Women in Africa – Ready to Go, Almost

Investing in women, who make up the majority of the population, is a necessity as well as a great idea!

There is little doubt that Africa will witness rapid yet uneven economic and demographic growth in the next 20 years. Information from multiple sources indicates that its rise can positively affect the global economy by introducing a decisive regional economic force that must be reckoned with. The very steps that will enable this progress such as the African Continental Free Trade Area, widespread investments in communications, transportation, and distribution infrastructures, a greater emphasis on advancing agro-industry, and broad changes in education systems to prepare market-ready graduates to fuel the continent’s rise, are lagging.

This is not new. Since the last century, Africans from diverse communities as well as thought leaders have lamented the lack of coherent strategies in individual countries, regional groupings, and Africa at large that address shortcomings identified by governments and multilateral organizations. The wide disparity among African nations, in terms of GDP, PPP, literacy, gender ratios in education, the workforce, and professions, and continuing concerns with inclusion, corruption, social and health services, and rule of law, aggravate constraints to continent-wide growth. And one cannot overlook the consequences of hundreds of years of dividing Africa north from south, east from west, and other consequences of its difficult history with outside powers and regional rivalries.

Today, as documented by many data sources, Africa stands unevenly at a decision point – either move proactively to reform and enable broad economic inclusion, or face continuing malaise in addressing the needs of the fastest growing population in the world. The World Population Review points out that “There is a high proportion of younger people within the Africa population as a whole, with reports that 41% of the African population is under the age of 15. The life expectancy is also low – less than 50 in many nations and averaging 52 across the continent as a whole. This has reduced considerably over the course of the last twenty years with a widespread HIV and AIDS epidemic taking much of the blame for that statistic.”

Women outnumber men both in the older age groups and those just entering school so investing in girls and women as full partners in the economic future of the continent makes good business sense. A good place to start is focusing on women across the business spectrum because that would create multiple returns by enabling and empowering entrepreneurs and enterprises across many sectors rather than largely focusing on high-end technology and programming.

This is also consistent with initiatives that upgrade the health and well-being of Africans, which is a key goal of the UN Sustainable Development Goals adopted by all of the African countries. And it is critical that the international community work in partnership with countries and communities to combat the debilitating conditions that challenge the continent’s future.

To be clear, again looking at the disparities in education, income level, structure of economies, and other factors that differentiate the university graduates from the semi-literate farm and harvesting people, countries need to expand programs beyond urban areas and services and move aggressively to shore up the agricultural sectors that represent the largest percentage of many national GDPs. There are some significant projects that already exist that can serve as models for other countries. It has been suggested that marrying innovative technology programming skills with applications to agri-business may yield mutual benefits to upskilling both IT and agriculture workers.

The challenges for entrepreneurs and business owners are similar for men and women but are compounded by various norms that disproportionately affect women. The World Bank and the UNDP have worked for several decades to promote women in business through a variety of projects and programs but the problem begins with the legal systems that discriminate against women on social, cultural, and religious grounds.

The World Bank has launched an index measuring a country’s legal system vis-à-vis how women in business are impacted. Sarah Iqbal, Program Manager of the Women, Business and the Law Project at the World Bank noted that “Progress in Sub-Saharan Africa is heartening. Despite the myriad challenges facing the region, many governments are working to rescind laws, often holdovers from the colonial era that discriminate against women. We believe that if you change the law, you change the world and we look forward to recording further progress on women’s economic inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Her optimism reflects the fact that fully one-third of all reforms carried out globally were in sub-Saharan Africa, a total of 34 reforms with DRC, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia among the leaders. The full report and accompanying datasets are available at http://wbl.worldbank.org.

African women in the workforce is a continuing topic among World Bank bloggers. A recent blog put it quite well. “Walk around a major city in Sub-Saharan Africa and you will quickly realize that women are a highly visible part of the economy, selling all manner of products and services. In some ways, women are powering the economies of the continent to a greater degree than anywhere else in the world; Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where women make up the majority of self-employed individuals.” That bears repeating, women are the majority of small-business owners in Africa…that is why efforts to promote women in business must be broad-based to be inclusive of their efforts across the economy.

As the blog indicates, “What this fact conceals, however, is that on average women-owned firms have fewer employees, and lower revenues, profits, and productivity. In many cases, women’s businesses contribute little beyond basic subsistence. This limits the potential of women entrepreneurs and hinders economic growth and poverty reduction in Africa.”

This reality can be changed with policies and interventions that support business women through a comprehensive effort that includes literacy, business and financial skills training, mentoring, tactics for accessing financing, marketing, customer relations, and other inputs to making business succeed. As the author notes, “There is a huge opportunity to unleash women entrepreneurs, boosting economic growth and lifting millions of people out of poverty in the process. While in some cases removing barriers to women entrepreneurs may involve slow-moving policy debates, in other cases relatively simple interventions can make a huge difference.”

In multiple studies, it is clear that despite gender inequality, progress in opening up the business space by empowering and enabling women can be transformational for Africa. Limitations that must be dealt with were described in a posting in Africa.com.  Some of the unique challenges facing women include limited access to funding, a lack of mentors to provide guidance, stereotypes that block women from being accepted as experts and supervisors, self-limiting factors that discourage self-confidence and innovation, and social norms that continue to support male dominance in economic affairs.

Ironically, studies in micro-finance/credit and banking show that although “Women manage their credit better than men, the former still find it harder to obtain funding than the latter. A study by the African Development Bank finds that the financing gap for women in Sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at above US $20 billion, and younger women struggle the most. According to the 2014 Findex report, only 30% of women in sub-Saharan Africa have access to bank accounts.” This statistic shows the importance of empowering women through financial inclusion.

This past week, South Africa hosted #sheinnovates, a project of the UN Women’s Initiative Global Innovation Coalition for Change (GICC) launched in 2017 that brings together UN women and key players from the private sector, academia, and the NGO community. “It aims to develop the innovation market to better support women and accelerate the process of gender equality and women’s empowerment by building awareness of the potential of women-developed innovation; identifying key barriers to the advancement of women in the fields of innovation, technology and entrepreneurship; and working collaboratively to identify and address such barriers at an industry-wide level.”

Another noteworthy initiative is the US-funded African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) based on the assumption that the more that women network across borders and within communities, the more capable they will be to innovate, mentor, organize, and empower themselves and others. According to the State Department, “AWEP alumni have created more than 17,000 jobs and established 22 women’s business associations across Sub-Saharan Africa that are transforming societies and spurring economic growth.”

The website states that “In Africa, women are the backbone of communities and the continent’s greatest potential to unlocking economic growth as they provide the majority of labor with the least amount of resources. Reductions in the gender gap in education, health, political participation, and economic inclusion will result in an increase in the continent’s economic competitiveness.”

The program “Seeks to dismantle the obstacles to business opportunities and economic participation that African women face, “By identifying and building networks of women entrepreneurs [and business owners] sub-Saharan Africa is poised to transform their societies by owning, running, and operating small and medium businesses, and by becoming voices for social advocacy in their communities.”

As more and more resources are invested in African women in business, the continent will reap the benefits of empowering the majority of its population!


International Donors Conference on the Sahel, Much Ado…Will It Make a Difference


According to a number of reports, more than 60 delegations and 14 partner countries gathered in Brussels last month to put meat on the bones of the G5 Sahel force set up in 2017 to enable Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad build their military capabilities to conduct anti-terrorism operations in their countries and along their borders. There were also discussions concerning the need for social and economic development to address underlying local issues that feed dissatisfaction and instability.

The meeting was co-hosted by the EU, the UN, the African Union (AU), and the G5 under the auspices of Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou. Pledges were made totaling some $509 million for the joint force’s operating budget. Issoufou pointed out that it would only support the first year’s operations and that subsequent annual budgets of $150 million would be needed. France also announced that it would increase its contributions to development and government assistance to the region to more than $1.5 billion over the next five years.

As a post in Euractiv explained, “The aim of the military force is to drive out terrorist groups, smugglers, and organized criminal gangs that are taking advantage of the weakness of the state in certain areas of the region. It is a critical region since poverty, climate change, and the collapse of the Libyan state have turned it into an ideal breeding ground for all sorts of smuggling and could also be a haven for Daesh fighters fleeing Syria.”

Given this complexity, among concerns expressed by several delegations were “There is also a risk that an overly securitized approach could squeeze out equally necessary work on governance, justice, and the protection of local populations,” according to ECFR coverage.

In order to address concerns regarding the appropriate use of the funding, the G5 has set up a fiduciary fund for donations, and the EU now has set up a “coordination hub” for channeling international donations to aggregated and disburse funds within the GF effort. Hopefully, this will “help alleviate the risk already posed by so many international actors intervening in the Sahel, ideally avoiding duplication of efforts and wasted investments,” the article noted.

Coordination of both military and development efforts poses a tricky balancing act for the EU and G5 countries as the EU wants the G5 with intimate local knowledge to play the lead role in developing the military interventions while ensuring that support and assistance are channeled to projects that will best benefit at-risk populations and not exacerbate discrimination against local groups.

Unfortunately, the military situation continues to deteriorate. Attacks by jihadist groups aimed at French and G5 forces, often abetted by locals, have increased; and security operations by the joint forces sometimes agitate local civilians and have created refugee situations in some cases. It has been mentioned that as G5 operations continue, “The tactical need to work with “friendly” local armed actors could end up further destabilizing local security arrangements in the name of combating terrorism.”

This makes it even more imperative that the EU Training Mission (EUTM) and security sector reform in the G5 countries proceed apace, that the rights of minorities are protected, and that development assistance is effectively targeted. As Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs remarked, “This isn’t only about security but also about development. Because there can be no real conditions for security without social and economic development, such as opportunities for young people and women in the region.”

The Euractiv post listed that “France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, the EU, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the UNDP have announced that the Sahel Alliance will collect a total of $7.4 billion to finance development projects for the next five years. These funds will go towards the 500 projects that will be set up in the countries of the G5 Sahel, and will be based on six main areas: employment for young people, rural development, food security, energy and climate, governance, decentralization, and access to basic services and security.”

Concerns with a balanced, coordinated strategy were also emphasized in a Devex post noting that Mogherini made the point that the EU had invested more than $9.8 billion in the Sahel in the past seven years. Yet, Friederike Röder, director of ONE France, was skeptical of the durability of the commitments. “It’s great to hear announcements for more investment into development in the Sahel, but we need to ensure that the primary objective of this funding is the eradication of extreme poverty and not controlling migration or military objectives,” she said.

Achieving positive results in the next few years will take more than infusions of money. Reliable coordination and collaboration across the spectrum of military and development programs can only be built on commitments to transparency, effective communications, transnational cooperation, and consensus that is a rare commodity in the region. With the Sahel still liable to increased infiltration by outside militants and jihadists, and the existing unstable political environment, it will take leadership that embodies a long-range vision of building states out of insecure territories based on tribal alliances.

Why is Morocco Reaching Out to Africa and Asia?

In his speech on August 20, King Mohammed VI of Morocco continued his country’s campaign to highlight its political and economic ties to Africa.

The occasion was the commemoration of the People’s Revolution Day, the beginning of the struggle against the French Protectorate. The King spoke on a number of topics including Morocco’s historic ties with Algeria, the need for overseas Moroccans to oppose extremism, and the centrality of Africa to the Moroccan identify and national strategy.

Morocco has been working very hard for a decade to cement relations with African countries to gain their support for Morocco’s efforts to join the African Union. Morocco’s strongest tool are the economic and commercial benefits that come with strong bilateral relations with the kingdom, amply demonstrated by the fact that, according to the African Development Bank, 85% of the country’s foreign direct investment is in Africa.

And like any other smart policy, these efforts do not come unconditionally. As the king said in his speech, in a clear reference to the AU effort, “Our decision that Morocco should take its natural place, once again, within the African institutional family clearly illustrates our commitment to continue supporting the causes of African peoples.”

He went on to point out that “For Morocco, Africa means more than just being part of a geographical area, or having historical bonds with the continent. Africa also means sincere affection, appreciation, close human and spiritual relations as well as tangible solidarity. Furthermore, Africa is the natural extension of Morocco and the embodiment of the country’s strategic depth.”

Morocco’s friendship has many benefits

Morocco’s efforts are multi-dimensional, involving the private sector; large state corporations such as OCP, the phosphate giant; government health, social, and education agencies; counterterrorism cooperation; and cultural exchanges. Moroccan telecoms companies serve more customers in a dozen African countries than they do at home; and Moroccan banks play a significant role in eight West African countries. Additionally, OCP, on its own and in an innovative partnership with Gabon, is producing fertilizer specifically tailored for African needs and is funding a distribution program for small landholders.

The king noted in his speech that “I believe what is good for Morocco is good for Africa – and vice versa. Theirs is one and the same destiny. I also believe there can be no progress without stability: either the two go together, or they do not exist. We see Africa as a forum for joint action, for promoting development in the region, and for serving African citizens.”

The efforts are making a difference. At the recent AU Summit, Morocco was able to secure 28 countries on a letter promoting Morocco’s admission to the AU after its withdrawal from its predecessor organization the Organization of African Unity (OAU) over the admission of the Polisario-run government Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director, Africa Center, the Atlantic Council

Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director, Africa Center, the Atlantic Council

In his commentary on the speech, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, remarked that “The monarch’s remarks reaffirmed a strategic orientation with significant implications not only for Morocco and other countries of the African continent, but also their global partners, including the United States.”

And the story has been carried over into Morocco’s growing relations with India, Russia, and China. The king had a retinue of 400 business representatives and government officials when he attended the India-Africa Forum in October 2015. Five pacts were agreed and two signed during the Forum.

Following on the heels of the India excursion, King Mohammed visited Russia March 15-16, 2016 during which a number of agreements, protocols, and memorandums of understanding, some 14 in number were highlighted as well as the continuation of the Strategic Partnership agreement that has been in effect for 10 years, since the king’s last visit in 2006.

It was a similar story in China during the state visit that began on May 11, 2016. The two countries inked 15 bilateral agreements, accords, and memoranda covering the education, economic, cultural, tourism, and technical sectors. Most importantly from the king’s perspective was the signing of a Strategic Partnership similar to that with the Kremlin.

While there is much speculation about the timing of these visits, many pundits say these Moroccan initiatives are not surprising considering the US’ reluctance to fully endorse Morocco’s autonomy proposal for the Western Sahara, calling it serious, realistic, and feasible, but not calling it out as “the” solution to the conflict. However, Russia and China have not called for its unqualified endorsement either.

Morocco is playing the long game. Whether with the AU or the Security Council, the kingdom knows it needs friends and the US’ fickle behavior gives Rabat pause, promoting a fuller, more strategic vision of how to gain friends and influence others.

Security in the Sahara Not a Shell Game

Threat not Overstated; Remedies Require “Losing Old Paradigms”

Contradictions are not rare in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region when it comes to politics and diplomacy. This is particularly evident in the continuing efforts to resolve the Western Sahara conflict. While all of the parties voice concern over the lack of a resolution, most, namely the Polisario and Algeria, are unwilling to offer credible options for how to do so, essential for regional cooperation needed to address extremist threats emanating from ungoverned spaces and, unsurprisingly, a lack of regional coordination.

The stalemated negotiations atrophying in the UN Secretary General’s office have underscored these concerns about how this situation impacts regional security and yet have offered little in the way of realistic options for resolving the conflict.

From the UN perspective, one needs look no further than the UN Secretary General’s report on his trip to the region. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted “The frustrations I witnessed among Western Saharans, coupled with the expansion of criminal and extremists’ networks in the Sahel-Sahara region, present increased risks for the stability and security of all the countries of this region. A settlement of the Western Sahara conflict would mitigate these potential risks and promote regional cooperation in the face of common threats and regional integration to bolster economic opportunity.” And yet, rather than use the security imperative to spur action towards a resolution, Ban Ki-Moon’s actions prior to the report put a negotiated political compromise further out of reach.

The Security Council’s response has been to once again reiterate the importance of working with the parties on a negotiated political settlement. One can only hope that the future of the UN’s presence in the territory will move forward toward a realistic settlement that would not rely on dead initiatives like a referendum, but engage in discussions built on achievable solutions. Only then will the region be able to revive some sort of effective security coordination among all the state actions.

This has yet to be realized despite clear deterioration of security in the Sahel-Sahara region, largely because of ongoing regional rivalries and the antiquated thinking of Algeria and the Polisario. As Professor Mohammed Benhammou, President of the Moroccan Center for Strategic Studies, noted in recent article, “Regrettably, in the Maghreb the conditions for cooperation do not always exist due to antiquated thinking, particularly over the Sahara. The closed border between Morocco and Algeria has impacted most regional relationships. For example, Tunisia, Libya, and Mali are forced to develop security strategies with both countries separately at the expense of a more effective coordinated regional strategy.”

Some of the challenges to developing such a regional strategy, particularly with regard to Algeria’s role, are outlined in a recent article in the Sada Journal about the reconstitution of Algeria’s security forces. As the author indicates, the restructuring of the security services (DRS) over the past two years, designed at least in part to improve counterterrorism capabilities, has done little more than eliminate a competing power center to the presidency.

Another part of the current strategy – highly visible counterterrorism operations to “rebuild popular confidence in the Algerian military’s ability to maintain public security,” thereby, “sending a message to France, its neighbors in the Sahel, and other countries interested in regional security that Algeria is still the dominant player,” also rings hollow given Algeria’s increasing difficulty in securing its own borders. Not to mention when one considers the failure of Algerian regional initiatives such as the Joint Military Staff Committee (CEMOC), which purported to be a regional security mechanism that was convened without Morocco, largely because of the dispute over the Sahara issue.

This is hardly a recipe for effectiveness and conflict resolution. Unless the old paradigms dissipate in order to activate true regional security cooperation including all stakeholders, Ban Ki-moon’s fears will become even more tangible and immediate.




American Firms Launch Consortium to Build Hydrocarbon Terminal in Morocco

Site of Nador West Med Port to Boost Regional Capacity Responsibly

In a promising boost to Morocco’s efforts to construct a modern port at Nador on the Mediterranean coast, a US-based investment advisory company, lixia Capsia Gestionis (LixCap, www.lixcap.com) has assembled a consortium to build and manage a “break and build” bulk hub for the storage and re-export of hydrocarbons and its products.

Nador West Med (NWM), as the new port is known, is ideally suited for the project. It is a natural deep-water harbor, with extensive surface area on land and sea encompassing a free trade zone, a friendly FDI regime thanks to the only US FTA in the region and a pool of Moroccan government incentives, land availability, low labor costs, and extensive land and sea routes to Europe, North, and West Africa.

Given the success of the Tanger-Med Port as a platform connecting Europe, the Middle East, North and West Africa, and beyond, NWM is a natural extension of that project, especially as a specialized venue for hydrocarbon logistics. The concept is to use NWM as a storage facility for off-take that is transiting the Mediterranean from GCC and producers around the Basin. Given the aging of refining facilities in Europe, it makes sense to locate new facilities in NWM that meet global environmental standards and support the large infrastructure needs of industry.

As noted in the project’s executive summary, “A specially-commissioned Wood Mackenzie study indicates that promising opportunities exist for diesel, kerosene, gasoline, LPG and bunker fuel at NWM. To take advantage of this opportunity, the port authority of NWM is building an industrial free trade zone…allowing private sector operators to develop market-based business opportunities.”

What this means is that national oil companies, bulk hydrocarbon traders, the international oil companies, and third-party storage companies can use this location to store products, refine them according to a customer’s specifications, and ship in a tight timeframe. This is especially promising for the domestic market in Morocco, which has experienced shortages and disruptions at the country’s only refinery.

As the summary makes clear, “Strategic location and a long history of political stability under the business-friendly monarchy make Morocco a compelling investment destination…Morocco has sensible environmental regulation harmonized with European norms.” NWM is fully financed by international lenders, including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, and the International Finance Corporation.

The consortium promoting the project received a grant from the US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) to perform a market analysis and pre-FEED engineering study to interest global operators and investors. In addition to LixCap, the engineering lead is Lonquist & Co. based in Houston. Both companies have operations in Morocco, and LixCap won the 2015 AMCHAM-OCP Morocco Trade and Investment Award. The team is support by Jacobs Engineering, which brings its critical EPC skills and specific hydrocarbon expertise to the project.

While the construction is not expected to be completed until 2020, given the vagaries of the hydrocarbon markets and the growing needs in Africa, the timing for the hydrocarbon terminal seems right on target.

American University of Leadership Morocco Has Ambitious Educational Strategy

Highlights Role for Expat Moroccans in Developing Skilled Workforce

Dr. Anass Lahlou does not have small dreams…they are super-sized, multicultural, and multidimensional when it comes to higher education, especially educating Moroccans for the global economy. From his experiences with AMS, a well-respected training and education firm in the Washington, DC area, he became convinced that traditional approaches for preparing youth to meet diverse market labor needs were not effective in content, cost, or time. So he began working with his networks to develop innovative models for equipping young people with professional, business, and soft skills that would serve them throughout their lives.

He began with training small cadres of Moroccans in IT-related fields. His biggest challenge at that point, he told me, was finding enough Moroccan staff with US backgrounds who shared his approach to learning and leadership. The idea was to enable qualified students to obtain US degrees in Morocco, as he found that students were ready to move away from the limitations of the academic French model and towards the American system with its emphasis on critical thinking, problem solving, and student-centered learning.

In 2005, he set up a private institute for training and technology in Florida, where his original campus is located, receiving permission to operate in Morocco the following year. His American University of Leadership (AUL) was initially a bilingual French-English online platform, which he quickly expanded through partnerships and formal campus settings into a number of countries. He is very proud of the fact that of the resident students at the three campuses in Morocco, more than 20% receive scholarship support.

“My motivation, all along,” he explained, “is to make a difference in how students see education, not only as a degree but as a means of changing lives.” In 2010, he set his focus on Africa as well as Morocco, and to date has cooperative programs with universities in Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Algeria, Senegal, and Russia, and agreements to move forward with Saudi Arabia and Dubai.

AUL-USA, the parent institution, is licensed by the Florida Commission for Independent Education (CIE)/FLDOE) and Accredited in Morocco by “ACBSP” Accreditation Council of Business Schools and Programs (under the auspices of the Council of Higher Education and Accreditation, CHEA). This year, he is the chair of the events committee of CHEA and will be hosting their annual conference at the Rabat campus.

What drives the instructional program is a commitment to upgrading the scientific, technical, business, and innovation climate in Morocco, focusing on Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Business, and Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and a Doctorate of Business Administration. His ultimate goal, through a newly formed AUL Morocco Foundation, is to create a Knowledge City in Bouznika, between Rabat and Casablanca, as an epicenter for 20-30 international universities to share a common campus and offer highly specialized courses in English that are unavailable anywhere else in the country, focusing on research, business, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

An American Marocophile, Elisabeth Myers, who serves as a strategic advisor to AULM, became committed to Dr. Lahlou and his mission after attending a retreat with his faculty in Rabat this year. She saw their remarkable commitment; and she became convinced that what Dr. Lahlou is doing is “just what Morocco needs at this critical time of rapid growth.” She told me that his “vision is extraordinary. He is offering the substantive courses in business with the more important underlay of leadership. AUL Morocco is changing the mentality of students, one at a time, to embrace the efficient, the effective, the proactive, the reliable—plus all the other qualities of leadership necessary to move the country forward to excel in the global marketplace of the 21st century.”

Elisabeth believes that the Foundation and the Knowledge City will “magnify exponentially what is possible for students at AUL, provide the resources to promote technological innovation and entrepreneurship, and significantly contribute to Morocco’s economy.”

When asked what was most important to him in the next five years, Dr. Lahlou spoke about the need to aggressively involve expatriate Moroccans in AULM’s programs. Because of their language capabilities, training in Western practices, and commitment to practical scholarship, he believes that they can make a significant contribution to the country. To that end, he is holding an international conference June 3-4 at the Rabat campus to help private universities in Morocco refine their offerings to reflect best practices to improve education in the country.

Dr. Lahlou’s list of best practices includes instructional technologies, program designs, interactive engagement models, and public-private partnerships for designing courses, in order to make private schools better contributors to economic development. Dr. Lahlou feels strongly that expatriate Moroccan education professionals can play a key role in encouraging educational institutions in Morocco to gain insights into options for upgrading their offerings. To do so will require a significant investment in improving teaching and faculties at all levels, especially in English-language instruction.

It is timely that AULM’s view of major changes to enable Morocco’s education system to produce qualified human resources is gaining momentum as the country is rapidly expanding its technology and new business sectors. Dr. Lahlou’s vision, however, can only be realized, he believes, if all are given the chance to learn. He hopes that securing support for the AULM Foundation and its commitment to broad scholarship support for its students will mark a turning point for Moroccan education into the 21st century.

Nizar Baraka Details how “Advanced Regionalization” is Advancing Democracy in Morocco

Plan for the Sahara only the Beginning for Empowering All Moroccans

At a recent roundtable discussion in Washington, DC, The Honorable Nizar Baraka, former Minister of Finance and Economy, who serves as president of the Economic, Social, and Environmental Council (CESE) in Morocco, provided his analysis of the regionalization program being rolled out in Morocco, and how this is already changing the political space in the country.

Mr. Baraka began by reviewing the CESE process for developing the first study of “the South” (the Saharan provinces), which included public hearings with testimony from some 1500 people as well as dozens of studies prepared by experts, which resulted in recommendations for extensive restructuring of local government and a robust economic development strategy. He explained that what is being done in the South is the beginning of “advanced regionalization” for all of Morocco.

He believes this is part of the implementation of shared decision-making and devolution of power promised in the 2011 Constitution. Mr. Baraka emphasized that the credibility of regionalization will only become real when citizens participate in local decision-making that affects their daily lives.

For example, the Parliament (Chamber of Deputies) is currently debating bills that give Civil Society the capacity to submit proposals and petitions directly to Parliament.

There is great economic disparity among the regions in Morocco, he explained. For example, 52% of Morocco’s GDP is produced in four regions, while 53% of its doctors practice in two regions. Similarly, the rate of joblessness in the South is twice the national average. Baraka insists that the direct election of the region’s presidents (the highest locally elected officials), and the five-fold increase in budgets for regional development are strong incentives for citizens to be more involved in local affairs.

So the CESE efforts have focused on how the government can create an environment for greater political responsiveness, and part of this campaign is a new economic development model for the region based on public-private partnerships. This includes large-scale investments in diversifying the economy, a new university focused on local needs, particular attention to conservation, and positioning the Sahara as a gateway to sub-Saharan Africa.

Economic Diversity to Drive Economic Growth

The Sahara is well poised for economic growth. Its GDP is 60% higher than the national average, but some 30% of that is generated by government programs. So the strategy going forward is to deeply engage the private sector to increase investments and jobs. One critical target is to diversify the local economy while protecting the environment. The focus is on empowering individuals to more fully participate in the economy; for example, raising the rate of women in the workforce from a woeful 14% to at least the national average of 25%, and doubling the number of employed youth..

Sectors slated for diversification include fishing, aquaculture, value-added farming, renewable energies, downstream phosphate industries, and eco-tourism. Plans have been finalized for a local university focusing on the needs of the region, including professional development of medical personnel, educators, managers, and lawyers; tourism and hospitality; and research and development supporting local industries. Given that the South’s literacy rate is already 20% higher than the national average, targeted efforts to build on their capabilities through focused programs of higher education should reap short and long term benefits, in terms of jobs and meeting future employer needs.

Conserving the environment is also a prime consideration, especially well water, which is overused. Desalination, reuse of gray water, greater efficiency of energy utilization, treatment regulations for well water, a new dam, and a comprehensive campaign to preserve the eco-system in the Bay of Dakhla are the headline items in this effort.

Looking at both the supply side, which pushes the growth of the local economy, and the demand side, which is the pull of market needs, Africa is the obvious market. Building a new expressway from Agadir to Dakhla onwards to Mauritania and Senegal, high speed digital connectivity, expanded port facilities, and the export of solar power along an interconnected grid are all in the plans for the next 10 years. It is anticipated that 75% of the targeted $10 billion of investment will come from national government public-private sector partnerships, while the regional governments will contribute the remaining 25%. The goal of these efforts is to create 120,000 jobs and cut unemployment in half.

Mr. Baraka provided discussed other plans underway, which he believes will create a seismic shift in how citizens see their roles in relation to the government. Empowering proactive, engaged, and contributing citizens is the core mission of advanced regionalization, which will require a different mix of incentives in Morocco’s different regions. The most important impact, according to him, is that the political space in Morocco has changed forever. This is clear in viewing the evolving role of the media and civil society, debates in Parliament over legislative initiatives, and the pressure on political parties to restructure their governance to reflect issues and priorities. More importantly, advanced regionalization will continue this process and move Morocco towards its goal of a new social compact based on engagement and respect.

Why Did Islamic State (Daesh) Launch Virulent Media Campaign against Morocco, Others?

Morocco Continues to Strengthen Security Efforts, Pushes for Regional Cooperation

Since the beginning of the year, the dominant terrorism-related stories in North Africa are the continuing inroads by Daesh into Libya and the growing lack of security in Tunisia from external and internal factors. While Morocco and Algeria face fewer threats due to their extensive and effective security measures, this has not diminished the challenges they face, and, in fact, Morocco and Tunisia are under fierce attack in a number of social media postings by Daesh these past two weeks.

According to an article in the Jerusalem Post, “The jihadists participating in the campaign call on Muslims to join ISIS strongholds in Tunisia, Libya, Mali and Algeria in order to oust the apostate democratic governments of Tunisia and Morocco and replace them with an Islamic regime based on Sharia law.”

At least four video messages have been released to date from different Daesh branches. The first, from a group in Syria, focused on the Arab Maghreb Union member states (Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia), calling on sympathizers in the region to overthrow the “infidel” regimes because of their parliamentary democracies that fly in the face of authoritarian caliphate rule, the incorporation of local religious sensibilities such as Sufi practices, and other “liberal” errors. An analysis of the video indicates the speakers are Libyan, Moroccan, and Tunisian. Sympathizers are encouraged to attack the infidels by all means possible, or failing that, to join Daesh in Libya.

The next video, some 14 minutes in length, from another Daesh group in Syria, continues the previous themes with particular attention to opposing the existing governments and overthrowing their “liberal” practices to end opposition to the caliphate. The Daesh branch in Sinai released a 10 minute video and a six minute video with Moroccan speakers calling out both the regimes and their terrorist competitor, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM). The governments are attacked for their lack of Islamic legitimacy, and the AQIM for insufficient fervor in attacking the existing regimes and not pledging allegiance to Daesh. Images of the perpetrators of the Paris attacks are prominently featured in the messages specifically directed at Morocco.

Morocco Responds with even Greater Resilience

Morocco has taken a number of critical steps to enlarge its capabilities to deal with immediate terrorist threats, as well as those posed by returning fighters from Iraq and Syria. In addition to setting up its equivalent of the FBI, Morocco plays a critical role in regional and international coalitions that foster information-sharing, tactical training, enhanced surveillance techniques, and better policing techniques.

As importantly, Morocco is broadening the scope of its training of imams and mourchidates (female religious counselors) to include more countries, most recently Nigeria and Ivory Coast; while its efforts to support greater economic and social development throughout the country are accelerating.

These hopeful signs are all the more important when viewed in the regional and African context. It is clear that Islamic extremists have accelerated the pace of their attacks and are keen to enlarge their operations from bases in Libya and West and East Africa. “This is the result of a combination of factors, including competition between extremist groups for attention and, ultimately, recruits and resources, as well as opportunity,” said J. Peter Pham, director of Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, talking about the rise in extremist attacks.

While Morocco is increasing its capabilities through a variety of hard and soft mechanisms, neighboring Algeria is undergoing a restructuring of its security forces, taking them out of the Ministry of Defense and placing them under the control of the President’s office. While this has been welcomed by some as a means of depoliticizing the role of the security services, a recent article in The Weekly Standard warns that these actions without accompanying economic and political reforms expose Algeria to even greater peril. As the article noted, “the regime waged a ruthless war against Islamist militants in the 1990s, a war that cost nearly 200,000 lives, most of them civilians, without solving Algeria’s deeply rooted Islamist problem.”

With North Africa clearly in the sights of Daesh and other Islamic militants, Europe is becoming more immersed in resolving the Libyan conflict as a key step in countering terrorism. At the same time, resolute support for Morocco and its neighbors is vital for any longterm defeat of extremism and for greater economic and social progress.



Building Capacity through Partnerships

How the International University/Rabat is Supporting Morocco’s Future

The first ever public-private higher education partnership in Morocco, the International University Rabat (IUR), was established in 2010 to accelerate the country’s capacity to undertake world-class research, and to provide specialized offerings for students in partnerships with universities in other countries. It is a unique proposition, in which students who meet the requirements receive dual degrees from both IUR and the partner institution — quite unlike the transplanted foreign campuses in the Gulf. As its homepage notes, “Our University established the first public-private partnership in the field of higher education. This partnership enables the IUR to achieve all its goals of excellence, training, research and to contribute to the socio-economic development of the Kingdom and the region.”

US universities currently allied with IUR are Mississippi State University (MSU), Georgia Tech, and the Sivananthan Labs at the University of Illinois/Chicago. With MSU and Georgia Tech, initial programs are in various fields of mechanical engineering – aeronautical and automotive in particular. Students take their first three years of study at IUR, in English, with at least 30% of their faculty coming from the partner institution. Students who complete the requirements then move to the US campus for their final year and automatic entry into the Masters degree programs when they complete their final year.

As importantly to IUR, the partnerships provide faculty exchanges, training in teaching modalities and technologies, opportunities to participate in professional conferences and meetings, and platforms for common research activities. This is already paying benefits: IUR had logged 14 registered patents by the end of 2015.

IUR focuses on meeting Morocco’s professional needs for today’s and tomorrow’s labor force. There is no better example of this than the newest partnership with Sivananthan Labs, a premier research and development facility embedded in the University of Illinois Chicago campus, and with operations across the US. Working in high technology fields ranging from detection devices to bio-medical research, Sivananthan Labs will bring its solar energy expertise to IUR faculty and students, a critical skill set for Morocco’s world-class solar and renewable energy projects.

The partnerships philosophy was a founding principle of IUR, as was the acquisition of high literacy in English as the premier language of technology. Also critical is the notion of dual degrees, so that students understand the commitment and intensity of enrolling at IUR. Starting from a base of study abroad programs, IUR’s leadership quickly realized that students would require more experience in the US if its mission was to be realized. And the university will continue to expand its partnerships to enlarge opportunities for additional areas of study and research and making itself a resource for the region.

Today, there are more than 400 students from the EU, and 2300 full time students, 800 of whom are on scholarship. An important dimension of IUR is its focus on being a resource for Africa, providing an institutional and educational link that jointly enriches their academic and scientific communities. As the website mentions, “The International University of Rabat aspires to be a key player in the development of the knowledge economy, particularly in Morocco and in Africa in general. Open onto the world, the IUR conveys universal values of excellence, solidarity and equity.”

Most importantly, IUR practices its international approach to education in all of its majors. English is the language of instruction in most of the schools, especially the engineering and science fields. Business majors may start in French, and their last two years are in English. All students, undergraduate and graduate, whether in the partnership programs or not, spend at least one semester in a study abroad program to broaden their educational experience.

When I spoke with IUR about their future plans, they noted that the current capacity is 4000 students and the goal is 5000 students by 2020. They are growing quite selectively to ensure that the fields of study and research match the growing and evolving needs of the country. Next in line are medical faculties including public health, dentistry, and hospital administration. The school is looking to its partnership with Georgia Tech to help craft a diverse agriculture concentration, from seeds to sustainability. All this and it has first class athletic facilities as well!

The enthusiasm of school officials is quite engaging. IUR is a pioneer and a leader in moving Morocco into the next tier of higher education and research. If you want to find out more, check out their website.

US Companies See Opportunities in Morocco’s Agricultural Sector

Atlanta Forum Provides Key Contacts

One can’t help but be skeptical when hearing about another business conference extolling the promise of opportunities abroad. It is not uncommon to ask “So what?” when looking for results that justify the expense of attending events while coming away with glossy brochures, a fistful of business cards, and tenuous promises of quick responses.

So we did something different at the US-Morocco Trade & Investment Forum in Atlanta on October 13. Most of the time was allocated for companies to talk with presenters, other companies, and government officials, with an emphasis on building face-to-face relationships so essential to doing business.

Well, how did that turn out? I can only give you my perspective and reflect on emails I received following the Forum, but I think they made the right decision – put people with mutual interests in a room and let them talk business. It worked out fine. I moderated a panel on agriculture, agri-business, and water management. Not unimportant to a country like Morocco where upwards of 40% of the workforce is in the farming sector and, in a good year, the sector contributes more than 18% to the country’s GDP.

In the room were representatives of Coca-Cola bottlers and distributors in Morocco, whose business affects some 70,000 Moroccan employees and their families. Given that Coca-Cola sources as much as it can locally, they are major players in the sector and in the economy. More importantly, Coke provides a great deal of technical assistance to local businesses to grow supply chain products and services, building the next generation of entrepreneurs.

From the Moroccan government, we heard from three very competent representatives: Mrs. Asma El Kasmi from the National Office of Electricity and Potable Water (ONEE), Abdeslam Ziyad, who directs strategic planning at the Ministry of Agriculture, and Soufiane Larguet, Director for Strategies and Statistics at the Ministry. All presented current data and projected opportunities in their areas of specialty.

The US and Moroccan private sectors included private equity investment firms, a foundation and company specializing in agriculture and water projects in Africa, a leading producer of organic and specialty food and cosmetic oils, several agro-industry firms, and a working farm that provides overseas technical assistance in a broad range of areas including improving seed, water management technologies, and food security processes.

­­­­­­One of the highlights of the session was the opening remarks by Gary Black, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Agriculture. His presentation on the industry in Georgia and his insights into potential bilateral links has already led to discussions with Moroccan Ambassador Rachad Bouhlal on an exchange program between food security experts in Morocco and Georgia. Commissioner Black’s rational is that a thorough understanding of the food security (read FDA and USDA in the US) guidelines in the marketplace facilitates trade. This was borne out by several participants who spoke about the difficulty of navigating food and argan and olive oil exports to the US, despite the US-Morocco Free Trade Agreement.

A positive follow up is that several of the US participants in the room have already begun to the in touch with counterparts in the government and private sector in Morocco. And Moroccan companies are clearly interested in pursuing relationships that ease the process of exporting into the US. It is a beginning of an important exchange of ideas, proposals, and discussions about concrete business and investment opportunities that will continue for some time.