Shared Vision, Shared Objectives

Shared Vision, Shared Objectives

Bottom Line of the Morocco-US Strategic Dialogue

On Thursday, April 9, the US and Morocco issued a joint communiqué at the conclusion of the third Strategic Dialogue between the two countries. The US praised Morocco’s progress on many fronts, Morocco lauded the commitment of the US to stand by its ally and support its economic, social, and democratic reforms. The language of a special partnership resonated throughout the statement.

Building on the priorities established during King Mohammed VI’s visit to President Obama in November 2013 and subsequent senior-level visits, the statement noted that “our strategic partnership and shared vision will promote a secure, stable, democratic, and prosperous Maghreb, Sahel region, Africa, and Middle East.”

Secretary Kerry “reiterated the United States’ appreciation for the action and leadership of His Majesty the King …,” including his “continuing efforts to strengthen further Morocco’s democratic institutions and promote economic prosperity and human development.”

In anticipation of Moroccan local elections coming in September, the Secretary specifically noted “programs designed to strengthen political parties and civil society” as they prepare for the first ever elections under regionalization – Morocco’s program to devolve more power to locally-elected officials. These elections and the training programs are part of a continuing campaign to build local capacity to administer municipalities, determine local priorities and planning, and implement local solutions to address human development needs.

After lauding Morocco’s progress in reforming the military justice system, enabling more organizations to officially participate in civil society, advancing the powers of the National Human Rights Council (CNDH), and implementing immigration reforms enacted since last year’s Dialogue, the Secretary noted that both countries will work together to advance human rights at the UN Human Rights Council.

Business, Africa, Security, and Regional Affairs

On the business front, the major item discussed in the communiqué was the anticipated second Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact, which focuses on education for a skilled workforce, and improving land policies and productivity. The communiqué also noted that both countries had signed an MOU wherein Morocco will share with select countries in Africa its expertise and lessons learned in the MCC relationship.

Secretary Kerry highlighted the leadership of King Mohammed VI in broadening and deepening Morocco’s relations with Africa. This has become a priority in recent years as instability and violence threaten more countries on the continent. The US and Morocco agreed “to work jointly … through a comprehensive and coordinated approach including food security, access to energy, trade promotion, conflict prevention, and the preservation of cultural and religious identity.” With more than 100 agreements already signed between Morocco and African countries, and the King poised for another five-country visit later this month, Morocco is working hard to strengthen its leadership role in south-south cooperation, a role strongly supported by the US.

Reiterating America’s long-standing policy of support for autonomy for the Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty, the communiqué stated, “The United States has made clear that Morocco’s autonomy plan is serious, realistic, and credible, and that it represents a potential approach that could satisfy the aspirations of the people of the Western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity.” Both countries reaffirmed their shared commitment to improving the lives of the people in the Western Sahara and will consider a number of options to move ahead on that objective.

Men and women training as leaders and counselors promoting moderate Islam

Men and women training as leaders and counselors promoting moderate Islam

As expected, security cooperation was a key agenda item. In addition to addressing the various means through which Morocco and the US are working to counter violent extremism, Secretary Kerry thanked Morocco for its participation in efforts such as the Global Counterterrorism Forum and the Initiative on Open Border Security, as well as Morocco’s innovative training center for Imams, Morchidines, and Morchidates – prayer leaders and male and female religious counselors from Morocco, and other countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.

The dialogue included discussions on “Morocco’s reform of its justice sector and promoting the rule of law, and … the launch of new law enforcement and counterterrorism programs, including a trilateral initiative with Moroccan and American trainers working together to train other African partners in border security and crisis management.” The communiqué further highlighted Morocco’s role in promoting dialogue among factions in Libya, working towards a comprehensive solution in Mali that deals with root causes, and a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. In short, the friends were able in a few hours to reiterate their long-standing security commitments based on broadly shared goals and objectives.

“The Minister and the Secretary concluded by noting that the Moroccan–American strategic partnership is based both on shared interests and shared values which provide many avenues for cooperation and collaboration bilaterally, regionally, and globally.” It is a partnership that offers many opportunities to advance the quality of life for the people of Morocco, provides means for enhancing regional security and prosperity, and enables the United States to work effectively in a part of the world where it has an effective and motivated partner.

Drawing Africa Closer Together

Morocco-MCC MOU and African Innovation Foundation Prizes Exhibit Continent’s Links

At the third Morocco-US Strategic Dialogue, held recently in Washington, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and the Kingdom of Morocco signed an MOU that, in the words of the joint statement, is “designed to share expertise and lessons learned with other select countries in Africa.”

The two parties agreed to cooperate “with the goal of reducing poverty in Africa, including a focus on promoting the adoption of new technologies and innovative business models to promote entrepreneurship.” What this means, in fact, is that the US can ask Morocco to provide technical assistance in Africa, directly to countries eligible for an MCC compact or with countries “seeking to attain Compact-eligibility by supporting targeted policy and institutional reforms.”

Morocco and US Working on Third Compact Credit: MCC

Morocco and US Working on Third Compact
Credit: MCC

The reform agenda inherent in an MCC compact is part of the “no free rides” conditions on the funding that include performance based metrics, regular auditing, and stakeholder involvement throughout the duration of the project. Morocco’s first compact was not only the largest awarded by the US government at the time, it helped shape subsequent MCC thinking about compact development. For example, the MOU stated that collaboration “may facilitate sharing of lessons of Morocco’s experience; increase regional, private sector investment; and serve as a pilot for South-South cooperation.”

This coincides with Morocco’s growing economic integration with Africa as a result of years of “economic diplomacy” spearheaded by King Mohammed VI. Although there is no obligation for a country to accept Morocco’s technical assistance, it is certainly clear – since the Kingdom has now been approved for a second compact negotiation – that its experience is valued by the MCC.

The MOU was signed by MCC Deputy Chief Executive Officer Nancy Lee and Morocco’s Minister Delegate of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Mbarka Bouaida. Ms. Lee commented that “This MOU demonstrates the value we place on Morocco’s experience and our desire to facilitate sharing the benefits of that experience with other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our new partnership advances MCC’s interest in regional cooperation which will be an important driver of growth. The agreement will allow us to have a broader systemic impact that sustains and expands the value of our compacts beyond the compact projects themselves.”

One indication of how Morocco’s performance has influenced the MCC is the specific reference in the MOU to Power Africa, a US government program for sub-Saharan Africa. Morocco is not part of the program, but it was Morocco’s achievement of providing access to power for more than 95 percent of the country in less than 10 years that convinced MCC to highlight the power sector as a key area for potential cooperation.

Innovation Rewarded

Another highly visible indication of the successful impact of Morocco’s pivot to Africa is the announcement of the top 10 entrepreneurs in Africa by the African Innovation Foundation (AIF) from a pool of 925 applications from more than 41 countries. The awards ceremony will be held in Morocco may 12-13, hosted by Moulay Hafid Elalamy, Minister of Industry, Trade, Investment, and the Digital Economy.

Moroccan minister El Alamy

Moroccan Minister of Minister of Trade, Investment, Industry, and Digital Technology

In announcing the event, Minister Elalamy said, “We have a strong commitment with AIF to unlock the innovation potential of the continent. The ambition is to make Africa a juncture of innovation and prosperous nations. In Morocco, the commitment to promote research and innovation mobilizes both the government and private sector decision makers who join their efforts to make the national innovation system a force for development.”

The top 10 winners, who will share $150,000 in prizes, are quite diverse in their innovations. The Moroccan winner, Adnane Remmal, has made a natural alternative to livestock antibiotics that reduces health hazards to animals and humans at no extra cost to farmers. Other innovations addressing the needs of Africa include: an agri-business funding model that links returns to profits; an educational “box” that enables children to learn first-hand the principles of science and electronics by building, measuring, and experimenting; a measuring device for ensuring the accuracy of machines used to detect TB, the third-leading cause of death in Africa; and a water distillation system that can use solar energy.

Once again, Morocco is putting substance behind its mission as an African country. Its potential MCC technical assistance partnerships, hosting the AFI recognition of innovators making a difference in the lives of Africans, and the King’s upcoming trips to five African countries demonstrate its continued commitment to being a full player in the future of the continent and a platform for regional economic integration.

Morocco Works on Balancing Security and Democracy

Political Space Defined by Addressing Reforms and Safety Issues

With the increasingly complicated and disruptive political landscape in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the debate about the prospects for democracy in that part of the world continues to boil. Some claim the dominoes are falling as Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya succumb to violence, and spillover threats spread to Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia. Others point to the deterioration of old regimes and out-dated social contracts as the central issues of concern – people’s aspirations are being thwarted. Challenges from extremists and militants elude simple solutions, though some analysts and pundits point to economic development as the core factor in mitigating the attraction to violence.

Whatever the perspectives being proffered, there is in reality no “one-shot” solution to these crises, each of which has its own local characteristics. These conflicts were years in the making, and it is the speed at which tipping points were reached in the last six years that really separates these crises from previous conflicts in the region. And it raises again the question as to when is the ideal time, and what are the ideal conditions for promoting democracy – beyond the simple exercise of voting.

This is the core of the issue today: how can a leadership of a country pursue a formula for growth and stability without circumscribing civil and human rights, particularly in today’s environment, where pursuing security is often at odds with speeding up political and economic reforms as an antidote to extremism.

Let’s begin with the assumption that there are no “one-size-fits-all” models, whether one’s point of reference is Singapore, Vietnam, or the populist governments in Latin America. So where do we find working examples of moving towards democracy? It may be that we should spend more time on the ground, assessing how countries that have complex yet manageable development priorities define on a continuing basis the balance between security and freedoms.

Democracy-building is a Full-time Job

Morocco is a country that shares American values — both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have noted that Morocco’s foreign policy reflects shared values and, to a large measure our common interests as well in a safe, secure, and prosperous world. Morocco’s own internal reform process has received support and recognition internationally, and the US has responded favorably with strong economic and diplomatic support, ranging from the only Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in Africa, to an upcoming second Millennium Challenge Compact, to American support for a negotiated settlement to the Western Sahara conflict built on the concept of autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.

Another very critical area of cooperation is in dealing with threats from radicals and extremists. Morocco has constructed an extensive effort that has earned praise from Europe and the US. While some may express concern that security issues are now emphasized more than human development, one only has to look at reforms enacted and in Parliament, the broadening educational program promoting moderate Islam, and security cooperation against ISIL to understand that Morocco is responding to local realities with a balanced strategy.

The pace and extent of Morocco’s reforms reflects the sensibilities of its political culture, which are constantly being stretched by the vision of King Mohammed VI, who is clear and consistent about collaborative progress. In a recent address delivered to the Crans Montana Forum, he noted that North-South and South-South “cooperation must be rooted in mutual esteem, be based on balanced approaches and show that the interests of the various partners concerned are duly taken into account.”

His strategic approach to human development encompasses all facets of Morocco’s society, from ethnic and gender issues to economic, social, and political concerns. And these are also central to Morocco’s effective multifaceted counterterrorism approach – alongside harder measures necessary to address the threat from radicals who oppose Morocco’s liberalizing society, as well as its close collaboration with the US.

As the US debates its strategic responses to encourage both security and human development around the globe, it faces a daunting task. As Danya Greenfield and Faysal Itani write in the Atlantic Council’s Issue in Focus, “The United States struggles with a palpable tension between its immediate security interests and the need for broader institutional reforms in the MENA that would address the root causes of anti-US militancy.”

They argue that “To secure its long-term strategic interests, the United States should urgently and simultaneously pursue its security needs…and support pluralism, basic human rights, and inclusive economic growth.”

Growing a democratic culture is a never-ending challenge — as witness the continuous evolution of the UK and US. When looking abroad for aspiring partners who seek the humane, just, and prosperous world that is a core element in America’s global vision, US policy, according to the paper, “should reflect that political and economic development go hand in hand.” While there may not be ready-made solutions, working with partners like Morocco will enable both parties to more fully exploit opportunities to reduce threats and promote progress through strengthened collaboration.