German Marshall Fund Report Links Morocco’s “Geo-Economics” to US Interests in Africa

In late October, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) released a policy brief “Morocco’s New Geo-Economics: Implications for U.S.-Moroccan Partnership.” Authored by Dr. Ian Lesser, Executive Director of GMF’s Brussels Office and its Senior Director for Foreign and Security Policy, the paper was reviewed by a roundtable of experts whose insights were incorporated into the final document.

It is fitting that the paper was released during the week that marks the founding of the United Nations. As the world’s leadership in the 21st century has moved beyond a handful of Western powers and the Soviet Union to a broader, more diffuse global network in which regional alliances and relationships are increasingly significant, Morocco’s maturing strategic role in Africa points to how emerging states linked together by a wide range of interests are reshaping models of bilateral and multilateral relations.

As Dr. Lesser explains, the US-Morocco relationship is longstanding, and “Morocco’s strategic significant for the United States has been shaped…by Morocco’s proximity to areas of vital U.S. economic interest.” He points to several trends that have reinforced the “geo-economic dimension of Morocco’s international posture and its importance to U.S. interests. From African development to global food security, from new transport hubs to renewable energy…Morocco’s focus is increasingly drawn south and west, to Africa and to the wider Atlantic.”

For Morocco, this growing outreach is driven by four overlapping trends in the region. First of all, traditional trade and investment ties to Europe are increasingly weaker due to the recent economic stagnation in the EU. This is clear from slowdowns in foreign direct investment (FDI), purchases of Moroccan products, tourism, and remittances from Europe. In looking for new business partners, Morocco has several differentiated marketing strategies: more tourism promotion globally, with initiatives along both sides of the Atlantic basin (regular flights to Sao Paulo are a recent example) and into Asia; the Moroccan Investment Development Agency (AMDI) has an eight-city road show covering markets in Asia, North America, and Europe to highlight opportunities in Morocco; and Moroccan firms are benefiting from government subsidies to attend trade shows and expand their export operations.

The second trend is the growth in trade and investment agreements linking Morocco to a potential market of one billion consumers, from the US and EU to Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Gulf. With its rapidly expanding manufacturing and logistics/distribution capabilities, Morocco is fast becoming a key regional hub for business activity north and south, into Europe and Africa.

The Africa Imperative

A third component in Morocco’s evolution as a regional economic player is its commitment to renewable energies and the potential for “substantial offshore oil and gas resources,” which would both reduce Morocco’s “high national expenditure on imported energy and domestic energy subsidies” and provide the backbone for expanding power transmission to meet the growing demand in African markets. With most projections for economic growth pointing to sub-Saharan Africa as the next great opportunity, Morocco is well-positioned to increase its already sizeable presence on the continent into an effective network for economic growth. 

Regional stability and security issues are the fourth element that affects Morocco’s regional designs. Although Morocco is committed to regional integration across North Africa, the continued stalemate with Algeria frustrates that ambition. For now, it appears that Maghreb relations will be more bilateral, building on shared business interests. So Morocco is looking elsewhere for growth to drive job creation to absorb local demand and provide a reservoir of talent for opportunities in target markets. It recognizes the importance of linking jobs, economic stability, and public security throughout the region. “To be sure, political and security factors are also at play in Morocco’s growing African interests, especially in light of the rapidly evolving terrorism, insurgency, and trafficking scene affecting Atlantic Africa and the Sahel – the dark side of regional geo-economics.” It is no surprise that King Mohammed VI has made Africa a priority in his travels, speeches, and support for economic and policy conferences focusing on Africa.

Dr. Lesser points out that “Morocco’s expanding economic role looking south shows every sign of becoming a structural factor in regional development and a more significant facet of U.S. interest in, and cooperation with, Morocco.” To this end, the policy paper concludes with several recommendations for US policymakers:

  • Morocco’s growing Atlantic engagement should be made an explicit part of the US-Morocco strategic partnership.
  • The US should renew its commitment to greater regional economic cooperation and integration in the Maghreb.
  • In the context of transatlantic trade negotiations (TTIP), consideration should be given to implications for the US-Morocco FTA and ways to streamline the current provisions on roles of origin and other constraints to extend the value of the FTA to other African countries.
  • The private sector should be more broadly integrated into US-Morocco Strategic Dialogue.
  • Morocco’s growing role in Africa should be part of the agenda with Washington and with European partners.

These recommendations are part of a common-sense approach to recognizing how the US can support Morocco’s growing global engagement, which enables Morocco to enlarge its leadership role while contributing to security, stability, and prosperity in a critically important part of the world.

Morocco’s CESE Project: Regionalization empowering local populations

This is the second in a series on the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (CESE) project to produce a report “assessing effective access to basic human, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights in the southern provinces – laying the groundwork for regionalization in the south and throughout Morocco.

Morocco’s 2011 Constitution called for “regionalization,” or devolving administrative powers including budgets, hiring, taxation, municipal functions, and similar responsibilities to locally elected officials. It turns out that this approach is not a new idea for King Mohammed VI. One of his first actions upon ascending the throne in 1999 was to move forward with the partial devolution of political decision-making from the capital Rabat to the provincial governors, a program that had been announced in 1997. Although this was a partial reform to share decision-making between the government based in Rabat and the provincial governors, it was considered quite innovative, if only marginally successful due to delays in its implementation. It set a clear precedent and showed that the King had every intention to change how Morocco is governed.

A preferred modus operandi for the King is to reach consensus on contentious issues—such as the 2004 reform of the family law—through debate and consultation. In the same way, regionalization was put on the public agenda as early as 2006 with the resurrection of the Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS), which was charged with coming up with a autonomy proposal for the Western Sahara built around decentralization. That was followed quickly by the Moroccan Autonomy Initiative in 2007, which called for decentralizing authority to the people and institutions of the Western Sahara to manage their own affairs while remaining under Moroccan sovereignty.

The next step was to further elaborate on the principles of decentralization. In a November 2008 speech, the King stated that the aim of decentralization is to “enable good local governance . . . respond more closely to the citizen’s needs, and boost integrated . . . development.” King Mohammed has been especially keen in multiple speeches to emphasize citizen participation in government, which reflects the need to engage communities in ongoing dialogue about managing how government is to serve the people.

In a November 2009 speech and then again in June 2010, the King indicated that the southern provinces will be the first region to experience the benefits of regionalization. In the Advisory Council’s final report in March 2011, decentralization was defined within the context of how institutions and responsibilities could be allocated in a new model of local government. All of this activity was superseded by King Mohammed’s March 9, 2011 speech, in which he announced the forming of a commission to draft a new constitution, and he made specific mention of decentralization as a key means of empowering the people.

As Youssef Ben-Meir, head of the High Atlas Foundation, wrote in 2010, regionalization/decentralization is more than institution-building or shifting responsibilities from one level of bureaucracy to another.  “… A range of important managerial capabilities must be developed among local public and private organizations through training, education, and experience. Successful decentralization programs build administrative capabilities of local government, civil organizations, and community groups, as well as their technical skills and capacities to apply participatory planning, resolve conflicts, and manage resources.”

While the 2011 Constitution may lay the groundwork for regionalization, and the Parliament may pass the enabling legislation taking into consideration the CESE report recommendations, an equally daunting yet more critical task is capacity-building for those who will be tasked on a daily basis with making regionalization work on the ground. That is the core challenge of decentralization and should be its most enduring legacy.

Morocco’s CESE Project: The Makings of Democracy

This is the third in a series of blog posts on Morocco’s Economic, Social, & Environmental Council (CESE) project to assess “effective access to basic human, economic, social, cultural & environmental rights in the southern provinces – laying the groundwork for regionalization in the south & throughout Morocco.”

For its 2013 International Day of Democracy—Sunday, September 15—the United Nations promoted the theme of “Strengthening Voices through Democracy,” to “shine a spotlight on the importance of people’s voices, both expressed directly and through their elected representatives, in today’s political, economic, social, developmental, environmental and technological debates.”

That’s exactly what Morocco’s regionalization plan wants to do.

Although consultation has long been a feature of King Mohammed VI’s strategy for building public support for major initiatives such as the family law and autonomy proposal, those were largely top-down plans. The Economic, Social, and Environmental Council (CESE) is taking a different vector: it starts from the testimonies of hundreds of Moroccans about very specific concerns that they have about every conceivable issue of governance—from environmental issues to gender equality and the role of state agencies in human and social development. These testimonies are then correlated with research studies that collect data on the issues and literally generate report cards on how the government is doing. Contrast this to the uncertain and often failed policy processes in other Arab countries and one begins to appreciate the forward-leaning approach embodied in this uniquely Moroccan synthesis.

CESE’s Commitment to Engaging the People

While there is much anticipation for the CESE mid-term report due shortly, the initial report gives clear indicators of where Morocco is headed on the issue of local governance and reform. The CESE team encourages improvement in civil dialogue (p.30), and speaks of the importance of building “trust among the populations of the southern regions and fostering confident ties between the populations in these regions and public institutions (p.32).” Recognizing the benefits of regionalization, the report notes, “This aspiration to participation [in local governance] should be leveraged in a positive manner by…addressing…citizens’ trust in the government’s ability to respect and guarantee their human rights (p.35).”

When addressing transparency in the consultation process, the report points out that “stakeholders information and consultation, and their participation in the design, achievement and evaluation of the objectives and policies pursued by an organization, whether public or private, is a lever for improving decision-making processes and for strengthening both the perception and exercise of democracy (p.132).” CESE emphasizes the role of civil society in the information-sharing process, noting that this “principle is enshrined in the Constitution (Article 156), which significantly strengthened the principles of representative and participatory democracy (p.132).”

Making Moroccan Regionalization—and Democracy—a Success

Knowing that democracy-building is an important priority for US foreign affairs, and that former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, the current Secretary John Kerry and President Barack Obama have all shown a keen interest in Morocco’s progress, I spoke to a senior official at the International Republican Institute (IRI) to better understand how the US can support Morocco’s drive for democratic reforms.  I asked him how he would define “success” for regionalization and the CESE project.

He responded by breaking it out at the national, provincial, and local levels. At the national level, there has to be clear definition of the powers to be shared and how they are to be implemented and evaluated over time. At the provincial level, there must be a clear understanding of the roles of leaders such as the governor and agency heads so that they accept their responsibilities to the central government, to local officials, and to the citizens in their provinces. At the local level, encompassing locally elected municipal officials and local agency representatives, the concrete impact of regionalization must be monitored and officials held accountable for meeting the needs of the people.

The key, he believes, is setting in motion mechanisms for enabling citizens to fully participate in local decision-making. With its broad experience in promoting democracy and good governance, the US can provide Morocco with examples that have worked in other countries. Town meetings, consultations with civil society, and grassroots organizing are some of the means for engaging citizen groups and building trust. The bottom line is to continue to create trust between citizens and local officials, thus reinforcing support for social and economic development. Empowering citizens goes beyond statements to specific opportunities to run for local office, testify at council meetings, hold town meetings for engaging citizens and officials on issues such as the budget processes and program priorities, ensuring transparency on setting local ordinances, and similar outreach. All of these are elements of a recurring theme: capacity building for officials, civil society, and change agents at all three levels responsible for implementing regionalization.

So far, Morocco is getting it right…a transparent, consultative process among all stakeholders to build mutual respect and trust in a regionalization program that will vest responsibility and resources for local decisions in the affected communities. It is a revolution of real consequences for the entire region.

Engaging Stakeholders in Defining Future of Morocco’s So. Provinces

Having completed the second iteration of its assessment of the government’s performance in the Southern Provinces, the CESE traveled to Dakhla, the major tourism center in the region, to sound out the local population on its drafted recommendations.

Having completed 2nd iteration of its assessment of the government’s performance in the Southern Provinces, CESE traveled to Dakhla to sound out local population on its drafted recommendations.

 This is the fourth  in a series of blog posts on Morocco’s Economic, Social, and Environmental Council (CESE) project to assess “effective access to basic human, economic, social, cultural & environmental rights in the southern provinces – laying the groundwork for regionalization in the south and throughout Morocco.”


During my recent visit to Morocco, I was curious to discover if people, particularly those who are politically aware, were following what the country is doing to define its strategic vision for the Southern Provinces.

As with any unscientific sample, I may not have captured a complete cross-section of Moroccan perspectives, but that didn’t diminish the interesting responses I encountered. Two key themes are intertwined in the proposed vision: regionalization — that is, devolving power from the central government to locally elected officials — and citizen participation, which leads to greater accountability in that governing process.

Opinions ranged from a small minority of shrugged shoulders, with little or no knowledge of the work of the Economic, Social, and Environmental Council (CESE), to those who strongly support moving towards autonomy for the south through regionalization. People in the know were emphatic that the change in Council leadership to Nizar Baraka, the former finance minister, would mean continuity in the serious and detailed work of CESE.

The Stakeholders Take Center Stage

Having completed the second iteration of its assessment of the government’s performance in the Southern Provinces, the CESE traveled to Dakhla, the major tourism center in the region, to sound out the local population on its drafted recommendations.

Quite a cross-section of Sahrawis and other Moroccans attended, representing local government officials, civil society, tribal federations, professionals, and citizens, whose opinions covered the spectrum of positions on Morocco’s role in the Southern Provinces. Supporters and dissidents had the opportunity to learn if the testimonies they had given at earlier town hall meetings had been integrated into the preliminary recommendations.

Much to CESE’s credit, there appeared to be general agreement that the representations were fairly stated. The audience took the time to ask questions, present clarifications and examples of concerns, and take issue with or support the report’s findings. It was a somber yet enthusiastic gathering, which demonstrated that in the sometimes confusing transition to democracy, Morocco is moving in a constructive and healing direction.

The notions of healing and justice, along with fairness and transparency, were repeated often during the exchanges. Citizens who were skeptical that the report would be taken seriously even though it was commissioned by King Mohammed VI, were emphatic that it was long past time for locally elected officials to have the responsibility and resources to provide social and government services without bias. Those who were encouraged by the report’s initial conclusions praised its emphasis on transparency, accountability, and rule of law as markers for how the region should be governed. There was general agreement that short-term changes were critical to build credibility and indicate the seriousness of the regionalization project.

Next Steps

If one thing is clear from the Arab uprisings, it is that the transition to greater democracy and economic and political reforms can be quite challenging, as well as destabilizing. Morocco has avoided the conflict and bloodshed that has afflicted others in the region, yet it is clear from those with whom I spoke that there is a need for game-changing actions sooner rather than later. The introduction of judicial reform legislation, the anticipation of the new government in formation, which should make economic reforms less difficult to adopt, and the general acceptance of evolution rather than revolution as the way forward are all helpful ingredients in Morocco’s particular recipe for change.

It is interesting to observe, from the perspective of how US democracy evolved, that regardless of the cultural environment or diversity of the population, citizens today still aspire to the same goals: rule of law, justice, equality, and respect without discrimination. And achieving them requires patience, perseverance, and active participation by those citizens over the long haul.

The CESE report lays down serious markers for where Morocco should be heading, and it was done by Moroccans, for Moroccans. Nice.

Morocco’s CESE project: Capacity building key for regionalization

In late 2012, the Economic, Social, and Environment Council (CESE) was charged by King Mohammed VI with assessing “effective access to basic human, economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights in the southern provinces.”It released its first report in March of this year. Another interim report is expected shortly, and by the end of 2013, the Council will complete a comprehensive assessment of the governance of Morocco’s southern provinces, which include the Western Sahara.

CESE is addressing five challenges: “boosting the economy; consolidating social cohesion and promoting culture; enhancing social inclusion and consolidating the fight against poverty; ensuring effective protection of the environment and sustainable territorial development; and defining responsible, inclusive governance.”

Morocco has done something unique in that it has instituted reforms from above rather successfully through gradual but serious steps.

The importance of the CESE project cannot be overstated. At a time when governments in the region are in turmoil over defining constitutional powers, mechanisms for decision-making, and embracing principles of governance, Morocco is an example of a path that can be taken through the shared commitment of a country’s leadership and its citizens. Once again King Mohammed is pushing a major policy shift by encouraging debate and consultation among all stakeholders, including the opposition, to learn from the past so that Morocco’s strategies are firmly grounded in what Moroccans value.

This is the same thinking that led to the Human Development Report, which evaluated the first 50 years of Morocco’s development after it regained full independence in 1956. Based on its recommendations, King Mohammed undertook the National Initiative for Human Development (INDH), a multi-billion dollar effort that is the country’s cornerstone program to reduce poverty, end the marginalization of target populations, and promote sustainable economic development.

The CESE project has the same ground-breaking implications, since the King has made it clear its recommendations will result in guidelines for the regionalization strategy to devolve political and economic decision-making power to locally elected officials. As a colleague recently remarked to me, “Morocco has done something unique in that it has instituted reforms from above rather successfully through gradual but serious steps.” To complement this approach, the King is now focusing on capacity-building at the local levels to prepare the country for regionalization, and the CESE is the point of the spear.

What the CESE is doing and saying

In its initial report in March 2013, the CESE provided extensive coverage of the more than 50 meetings it held in the south, hearing testimony from more than 1,000 stakeholders representing “local elected officials, representatives of professional chambers, business leaders, trade union representatives, chiefs of external branch offices, and representatives of dozens of civil society organizations involved in human and social rights.”

In addition, extensive research on human development indicators is being collected and analyzed to determine the performance of government programs in the southern regions. These meetings are supported by a CESE citizens’ web-based forum called Al Moubadara Lakum to gather studies, recommendations, projects, analyses, and ideas about the “format of the new development model for the southern provinces.” In addition, CESE has called for proposals from researchers and doctoral students in fields related to this project.

To any objective observer, the report included criticism of the government as well as praise. Progress in health, education, and basic services was contrasted with deficient public administration, the predominance of security considerations in the approach to political rights, and the ineffective engagement of civil society. A key observation by the CESE team is that “among other shortcomings and limitations to address is a wake-up call for a change in the mindset, behaviors, and habits of policymakers and elites in charge of ensuring the development of the southern provinces.”

This calls for a progressive outlook of incremental change that mirrors the King’s proposed new relationship for governance. The report includes strong statements on human rights with specific references to seminal UN documents and the 2011 Constitution regarding the protection and pre-eminence of human and civil rights. In one salient statement, the report notes that, “Underpinning the expectations in the south in terms of social well-being, the realization and exercise of freedoms, and transparent, responsible attitudes by government authorities and their representatives is an aspiration for the advent of a mature civil society which is recognized and empowered to run local affairs.”

The CESE will release policy recommendations in the final report later this year, and its intentions are clear: to chart a path for Morocco’s regionalization that is based on a reformulated partnership among the people, the government, and the King. This is the legacy the King is committed to, and he will continue to take steps to ensure its achievement.

US plan to Power Africa can benefit from Morocco’s renewable energy

On his recent trip to Africa, President Barack Obama announced his Power Africa initiative to spend $7 billion over 5 years to fund an electricity program in sub-Saharan Africa that includes geothermal, hydro, wind, and solar power.

Critics have attacked the plan from all directions: it is too small and doesn’t involve a long-term commitment; it doesn’t give enough attention to solar power; it doesn’t deal with distribution issues; and it doesn’t bring enough focus on cleaning up conditions that keep the global private power industry wary of investing in Africa—“poorly enforced property rights, corruption, and patchy enforcement of the rule of law.”

Yet no one denies the need as nearly 590 million people lack access to power in sub-Saharan Africa. Ironically, “indoor air pollution from wood stoves now kills 3.5 million people per year, more than AIDS and malaria combined.” In some cases, US regulations will have to be changed to support the project because some environmental rules restrict OPIC funding for projects that emit greenhouse gases. And due to the rural locations of many of those in need, renewable power, according to the International Energy Agency, “could be the most cost-effective option for expanding energy access in about 70 percent of rural areas in developing countries.” One solution already provided by the US company SKYei, is the installation of mini-grids powered by a hybrid of solar and gas that are inexpensive and well suited to rural areas. So far, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and Tanzania have signed up for the first round of projects. Andrew Mayock of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) believes that the initial fund of $7 billion, which has already attracted an additional $9 billion in commitments from private sector investors, could grow to $30 billion in energy infrastructure investments annually.

Morocco and WAPP – where the roadmap is already en route

While Power Africa moves forward, there are burgeoning opportunities across the continent in central and west Africa. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), through its West Africa Power Pool (WAPP), has made regional power grid access a priority for the next decade. WAPP intends to integrate the various national power systems “into a unified regional electricity market – with the expectation that such mechanism would, over the medium to long-term, assure the citizens of ECOWAS Member States a stable and reliable electricity supply at affordable costs…facilitating the balanced development of diverse energy resources…for their collective economic benefit, through long term energy sector cooperation, unimpeded energy transit and increasing cross-border electricity trade.”

It should come as no surprise that Morocco is a significant player in WAPP through its close ties to ECOWAS and revived leadership of The Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD). More importantly, Morocco is a strong partner for energy development due to its dominant role in Africa in investing in renewable energies; its success in bringing electricity to 98% of its rural areas; and the logistical ties that exist between Morocco and the countries in Central and West Africa.

As this illustration from the African Development Bank indicates, trends in energy consumption and production favor a strong regional grid between Morocco and its neighbors to the south. Given the expanding utilization of its national resources for local projects, the region is collectively demanding more efficient and productive investment in all types of infrastructure. With this strong commitment to economic and human development, more reliable energy supplies are a core requirement. Reliable energy is an enabler and multiplier of opportunities across many sectors and is a key driver in attracting foreign direct investment, creating jobs and enhancing stability.

”The development of Africa’s electrical power sector is a prerequisite for growth in other industries. A regular, consistent power supply will do much to attract foreign investment and entice international companies to establish operations in Africa…Power sharing has become more prevalent in the African electrical power context in recent years…[as] neighboring countries have seen benefit on the sharing of electricity…countries with limited or unreliable power generation capacity will now have access to power, without the intensive capital investment required to construct new facilities.”

Despite the fading demand from the European leg of the Desertec project, which linked renewable energy from the Maghreb to European customers, it is now obvious that, given projected high growth for sub-Saharan Africa, Morocco’s strategic investments in renewable energies and extension of its power grid southward will provide a critical backbone for regional power distribution. Given the already extensive inputs in power generation and distribution in West and Central Africa, the US should consider broadening its Power Africa program in partnership with Morocco to accelerate the delivery of sustainable energy along the north-south power corridor in the region.

The challenges to “making democracy” in the Sahel and the Sahara

One of my favorite debates goes something like this: in conflict environments and/or fragile or failing states, what are the relative benefits of short-term democracy promotion versus longer term development programs?

In the context of what to do in the Sahel, recent charges that Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) has access to SA-7 surface-to-air missiles bring into sharp focus these issues for those striving for stability and security in the Sahel/Sahara region.

At a recent joint hearing before three House subcommittees with responsibilities for African affairs, government, think tank, and private-sector witnesses provided their assessments of efforts to tackle short and longer-term obstacles to securing the region’s future. In reviewing their testimonies, several critical recurring themes emerged in addition to the current military engagement.  At the top of the list are the humanitarian challenges.

Mali pushed to rush elections in July

In Mali, a country of around 16 million people, more than a half-million people are internally displaced or refugees in neighboring countries.  In addition, a severe drought in 2012 put almost 19 million people at risk for food security, “including one million children at risk of severe acute malnutrition.” Today, although the US has expended more than $550 million in humanitarian assistance (not to mention funds from international donors), “an estimated 10 million people remain at risk of food insecurity.”

As Acting Assistant Secretary Donald Yamamoto, of the Bureau of African Affairs at the State Department remarked,

…our short term successes may be fleeting if we fail to address the longstanding political and economic fragility that make the Sahel susceptible to persistent crisis and conflict. Poor governance, weak democratic institutions, and a lack of development and economic opportunity cultivate fertile ground for instability. Helping those countries to strengthen their institutions and be more responsive and inclusive is equally critical to addressing the region’s deep-seated security, political, and development challenges.

And here is the dilemma. When asked by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) if elections in July 2013 could be free and fair, Nancy Lindborg of USAID replied “While we have not yet solved all of the structural issues in Mali that could impede free and fair elections, it is imperative that we hold these elections so that they can begin to rebuild democratic institutions.” What is missing from the public record is a reminder that US legislation prevents foreign military assistance to countries whose governments came to power via non-democratic means, in this case the coup that led to the secession of northern Mali. This type of restriction is also why the French support the July election, because it then allows Paris to write “mission accomplished” and withdraw its forces.

So what are some of the other ‘structural issues’ referred to by Ms. Lindborg. In a response to a question from Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AK) about Mali’s previous attempt at democracy, A/S Yamamoto offered, “Mali was a very democratic country, but its democratic institutions were fragile. What we’re trying to do is give aid in order to stabilize it, address the humanitarian crisis and extremism, and promote dialog between the north and Bamako.” Excuse me…if it was a “very democratic country,” where were the institutions that reflect the bonds between government and citizens? Where was the civil society? Where were the mechanisms for engaging minority and marginalized populations? Where was the independent judiciary and armed forces that protect order and respond to civilian leadership? Where was the transparency that characterizes government transactions and policies both domestic and international? What happened to the previously agreed “dialog between the north and Bamako?” Or as a colleague from the State Department mused, “Why are we so enamored of elections in countries with no functioning civil societies or competing political parties that are at the heart of a democratic process? It allows us to wash our hands and move on to the next hot spot.”

The humanitarian challenge

Quoting Yamamoto again “Creating viable economic opportunities and meeting the basic needs of its citizens remain a daunting task for countries that consistently rank at the very bottom of any measure of human development.” His colleague, Ms. Lindborg, in response to Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA) added “Progress is possible, but it will take time. We need to help countries, communities, the private sector, and regional NGOs feel that they have a And yet the US and France continue to insist that the July elections proceed, while other voices raise concerns with the timing and inclusion issues.

For example, Rudy Atallah of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center at the Atlantic Council told the hearing “I agree that we should push elections, but first it is critical that we address the local grievances that precipitated the beginning of the crisis. If we force the election without addressing these grievances, it will just be another failed election.” And I will add, perpetuate another failed or failing state in the Sahel/Sahara.

After Iraq, Afghanistan, and other setbacks in US foreign policy, wishful thinking and pious statements about the efficacious effect of elections in troubled countries should not play a role in next steps in the Sahel. History and common sense argue against rushing into an election without a Plan B, which is this case means BEFORE any election is on the short-term agenda. As Nii Akuetteh, a well-known African policy analyst told the Members, “I have to reiterate that we must come up with a contingency plan should the Malian elections become problematic, and we need to more thoroughly review what went wrong with Mali.”

For the best antidote to instability, as A/S Yamamoto said, “we must continue our efforts to approach the Sahel and the Maghreb’s interconnected problems with a comprehensive regional and international effort…to address the immediate security threat posed by violent extremists and transnational criminal networks, while at the same time building the institutional capacity needed to address the Sahel’s political, economic, and humanitarian challenges.”

Amen to that, and to some common sense in our strategies for moving the Sahel/Sahara into functioning democracies.