“…the transformation of a country is no easy matter…What we take for granted—a concept of citizenship, respect for a constitution, competent governance and an independent judiciary—have to, in large part, be started from scratch…That requires immense patience…and…requires a long- term commitment by the West…” So wrote Jennifer Rubin in her daily blog, Right Turn: “The Arab Spring: No walk in the park.” She had just spoken to a Moroccan thought leader, Professor Rachid Benmokhtar Benabdallah, who was in Washington, DC to speak at the German Marshall Fund on reform in Morocco and the Economic, Social, and Environment Council (CESE) project on regionalization in the Saharan provinces.
Professor Benabdallah and I had several opportunities during his visit to discuss the prospects for reforms in Morocco and his degree of optimism regarding the outcomes. “People who have responsibility for change have to have some pessimism to make them work harder to achieve the right outcomes,” he said, “With the right tools and training, we can do a lot in Morocco but it is not easy and it is not quick.” He pointed out that the baseline for today’s steps forward is the report on the first 50 years of Morocco’s human development prepared at the behest of King Mohammed VI. It was this report that laid out the challenges facing the country as it develops a more equitable and inclusive society. It was a bombshell, similar in impact to the United Nations Development Programme’s Arab National Human Development Reports, both of which provided a framework for analyzing the achievements and deficiencies in the Arab world.
Professor Benabdallah pointed out that the 50 years assessment was much broader in scope than the UNDP studies and provided the logic for the National Initiative for Human Development (INDH), which is Morocco’s roadmap for eliminating poverty, building sustainable economic growth in poor and marginalized communities, and enhancing local governance and inclusion. After achieving very positive results in its first phase (2005-2010), INDH was renewed in 2011, dealing with many of the issues raised during the Arab uprisings. This, according to Professor Benabdallah, is the nexus of the current challenge – how to learn from the results accomplished so far to accelerate efforts that respond to the legitimate aspirations of those who are pessimistic about the government’s efforts to tackle serious problems in employment, education, social services, housing, transparency, and governance.
As a result of INDH and Morocco’s vibrant civil society, a strong base exists from which to move forward. A key ingredient is the government’s role in enabling local communities and leadership to generate the inclusive, kinetic projects that solve problems and build sustainable alternatives. The Professor was quite adamant about the importance of capacity and institution building as core principles of human development. He believes that communities that demonstrate their commitment to economic and social progress should have resources to support their strategies. According to Benabdallah, democracy doesn’t come as a result of political will alone; it requires institutions, capabilities, normative values, and a shared sense of purpose. This is the strongest lesson of INDH. “Communities and individuals have acquired new ‘value and dignity’ and adopted a ‘better look on the future’,” says INDH National Coordinator Nadira El Guermai. “They only needed someone to help them realize it – and this is an important part of INDH. This allows the person to say, I am someone, and able.”
Where to begin? Families, schools, and jobs are the most important facilitators of civic values, citizenship, and participation in society. The future is constrained when people are marginalized, when young people carry the twin burdens of distrust of institutions and few market-ready skills, if courts and administrative bodies do not implement laws to protect women and girls, and when social biases still affect someone’s job opportunities. Professor Benabdallah believes that the US and other countries can be “part of the solution” by making available best practices, technologies, and strategies for local governance that provide Moroccan communities with tools to engage each other and centers of power. He is bullish on Morocco’s future because the majority of Moroccan people are looking for change that is inclusive and sustainable. If the tools are coming and the reforms are moving forward, then sufficient time and resources to sustain reforms are the key.