Morocco’s New National Service Can Build Generations of Employable Patriots

National military service for young Moroccan men and women should be part of an integrated youth development strategy less concerned about vague ideals and more about preparing youth for work and dignity in a country that opens doors to opportunities. The commitment must be mutually beneficial.

Part 2 of a two-part article sets out how the new law can both promote citizenship and patriotism and empower youth with market-ready skills.

To many, the proposed law on national conscription is less about enabling youth and more about protecting the power structure in Morocco. Morocco has an army; it is well trained; it is large and expensive to maintain; and having thousands of young people rotating in and out on an annual basis may not be the most efficient use of its capabilities. In addition, some warn that giving weapons training to those not committed to a military career may be a security risk over time, especially if there are no changes in the economic prospects of those youth when they complete their year of service.

If one looks at youth development models in other countries, there is more integration between the time spent in military service and the acquisition of skills that equips youth with tools for securing jobs. In fact, there is an array of choices and training to satisfy the desire to inculcate values and enable post-training employment. So it may be in Morocco’s economic, political, and security interests if it recasts the military service program into a national service program that promotes patriotism and citizenship, and has the capacity to enable participants to learn to respect their fellow citizens, develop marketable skills, acquire team building and leadership experience, and add meaning to their lives, their families, and others in the community and the country.

So, what are Morocco’s options if it wants to have patriots who are employable citizens? First of all, the program must have meaning and relevance. If you want citizens, then you must motivate them beyond the simple salary of military service by sharing with them a vision of how they can advance their country by developing their work-related talents. This must be driven by leaders who share their clarity of purpose and commitment to excellent results. Start with a well-thought out strategy with several streams that can be managed effectively by a partnership of the government and private sector, including NGOs. It also requires a vision that is communicated effectively to all Moroccans especially young men and women, their families, marginalized teens and school drop-outs, unemployed university graduates, and civil society.

What would the program look like? Assuming it is mandatory to participate, the vetting should begin in secondary school or with 18 year olds who have not finished high school. Morocco should have had enough experience by now with testing trainees to determine their likely assets and how these can best be developed. The international development community has plenty of intake models that can be useful. As placement results are measured over time, students would be encouraged to choose among several options: military service in select specialties, STEM-related study leading to a form of associate degree, and skills training tied to internship programs. Other details relate to how to promote collaboration between urban and rural constituencies, how best to encourage the participation of young women and girls, and blending the talents of university graduates with younger Moroccans.

High Atlas Foundation training program

Participants could be channeled into one or two-year incentivized programs such as those of the High Atlas Foundation, the Book Caravan, or CorpsAfrica that can be extended into other areas of the country utilizing the developing talents of youth. It’s already being done in the private/NGO sector and all of these are scalable and impactful projects.

The question of what to do with school drop outs can be handled in the same way: testing for skills that does not rely solely on literacy; interviews to determine placement priorities; and subsidies in the form of military salaries or work-study grants to participate. There may be many talented youths in the informal sector who could make important benefits to the country if given training and opportunities.

The larger question here is one of leadership development. Perhaps the first year should be spent training cadres of military and non-military staff on various aspects of leadership, team building, metrics and evaluation, human resources management, talent retention and promotion, and administrative skills. These staff should also be given incentives to understand that their work is essential to building the talent of the next generation of Morocco’s leaders.

As mentioned in Part 1, King Mohammed VI said, “We cannot let our education system continue to produce unemployed people, especially in certain branches of study, where graduates — as everyone knows — find it extremely hard to access the job market.” Based on years of experience, the need here is far beyond well designed and equipped programs, in which Morocco has a spotty record of achievement. It is the critical development of teachers, trainers, managers, and specialists at all levels who are the key to the success of this integrated national youth service model.

In discussions with Moroccans about this concept of employable patriots, they were quick to point out that the needs of the military in this scheme should not be minimized. In fact, the military faces an uphill challenge in recruiting, training, and retaining youth with critical IT skills ranging from interpreting satellite imagery and reconnaissance to cyber-security across all of its operations and beyond. This is an area that does not require a university education, but a comprehensive program utilizing soft and hardware skills that youth seem to manage with greater ease than others. And the need in the private and public sectors will only continue to grow.

This is all doable, practical, sustainable, and relevant to the present and future of Morocco. If the government is ready to foot the costs of pulling willing and less-than-willing youth into an ill-defined  military experience, wouldn’t it be more efficient and effective to take a year to build a strategy, leadership team, training cadres, and set up a centralized and social media savvy center for promoting future employable patriots? Then the private sector and CSOs could become partners in a deep and committed resolution to Morocco’s youth and contribute their resources and expertise.

Again, if the government is seriously committed to programs that will empower youth with values and skills to become more able citizens and economic engines, then the development of a viable, sustainable, and action-based comprehensive strategy for youth development should be based on a broader-based vision, integrating military service, national service, and educational reform to achieve these outcomes.

Now is the time to seize the future for Morocco and its youth.



Will Morocco’s Youth Be Served by Restarting National Military Service?

Plans to reinstitute national military service for young Moroccan men and women should be a centerpiece for a national discussion on what to do about the country’s discontented youth. But the who, what, where, why, and how remain unanswered.

Part 1 of a two-part article sets out the questions and dilemmas posed by the proposed new law.

The renewal of national conscription announced by King Mohammed VI in a speech following presentation of a draft bill to the Council of Ministers on August 20 has been greeted with confusion and concern. Although there is a backlog of pending legislation, it appears that this bill became a priority in part due to the king’s dissatisfaction with how youth were responding to the government’s lack of momentum in resolving long-standing grievances.

While there are great benefits in building strong values of citizenship, in the U.S. and elsewhere, it may be useful in determining the merits of such a program to consider four topics: What, Why, Who, and How before the law is finalized so that it can be part of a larger strategy that contributes to Morocco’s development rather than a tool for tamping down dissent and promoting false expectations.

WHAT? According to media reports, the initial statement from the Royal Palace said, “Female and male citizens aged between 19 and 25 years are obliged to do military service for 12 months. The military service aims to promote patriotism among the young, within the framework of the correlation between the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.”

It is hardly a coincidence that the proposed law follows several years of demonstrations in different parts of the country mostly led by young people fed up with the slow pace of economic development, alleged high levels of corruption among government officials, and a general lack of confidence in policies designed to give greater authority of decision-making to local authorities.

In his speech, referring to national service, the King once again spoke forcefully about the need for the government to do more to curb unemployment and improve the educational system and vocational training. “We cannot let our education system continue to produce unemployed people, especially in certain branches of study, where graduates – as everyone knows – find it extremely hard to access the job market,” he said.

While the king has made this a centerpiece of his speeches for several years, the government has not been effective in aggressively moving ahead with projects, reforms, and policies that both broadly promote economic development and are inclusive of groups who are politically and economically marginalized. There is plenty of blame to go around – from the inability of Parliament to use its powers to make government ministries more accountable, the impact of corruption on project awarding and implementation, the mismatch between skills acquired in schools and the demands of the market, and the complex challenges of a country in transition from a largely commodity-based economy to one more diverse and rewarding.

WHY? On the surface, there are two goals in renewing military conscription: engendering a commitment to citizenship and building a sense of patriotism. These goals may overlap, but they are not necessarily congruent. For example, where is citizenship focused – on country, king, local community, or elsewhere? Does patriotism shift one towards more conservative values or is it inclusive of all Moroccans, built on a shared-perspective of the country’s priorities? Or is the project, as some critics claim, a means to delay and defuse acculturation that could lead to radicalization or dropping out?

An insight into the government’s strategy, reflecting the king statements, is that in addition to military conscription, “The council also approved the draft framework law on the education, training, and scientific research system, which is part of the high royal guidelines, aimed at adopting a genuine and irreversible reform of the national education system. This law sets out the principles and objectives establishing the system of education, training and scientific research, and those aimed at ensuring synergy between its various components so that they can fulfill their missions of ensuring quality education based on equity and equal opportunities,” according to the North Africa Post.

If the government is seriously committed to programs that will empower youth with values and skills to become more able citizens and economic engines, then the development of a viable, sustainable, and action-based comprehensive strategy for youth development should be based on a broader-based vision integrating military service, national service, and educational reform to achieve these outcomes.

WHO? When the king abolished the previous mandatory military service in 2006, it was said that conscription had led to a climate of apathy and did not meet “the requirements of professionalism and scientific and technological training.” How the proposed law will remedy this is unclear, along with the content of the service, how it will handle male and female recruits? Who will be exempted, and what are the indicators of a successful policy?

With Parliament returning to session, details such as these will be discussed and debated. Hopefully, more public input and recognition will focus on additional concrete benefits that can be achieved from this program beyond its aims of patriotism and good citizenship. It will be a disservice if the politicians end up enacting a program that favors certain socio-economic or ethnic classes either by conscription or exemption.

Other considerations that are being raised include: how will binational Moroccans living in Morocco or abroad be affected, will there be differentiation between university, high school, and primary school graduates? Will literacy play a role in qualifying for the program and will there be a remedial component? Is there any thought to a skills component to the program? These and other questions are some examples of the complexity of bridging the announcement and the implementation of mandatory military service.

HOW? And in all of this, what does the military itself think? Given that this could mean an intake annually of anywhere between 10,000 and 20,000 youths, how will it set priorities, expand existing facilities, develop whatever new or revised regulations are needed to manage the program, and will it be sufficiently funded with an initial build-up period rather than thousands showing up without a systematic and comprehensible intake process?

These considerations are already being debated on social media. It will be telling to gauge the role it will play in connecting the opinions of Moroccans with their members of Parliament, whether groups concerned about the proposed law will organize beyond chat rooms, if the government will use social media to build its case for the benefits of compulsory military service for youth, and what coalitions are formed for and against the program under what perspectives.


Part 2 will explore the possibilities of recasting the military service program into a national service program that not only promotes patriotism and citizenship, but also has the capacity to bridge rural and urban constituencies, develop marketable skills, encourage team building and leadership qualities, and add meaning to the lives of the participants, their families, and others.