, the program consisted of two panels: the first focused on the report and major findings from 2013. The second featured two experts speaking on the impact of global climate change and population/migration on the “fragility” of states.

What is very interesting this year are trends emerging in certain regions, e.g. more fragility in Africa and the Middle East, and more stability in the Balkans. In the Middle East and North Africa, state rankings range from “high alert” to “stable.” Overall, the report shows that all MENA countries need in varying degrees to pay greater attention to advancing human development, equitable opportunity, and inclusive governance to achieve more positive results.

2014 Fragile States Index

2014 Fragile States Index

The FSI remains controversial, as some see it as a report card and a comparison of countries, which has a bias against less developed countries. Others quarrel with the methodology that treats all countries and indicators equally without differentiation among items measured.

Let’s start with the methodology issue. Data is gathered and scores compiled through three separate steps: massive content analysis of millions of documents sorted into 12 key political, social, and economic indicators, which in turn include more than 100 sub-indicators; the second step includes both qualitative and quantitative analyses based on major events; finally, the initial scores are then compared to a comprehensive set of vital statistics as well as human analysis “to ensure that the software has not misinterpreted the raw data.” All 178 countries, regardless of level of development and political structure, are treated the same.

Although results are presented from worst to best rankings, the Index is not comparative; it focuses on internal forces that affect the “people,” as FfP Executive Director Krista Hendry put it, including external pressures that impact internal cohesion. So, while it may give Mauritius pleasure to have a “better” ranking than the Bahamas, it has little utility for what each country is facing in terms of its own domestic stability. Rather, the FSI highlights when normal pressures experienced by all countries “are pushing a state towards the brink of failure….[which] makes political risk assessment and early warning of conflict accessible to policy-makers and the public at large.”

On to the News

The first panel was moderated by Ann Curry of NBC News, joined by Ben Pauker of Foreign Policy magazine and Krista Hendry and J.J. Messner of The Fund for Peace. Among the key findings discussed with the audience were the high number of African nations in the top 20 fragile states (14), which countries have done the best and worst in terms of rankings, and which indicators seemed most critical to a state’s resilience. The four worst performers from 2012 to 2013 were the Central African Republic, Syria, Libya, and Mozambique. Countries that improved the most were from Asia, Africa, Central America, and the Balkans. Looking at trends over 10 years, countries that have dealt with ethnic or other internal tensions are the most improved — a difficult lesson still to be learned in the fractious Middle East conflicts paralyzing Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya.

Who's doing better or worse on the Fragile States Index

Who’s doing better or worse on the Fragile States Index

Critical among the social and economic indicators was group grievance — pressures related to discrimination, powerlessness, and ethnic, communal, sectarian, and religious violence. The most instructive political and military indicators are those related to state legitimacy — corruption, government effectiveness, political participation, electoral process, level of democracy, illicit economy, drug trade, protests and demonstrations, power struggles, human rights/rule of law — which includes press freedom, civil liberties, political freedoms, human trafficking, political prisoners, incarceration, religious persecution, torture, and executions.

In looking at the MENA landscape, with sufficient research, one can create a template for determining which indicators are most relevant to each country. Although there is no comparative ranking within the indicator (e.g. how important is the electoral process compared to government effectiveness?), it is possible to develop a robust analysis of each country as one dives deeper into the data.

Looking Ahead – Challenges to Resilience

If “fragile” connotes weaknesses that may lead to dangerous fault lines in a state’s progress, then “resilience” seems appropriate for describing those countries that use the FSI as a checklist for improving their internal cohesion and positive growth. The second panel featured Rachel Kyte of the World Bank and Bob Walker of the Population Institute who made remarks respectively concerning the impact of global climate change and population/migration issues on the fragility-resilience of states.

Among the most challenging factoids is that the 20 most fragile states will likely double their populations in 35 years, with Niger’s growing 4 times to 67 million, an unsustainable number for that country. Larger populations in fragile societies result in hunger, poverty, environmental degradation, political and community instability, and other detrimental conditions, such as rising mortality rates. Mr. Walker recommended that more be done in three areas: girls’ education, women’s empowerment, and agricultural development. When women have knowledge and access that enable them to make decisions about their lives, societies tend to be more stable and economic growth rates higher. The importance of agriculture is widespread with so many states dependent to a large degree on farming, and with the projected growth of the world’s population, action sooner rather than later is required to feed and nourish people efficiently and effectively.

The negative impacts of climate change are already growing as ice caps recede and the intensity of harsh weather rises. Agriculture has to be redefined and reformulated for changing climatic conditions, coastlines reinforced and protected, water sources safeguarded, and water usage allocated effectively, among other steps.
The FSI lists the four worst performers from 2012 to 2013 as the Central African Republic, Syria (above), Libya, and Mozambique. FSI 2014

According to Ms. Kyte, countries such as the Philippines, directly in the center of a typhoon corridor, will suffer extensive human and material damage with the growing number of storms. Similar effects are being noted in the upper Mississippi River, where flooding that occurred once a decade is now annual. The question of what to do goes beyond political will to how to finance the enormous costs of resilience versus repair, for example, to avoid the consequences of the next Hurricane Sandy.

Whether one is interested in a country, region, or the international community, the FSI is a valuable and worthwhile product, both for the discussions it provokes and the indicators of what can be done better. The challenge today is restoring some semblance of a working social contract between citizens and governments. As stakeholders analyze the report’s findings, there is much to learn from parsing the individual indicators and sub-indicators, as well as how and to what degree they reflect competing agendas in the country.

And rather than seeing this as a year-to-year exercise, it is instructive to review the ten-year trends mentioned earlier, which demonstrate that no countries are immune to changes over time in their rankings. More critically, as we are now witnessing, for troubled states in the Middle East and Africa as well as the stable countries of Scandinavia, there is always the risk of contagion; no matter how well a country is doing, its neighbors may be heading toward failure and disruption — which may have regional and global consequences.

Reports to Results: Dealing With Youth Unemployment in Africa

How should Africa deal with millions of young people entering the job market each year?

With more than 290 million people between the ages of 10-24, Africa is the youngest continent in the world. Youths constitute about 60% of Africa’s entire population, yet their participation in the formal economy is greatly limited. “Although the youth population constitutes two-fifths of the continent’s working-age population, they make up three-fifths of the unemployed,” according to Foresight Africa. In 2011, 82% of African workers were working poor, more than twice the world average. In southern Africa, 51% of young women and 43% of young men are unemployed.

Youth Unemployment in Africa

Three major factors coalesced to garner this attention. First, the people factor: Demographics of growing young populations are forcing policymakers to address employment issues that will not be solved by public sector hiring. Second, people are more educated, yet they find fewer opportunities due to the mismatch between education and available and prospective jobs — supply does not even approach demand. Finally, governments are generally ill-equipped in terms of expertise or management, or both, to address employment issues when it means upsetting those who control much of the economic activity of a country.

The future of Africa needs action now

The future of Africa needs action now

These trends occur within a shifting global marketplace dominated by spiking commodity demands, increased competition in semi-skilled production and technologies, and great pressure for opening up the labor force through higher private sector investment. Although sub-Saharan Africa faces similar problems as the rest of Africa and many emerging economies, others are unique to the continent, such as the potential superstar role of the agricultural sector.

While the overall macroeconomic indicators are up and generating optimism, this is based on the continued expansion of African economies, largely due to exploitation of commodities and expansion of telecommunications infrastructure. Yet the picture is far bleaker, if factoring in actual improvements in the quality of life of most Africans.

According to a McKinsey update on the continent:

Africa is harnessing its natural wealth, and … sectors across the economy are growing rapidly. These sectors include agriculture, manufacturing, and local services such as retail, banking, and transportation and communications, in addition to the natural resources sector, which was the largest single contributor to growth … Income inequality, however, remains unacceptably high and is falling in only about half of Africa’s countries; hundreds of millions remain trapped in poverty. Africa’s growth needs to be inclusive if it is to improve human welfare and ensure increasing social and political stability.”

People are more educated, yet they find fewer opportunities due to the mismatch between education and available and prospective jobs — supply does not even approach demand.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) reflects this theme of inclusive growth in a number of its publications, and calls for “job-rich growth” that does not ignore the youth, women and unskilled in terms of economic opportunities. “High levels of youth unemployment, poor structural and labour market transformation call for more employment-friendly policies to promote a job-rich growth in Africa’s development strategy.” Its Global Employment Trends 2014 report stated:

“Employment growth remains weak, unemployment continues to rise, especially among young people, and large numbers of discouraged potential workers are still outside the labour market … As a result, the demographic change characterised by a growing young population is considered to be a burden on the economy rather than an asset due [to] the scarce job opportunities in the region and [the] necessary conditions required to absorb and employ this growing young population [that] are absent.”

Less than 14% of the working-age population is in paid employment, which limits the growth of a consuming middle-class. When combined with the low contributions of manufacturing and agriculture to national gross domestic products (GDP), this challenging outlook calls for proactive partnerships among stakeholders to advance the employment landscape.

Africa’s Unique Opportunities

There are at least six major targets in improving youth employment in sub-Saharan Africa:

1) Relevant and widespread education and training at all levels

2) An integrated ecosystem to support entrepreneurs, including financing, mentoring/training, access to markets, protective and supportive regulatory regime, and available infrastructure

3) Pro-business policies by governments, so investments in infrastructure, services, commercial law and related regulations are timely and transparent

4) Sustainable programs built around competitive advantages and cultural acceptance

5) A stable political environment that does not exclude new entrants or restrict sectors based on existing power relationships

6) A mindset about labor that values work as a path to a career and provides the means to acquire additional skills to progress

All eyes on agriculture in Africa

All eyes on agriculture in Africa

The African Development Bank (AfDB), among others, is very active in building programs that target many of these concerns. In a series of papers, it has tracked programs aimed at building youth employment in sub-Saharan Africa that provide important models for member countries. There are several variations, for example, of entrepreneur promotion efforts that address financing, training and mentoring issues, but lack sufficient scale to generate the number of jobs needed to dent the growing employment deficit.

One theme focused on by the AfDB, and others, is the importance of reviving and building the competitiveness of the agricultural sector. Nowhere in the world is there as much underutilized arable land as in Africa. Significantly, the least skilled and literate populations are in the rural areas. With the ever increasing demand for food, experts believe the agricultural sector offers benefits to feed locals and supply overseas demand.

Shantayanan Devarajan, chief economist for the World Bank’s Africa Region, articulated this need for understanding the roles of the formal and informal labor forces: “The challenge of youth employment in Africa, therefore, is not just to create more wage and salary jobs — important as this may be — but to increase the productivity, and hence earnings of the majority of young people who will be employed in informal farms and household enterprises.” He emphasized that:

“…because most Africans will work in informal farms and household enterprises, the challenge of increasing their productivity needs to be met by first, increasing their basic skills, which they can then take with them when they move to the new enterprises; and second, creating jobs in the formal sector by improving the economy’s competitiveness, so that this sector can absorb more qualified workers into a productive workforce.”

According to Busani Bafana, writing for Africa Renewal: “Despite the negative perceptions, the agricultural sector employs as much as 60% of Africa’s labour force … and accounts for only 25% of the continent’s gross domestic product (GDP).” He cites experts who see agriculture as an important engine of growth, if the government and private sector act together to build the supply chain and distribution infrastructure that will turn today’s deficits into jobs and income. As importantly, it is a sector that can absorb large numbers of youth and women in productive jobs.

Turning Good Intentions into Results

The broad consensus among the private sector, international donor community and host governments about the need to aggressively pursue youth employment policies is an opportunity. Such an initiative could scale-up existing effective programs and help absorb the 10-12 million annual new entrants to the job market in sub-Saharan Africa. By implementing a broad strategy that incorporates rural as well as more traditional manufacturing options, utilizing technology across all sectors to improve productivity, and including women and youth in employment programs that increase their skills and employability, Africa has a viable and realistic opportunity to diminish its employment deficit and build a strong middle-class.

Moreover, if the countries of sub-Saharan Africa can understand the regional and local benefits that can be obtained from labor mobility, resource sharing, better distribution and power infrastructure, and streamlined business procedures, the task of generating worthwhile jobs becomes less onerous and reflects the deep commitment needed to propel Africa forward.

Sura Nualpradid /

If you want to create jobs in the Maghreb, enable entrepreneurs

Latest Wamda survey results highlight obstacles to growing companies

In the coming months, I’ll continue to write about issues related to strategies for economic growth in the Maghreb and youth employment in particular. These topics are particularly challenging because jobs, equality, and dignity are themes still resonating negatively after the Arab uprisings, as there has been little progress in addressing these issues. While there are many structural concerns that impact job growth, ranging from broadband availability, logistics and distribution facilities to legal and regulatory regimes, and political risk, there are substantive issues as well.

Wamda report cover

Wamda Research Lab report on barriers to scaling up entrepreneurs

Among the most pressing is identifying core sectors of opportunity for investments that would result in large-scale job creation. This is a critical concern because foreign direct investment (FDI) usually targets multimillion dollar projects that, aside from tourism and shopping malls, are more capital than labor intensive, limiting their net impact on job creation. And in the Maghreb countries, agricultural labor still is the dominant sector for employment, which is both seasonal and outside the usual government social services schemes. Thus, there is a need to fill the gap between small concerns, which are usually in the informal sector, and the large corporations, where jobs depend on skilled applicants.

In developed countries, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) generate 60 to 70 percent of jobs. According to The next step – breaking barriers to scale for MENA’s entrepreneurs, a recent report from Wamda Research Lab, in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), SMEs, constitute a majority of enterprises [approximately 80-90 percent], yet account for an average of 30 percent of private sector employment and 4 to 16 percent of total employment.” This more limited role for SMEs as job creators in the MENA highlights two negative outcomes: the high level of public sector salaries distorting the overall labor market and share of national budgets, and the scale of the challenges facing the private sector in growing employment when SMEs are quite small in scale.

Building up the “middle”

IMF Managing Director Christine LaGarde recently said in a speech in Morocco, “Strengthening the economic middle means giving a shot in the arm to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the formal sector. These are the kinds of firms that form the backbone of a healthy economy, and— in other regions of the world—are the main engines of job creation.”

The Wamda report takes up this theme and surveyed more than 900 entrepreneurs and experts on “the barriers to scaling up” faced by existing firms with a track record of growth.

Their results focused on four priority areas to enable expansion and job creation:

  • Increasing revenues through better marketing, market access, and market education for consumers and entrepreneurs to drive demand for products and services.
  • Boosting investment while improving communications between investors and entrepreneurs.
  • Attracting talent through improvements in the educational system and robust employee benefits.
  • Facilitating expansion across borders by reducing legal barriers and costs and identification of strategic partners.

The report concluded that “To achieve the maximum impact on job creation, the region’s entrepreneurship ecosystem must reduce the barriers to scale for entrepreneurs. A multi-stakeholder approach is needed across the ecosystem if these barriers are to be effectively addressed.”

Women entrepreneur

Less than 15 percent of entrepreneurs in study are women

This emphasis on the private sector driving job growth is consistent among stakeholders, including the World Bank, IMF, EU, UNDP, and others. All parties point to the requirement for a viable, sustainable ecosystem of institutions that supports the training, mentoring, incubation, and other services needed to support entrepreneurs. While these have expanded rapidly in the past ten years to more than 140 in MENA, resources available for scaling existing companies to grow successfully are not yet sufficient. Among the entrepreneurs surveyed in the Wamda report, “roughly 60% say that scaling is the most challenging development phase for entrepreneurs in the region.” For successful start-ups to become job creators, much more must be done by all stakeholders to enable and promote scaling.

Strategies for successful scaling

It is instructive to review the profiles of the participants in the Wamda survey, as they characterize entrepreneurs throughout the region and provide insights into how to support their initiatives. For example, almost three-quarters of those surveyed have either studied or worked abroad. Women make up less than one quarter of the founders of the companies surveyed. And personal savings were the source of initial investments for close to three-quarters of the group while financing from friends and families made up 43 percent of funding sources. This poses several types of challenges: how to engage women more effectively, how to engage the diaspora and reverse brain-drain, and how to make better financing options available from banks and private investors.

Exponential growth in technologies creates demand for highly skilled personnel

Exponential growth in technologies creates demand for highly skilled personnel

Among the entrepreneurs and experts interviewed, “entrepreneurs experience difficulties understanding marketing strategies for the countries they seek to enter, and face challenges acquiring marketing talent to execute their strategies…entrepreneurs need to determine proper market fit for their products and services.” This lends support to the need for broadening regional exchanges that link together entrepreneurs across markets to increase access to market awareness and skilled human resources. In fact, “The majority (63%) of entrepreneurs in our sample state that finding talent is their biggest challenge to building a team.”

In terms of investment, a third of the respondents noted the “small supply of venture funding was a primary challenge… [and] investors not offering enough value beyond cash.” This is a common affliction of growing firms once the start-up capital is exhausted. Perhaps a beneficial role for international and bilateral technical assistance should focus on mobilizing local capital for local firms that demonstrate a clear and well-defined business plan for regional markets. Linking these across borders would address the skills, markets, and investments challenges.

As the Wamda report explains – a view shared by many others — “Economic and social prosperity in the MENA region cannot be achieved without widespread and sustainable job creation. Entrepreneurs are critical to these efforts, yet in order for them to contribute meaningfully to the region’s employment agenda and foster thriving societies, they must be able to scale their companies.”

Progress is being made as governments develop a range of strategies to promote entrepreneurs and their efforts. For example, the report points out that “…Morocco eliminated the minimum capital requirement for limited liability companies in 2013. That decision, along with the institution of several banking reforms over the past several years, have made Morocco one of the most friendly countries for SME lending in MENA.” Only through a concerted and long-term program to support entrepreneurs across a range of sectors through multiple stages of growth will job creation achieve the levels needed to meet skilled labor supply and job demand.

How does Morocco Measure up to the Challenge of Defining ‘Citizenship?

UN Study Opens Debate on Citizenship Post-Arab Spring

In a multi-year study of the impact of the Arab Spring on democracy, social development, civic activism, and governance, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) released “The Promises of Spring – Citizenship and Civic Engagement in Democratic Transitions” in mid-2013. The report team was led by Maha Yahya, a senior associate at Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. She recently visited Washington, DC where she discussed the trends emerging from the study to date.

ESCWA Report Cover

ESCWA Report on Citizenship after Arab Spring

As could be expected, most of the analysis and commentary focused on Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, with some references to Lebanon and Syria. This is not surprising, but I believe that a broader perspective would be helpful to adequately represent varying perceptions of citizenship, as well as to understand what factors impact the debate about citizenship and deeper issues of equality, justice, and dignity. Morocco’s experience, before, during, and after the Arab Spring, is instructive.

Demise of the Traditional Social Contract

Much has been written about the demise of the social contract whereby citizens of a country muted their political activism in return for their government’s guarantee of economic security and political stability. The study provides a useful overview of the weakening of social contracts in the Arab world, although there is a bit too much emphasis, in my opinion, on the impact of the global financial community in promoting structural changes. It asserts that “a new social contract implies rethinking past and current approaches to socioeconomic development so as to address existing inequities and ensure social justice.”

To that end, the study looks to new constitutions that define the evolving relationship between state and citizens, which ideally should address: “civic freedoms, including the right to assembly; the rights of women and minority groups; and the socioeconomic and developmental rights of citizens as part of a broader approach to social justice.” As we have seen in countries affected by the Arab Spring, constitutional birthing processes are not without contention. And it is the constitutions, subject to multiple interpretations, which embody many of the “new” dimensions of the emerging social contracts. The ESCWA report stresses that even though there have been many setbacks to participatory democracy in countries affected by the Arab Spring, the empowerment of citizens has not been derailed as a central feature of emerging people power.

It is ironic that Arab countries, which strongly emphasize consensus on major issues, often find that in short supply when it comes to redefining the political process in the post-Arab Spring environment. In fact, the redefining process is not only about power-sharing and dignity, but core practices that embody public affairs – the engagement of stakeholders in the political system. The study notes that “active civic engagement by Arab citizens is one through which they would actually be seeking to reinvent themselves and their societies.” Thus, it goes beyond comparing models of democracy and political organization to focus on the values of citizenship as proactive forces behind political participation.

Quite instructively, the ESCWA report notes that “…the historical, political and social context of different countries matters…each country has its own dynamic. It evolves according to the specifications of the societal fabric as well as with policy or tactical changes, where those are made by the state or by civil society activists.” It is in this framework of citizenship, constitutional reform, and public space that Morocco’s progress should be measured.

Citizenship, Participation, and Challenges to Progress in Morocco

In evaluating why conditions of political exclusion and economic marginalization prevalent in the Arab world did not explode before Mohamed Bouazizi’s death in Tunisia in December 2010, the report concludes that “multiple political, economic, social, and cultural injustices and exclusions that Arab citizens were subjected to for decades, and the absence of meaningful venues to voice grievances were among the central catalysts…” In Morocco, opening of public space can be traced to 1998, when King Hassan II, recognizing that stability required greater power-sharing, took two important steps: naming the head of the opposition coalition as Prime Minister, and permitting the large scale growth of hundreds of civil society organizations.

His son, the current King Mohammed VI, was quick to build on these openings, and indeed, the role of “citizen” has been a constant theme of his reign, both as a prod to the political parties to become more mature and develop as vehicles for change, and as a recognition that civil society has an enormous role to play in shaping the country’s growth. As MAP reported in 2013, this emphasis is clear in the King’s speech on the 38th anniversary of Morocco’s Green March.

“Our aim is to see the Moroccan citizen properly honored, endowed with the attributes of full-fledged citizenship,” he said. “It is in this spirit that we have undertaken a series of profound reforms and major projects,” including the establishment of national institutions and regional bodies for the protection and promotion of human rights that are “known for their independence and credibility.” He also said that no country accepts being “subjected to behavior that is harmful to their security and stability, especially as violence, subversion and intimidation of citizens are incompatible with human rights, and the exercise of freedom can only be done in compliance with the law.

The King’s constitutional commission was instrumental in including many references to the rights of citizens in the 2011 constitution, a theme he has reinforced before and after Morocco’s experience during the Arab Spring. In April 2014 he said:

“To me, all Moroccans are equal. I make no distinction, be it on the basis of social status or affiliation. As far as I am concerned, there is no difference between a bank manager and a person who is unemployed, between a pilot, a farmer and a minister. They all are citizens with the same rights and the same obligations.”

When the King argues that “The main goal of economic growth remains the achievement of social justice, which is the bedrock of social cohesion, ” he echoes the centrality of social justice that is a key touchstone of the ESCWA.

Understanding that power-sharing and devolution of power are requisites for true civic participation, the King promotes regionalization to enable Moroccans to have greater control over their lives. Yet he is not naïve about the challenges involved in creating a new civic culture in a society that is in transition to decentralized governance and strong civic activism. In 2012, in his annual Green March speech he remarked:

Morocco's Parliament

Morocco’s Parliament

“In this regard, I call upon stakeholders and officials in all institutions to be worthy of the trust placed in them. In addition to the executive and judicial branches, I call upon elected institutions, at all levels, to comply fully and at all times with the new concept of authority. Elected officials must serve the citizens and be worthy of their trust, avoiding any personal or narrow-minded considerations.”

While pundits may challenge the pace at which Morocco is making progress, it is hard to minimize the salutatory role that the King, greatly respected throughout the country, is playing in a peaceful transition to participatory democracy. It is instructive, in looking at the ESCWA report’s data regarding economic disruptions, that among the non-oil exporters, only Morocco did not suffer large-scale negative consequences from the Arab Spring. This is another indicator of the international and domestic support that Morocco’s reform process, started more than 15 years ago, enjoys.

In its early conclusions, the ESCWA report calls for:

“…rethinking the current development agenda [with] one that considers the achievement of social justice based on the principles of equitable citizenship rights a fundamental pillar for maintaining social cohesion and consolidating democracies in Arab countries.”

Morocco’s commitment to full citizenship for all Moroccans is enshrined in its Constitution and the implementation legislation coming from the Parliament. Many challenges to enabling progress and reform remain. Many are being tackled through consensus-building among multiple stakeholders – which is a product of Morocco’s recognition that progress and democracy grow from practice and capacity-building that concretely support its citizens’ aspirations.

Moroccan King Spells out Need for Regional Integration of North Africa

Warns that Regional Development is Only Road to Growth and Stability

Against a backdrop of an uneven recovery in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Tunisia is reaching out to its neighbors to support its transition to stability. Morocco’s response has been overwhelmingly positive as King Mohammed VI spent three days in Tunisia last week cementing a special relationship with Tunisia. Beyond speeches, there was a bilateral business conference preceding the King’s visit, and he was accompanied by more than 90 companies and 11 ministers to launch 23 bilateral agreements across economic, social, financial, educational, and other sectors.

This can come none too soon for Tunisia as it struggles to attract outlets for its economic development. In a Reuter’s article on the latest Fitch Ratings report on the two countries, the diverging challenges for Morocco and Tunisia were described as reflecting “different developments arising from the political transition in each country and their impact on economic performance.” The article explained:

In Tunisia, the political transition has proved long and difficult with recurrent violence and popular protest. Marked political instability (with four prime ministers in three years) has undermined confidence in the economy and in Tunisia’s ability to reform and finance widening twin deficits.

In contrast, Morocco’s transition to a more open political system was smooth. A new constitution that gave more power to the elected Parliament was adopted in mid-2011. The elections that followed brought to power a coalition dominated by the Parti de la Justice et du Developpement. Social and political stability has allowed the authorities to implement potentially difficult reforms, as illustrated by the gradual increase in subsidised energy prices.

The smoother political transition in Morocco was aided by a tradition of political pluralism, the permanence of the monarchy (with King Mohammed VI seen as a reformer and legitimate among the population), and economic and social reforms started after the accession of the King to the throne in 1999.

A Very Special Relationship

Morocco, Tunisia flags

Morocco and Tunisia model regional cooperation

It is no coincidence that Morocco was the first country visited by Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki when he took office in 2011. This common bond was reinforced in the King’s speech to the National Constituent Assembly in Tunis, when he referred to Tunisia as “my second home, Tunisia, a country bound to the Kingdom of Morocco by many time-honored historical and cultural ties as well as a longstanding friendship and a common destiny.”

The King emphasized human bonds the countries share, “Our common desire to consolidate the bonds of brotherhood and solidarity between our peoples, and to build fruitful cooperation ties, making our relationship a model for the Maghreb.” It is this last point—regional cooperation and integration—which was the key theme of the King’s speech in Tunis. He spoke of the “complementarity of Maghreb countries” that has the potential to undertake vital political, economic, social, and security roles “based on solid bilateral relations between the five Maghreb countries on the one hand, and on integration-oriented projects that enhance the standing and evolution of the Maghreb Union, on the other.”

It was in this context of regional integration based on transnational projects that the King and President presided over the signing of some 23 bilateral agreements, which, according to the Moroccan press, “cover various economic, social and security fields, and open up broad prospects of cooperation for the integration of the Maghreb. They are also marked by a significant openness on new areas of cooperation, including renewable energy, the environment, financial markets, and the promotion of human rights, as well as by the important involvement of the private sector represented by the General Confederation of Moroccan Businesses (CGEM) and the Tunisian Union of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA).”

Logic of North African Integration

Much has been written about the need for regional integration in North Africa. It has the lowest rate of intra-regional trade in the world (less than 3 percent). Its logistics and commercial ties are subject to political conflicts that undermine opportunities for cross-border economic development. Conscious of these impediments, the King said, “Those who believe a country can single-handedly address development issues and meet the legitimate aspirations of its people are wrong, especially when it comes to meeting the demands of Maghreb youth, who are our greatest asset.” Across the region, youth unemployment averages more than 20 percent, with the majority of the populations under 30 years of age. The King went on to describe the folly of not addressing opportunities from integration.

King Mohammed VI addresses Tunisia's National Constituent Assembly

King Mohammed VI addresses Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly

Those who think a country can deal with security and stability problems on its own are just as wrong. Experience has shown the failure of approaches that exclude others when seeking to address the security threats looming over the region; this is especially true when it comes to the development and security challenges facing the Sahel and Sahara region.

 Wrong, too, are those who think the status quo can be maintained, or who believe that keeping our Greater Maghreb in a state of lethargy can somehow be a fruitful strategy; a case in point is the ongoing closure of borders, which is not only at odds with the Union’s founding charter, but is also inconsistent with the normal course of history and the requirements of geographic complementarity and cohesion. In fact, such a policy is against the very interests of the region’s peoples, who yearn for unity and integration.

 …The Maghreb Union is no longer a mere option or a political luxury; it has become a pressing popular demand and an inevitable strategic goal in the region.

 …Comprehensive development for the benefit of our peoples cannot be achieved [without]… completing the establishment of a Maghreb free-trade zone and building basic infrastructure and communication networks to facilitate the free movement of people, services, goods and capital between the countries of the Great Maghreb.

The success of this commitment to long-term development and progressive economic growth within Morocco and with its neighbors across the Maghreb and Africa is reflected in Morocco’s improving ratings as a regional base for business and investment. Yet achieving progress is not without its challenges. Dependent on imported energy supplies, troubled by slow growth in employment, and experiencing the growing pains of an emerging constitutional democracy, the King is committed to embracing and promoting Morocco’s role as a leader in the maturing of an integrated Maghreb.

Morocco Extends Humanitarian Aid and Support to Syrian Refugees

More than 900 Syrians have registered in Morocco as asylum seekers

The continuing tragedy of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria extends across North Africa where hundreds have fled, often via human traffickers, to uncertain futures. According to a story in Al Jazeera last week, the number of 900 registered refugees “does not represent all the Syrian refugees in Morocco.”

In line with its new law regarding the treatment of illegal immigrants, Morocco has stepped up its efforts to provide them temporary group protection by working with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to register the refugees and shield them from detention, “even if they have entered or are staying on Moroccan soil illegally,” according to Marc Fawe, a spokesperson for UNHCR-Morocco.

Most of the refugees either come by boat or over land to Algeria, where they are left to their own devices to survive. One of the refugees explained that she had to leave Algeria due to the difficulty of establishing residency. “We could not stay on Algerian soil more than three months, and to stay longer, we had to leave the country and [come] back again.”

Syrian refugees access services in Morocco

Syrian refugees access services in Morocco

Their situation in Morocco is quite different as the country has recently adopted two ground-breaking laws regarding residency procedures for immigrants and means by which they can be integrated into Moroccan society. As reported in Magharebia, “The new initiative goes beyond residence permits; it provides newcomers with the means to assimilate into Moroccan society.” According to Migration Affairs Minister Anis Birou, “The policy comprises several strands, including the enrollment of immigrants’ children in schools, job training for adults, access to healthcare and learning darija. The aim is to equip migrants with all the tools they need to live peacefully as part of Moroccan society. Morocco must be an example in this respect.”

Aside from the global concern for the close to 4 million Syrian refugees worldwide from the current conflict, Moroccan citizens have also welcomed the practical and local impact of the policy. As a teacher in Rabat noted, the policy is part of efforts to respect human rights. She said to Magharebia, “Although their status is illegal, immigrants must have access to basic rights such as healthcare. I think no one can disagree with this strategy, which will enable thousands of people to live a dignified life in society, without fear or humiliation.”

Morocco’s position on the refugees reflects yet another progressive step in its comprehensive efforts to advance human rights throughout the country and North Africa.