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USAID Expands Civil Society Capacity Building Programs in Morocco: Part 2

In my previous posting, I previewed some of the key features related to youth employment programs in the recently announced Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS) 2013-2017 for Morocco launched by USAID during the November visit of His Majesty King Mohammed VI with President Obama.

The major sections of the strategy with the relevant goals and objectives are:

 CDCS Goal: Advance Moroccan initiatives for peaceful reform

Development Objective 1: Employability of target youth enhanced

  • Access to quality employability services improved
  • Improved alignment of workforce programs to market needs

Development Objective 2: Increased Civic Participation in Governance

  • More responsive and representative political parties
  • Civil society contribution to public policy increased

Development Objective 3: Enhanced educational attainment for children at primary level

  • Reading skills of primary level students improved
  • Learning delivery systems improved

Youth employment efforts include providing mechanisms for increased data and metrics to assess training efforts being made by the government, NGOs, and the private sector; more programs focused on enabling women and youth to acquire market-ready skills; and greater stakeholder engagement to “collaborate with the Ministry of Employment and other relevant actors in identifying and advancing creative and flexible working arrangements that incentivize the hiring of Moroccan youth.”

In the section on increased civic participation, USAID mentions its long-time support for civil society in Morocco and its assessment that the quickening pace of political reforms opens additional space for public policy engagement. Its particular focus is on enabling civil society, especially the political parties, to play a more robust and responsible role as outlined in the 2011 Constitution.

Engaging civil society in building Morocco’s future

As the CDCS notes, “Article 12 of the new Moroccan Constitution states that “The associations [and NGOs] interested in public matters … contribute, within the framework of participative democracy, in the enactment, the implementation and the evaluation of the decisions and the initiatives of the elected institutions and of the public powers.” Given this mandate, “Thus, civil society and political parties are now constitutionally empowered to participate in governance. By increasing the capacity of civil society to engage the government on behalf of citizens and facilitating the development of institutionalized mechanisms of civic participation in government decision-making, Morocco will be better situated to implement its reform agenda in a peaceful and sustainable manner.”

The key targets defined by USAID for capacity building are women, NGOs, and political parties. It bases its priorities on the initiatives included in the 2011 Constitution as well as the public’s simmering dissatisfaction with the political parties. As the report notes: “Moroccan citizens have long been detached from political parties due to a lack of clear policy vision or consideration for citizen involvement, particularly by women and youth, in public-policy making.” To repair this situation, “USAID will help political parties to improve their credibility by increasing the transparency and accountability of their internal operations, developing platforms reflective of citizen needs, and enhancing the involvement and leadership of youth and women in politics.”

Among the various tools that USAID has defined as part of its agenda with political parties are “the effective use of public opinion to inform policy agendas, the development of youth and women branches at the national and local levels and the development of individual plans to strengthen internal party capacity.” It is critical to Morocco’s reform aspirations that political parties become more focused on building constituencies that coalesce around specific political platforms that address local, regional, and national issues, as well as facilitate greater inclusiveness across age, gender, and ethnic lines.

The CDCS is in many ways an affirmation of the long-standing friendship and cooperation between Morocco and the US.

It also highlights the central importance of implementing the initiatives in the 2011 Constitution for broadening citizen participation in public policy making, including regionalization, enhanced roles for women and youth, and increased stakeholder engagement across all areas of human development.

While other North African states are struggling to maintain secure and safe public spaces, Morocco is moving ahead with its second decade of political reforms. Its results to date have earned support from the US and the international community, and the CDCS and other agreements both confirm Morocco’s path and offer partnerships to proactively move ahead.

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.

Middle East economic reform requires robust and constructive citizen participation

A great deal of hand wringing goes on as bad news continues to drown out progress in the transitions going on in the Middle East and North Africa. From Egypt and Syria to Libya and Yemen, nay-sayers and pundits readily point out that there are few short-term solutions that don’t require some pain in the process of moving forward. As national identities crumble under the assault of religious and partisan appeals, it is problematic to come up with short-term remedies that don’t have long-term consequences for the political and economic health of the countries.

It seems to me that, aside from Tunisia at the best of times, which is not often enough, there is a failure by governments in transition to sustain effective messaging that people can understand on how the government is going to concretely tackle unemployment and corruption. Blaming the IMF for subsidy reforms is not a credible strategy for laying the groundwork for other steps that must be taken to reduce public debt incurred as a result of inflated bureaucracies, inefficient labor regulations, and insufficient investment capital available for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Even Morocco’s parliament is encountering problems passing needed reforms to reduce expenditures and stimulate sustainable economic growth.

The challenges in the Maghreb are enormous, and yet citizens are rarely being mobilized to take part in economic development. Rather, they are pulled in different directions by political forces more concerned with scoring points and securing power than contributing to a way forward that is balanced, equitable, and contributes to necessary long-term changes.

Considering the options

Outside organizations are working in the MENA to provide mechanisms to bridge the messaging gap between governments and citizens. The George C. Marshall Foundation in cooperation with the Stimson Center and L’Insitut Arabe des Chefs d’Enterprises recently held a conference in Tunis that “brought together business people, academicians, policy planners and other thought leaders for a day and a half discussion on regional economic integration in the Maghreb…” The purpose of the conference was to determine how the action principles behind the success of the Marshall Plan in rebuilding Europe “might best be applied to contemporary situations where economic reconstruction or mass relief is needed.” One of its principal tenets seemed quite relevant to my thinking about the challenge of promoting both top-down and grassroots support for economic reform, “Political leadership and elements of self-sacrifice and determination are essential to the success of aid programs.”

In the US, Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, built around the message “the economy, stupid,” illustrated how critical it is to capture the public’s imagination and involvement in a dialogue about progress that has consequences beyond slogans. Similarly, the pressures of trying to reverse decades of economic and political mismanagement have resulted in a credibility barrier, especially for the transitional governments in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt. As is evident from the competing demonstrations in those countries, evolving a consensus on key solutions without some parties feeling marginalized is an overwhelming challenge at times.

 Reaching the people

A key lesson in “participatory democracy” that seems to have emerged from the trials of the transitional governments is that the process of engaging citizens effectively in participatory and respectful politics is daunting under the best of circumstances. Their previous experiences with the former governments in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt in particular have not given people a sense of national citizenship that transcends more particular allegiances. To help address this “communications gap,” the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) has launched a series of civic engagement programs in the Maghreb to enable youth, civil society, and advocacy organizations to more effectively engage in the political process.

The World Bank Institute (WBI) along with the World Bank Middle East and North Africa (MENA) recently “brought together government officials and civil society practitioners from Morocco, Jordan and Tunisia to discuss how citizen engagement can contribute to more informed policies; how to develop codes of practice for public consultations; and how to use online tools to facilitate consultations.” The program aims to enable governments to “make informed decisions while creating public trust” by ensuring that the voices of those most impacted by the policy have been heard and addressed. Moreover, the program supports an inclusive process to ensure that the right players are involved, recognizing that public consultations can be critical “since the government may not have all the solutions at hand.”

This program complements others in the region such as the National Dialogue on Civil Society in Morocco focusing on how more inclusive and transparent communications between governments and citizens can reduce conflict and promote consensus around key development and governance issues. An essential element is training trainers in both government agencies and NGOs on the principles of public consultations as a tool for civic engagement.

While these efforts may be small steps in terms of bringing governments and citizens together, they are critical for directing “street” energy into advocacy tools using social media and other outreach technology and e-government programs to provide better access for people and greater knowledge and awareness for public officials. For the international donor community, there is a lesson here from the Marshall Foundation’s tenets: “Any successful aid program must be driven by the country and not imposed by outside countries or institutions.” When people speak as part of a respectful dialogue and government listens and acts to credibly engage its citizens, the street will return to being a thoroughfare rather than an avenue of protest and disorder.

Consensus and capacity-building: Tipping the scales in favor of reform

After a year away, I returned to Morocco for 10 days. I am sure that I will find the visit both challenging and satisfying. My central interest is to better understand the tangible governance issues facing the PJD-led government. It continues to struggle with advancing its agenda through parliament and achieving a consensus among its coalition partners on policies that effectively attack unemployment, the budget deficit, corruption, and social reforms. Most organic laws required to enable reforms promised in the 2011 constitution are still either being drafted or pushed off to a later agenda. And, as Morocco moves towards implementing its regionalization strategy, there is still a long way to go to enable officials and civil society to acquire the skills associated with effective local government.

While the policy debates on issues ranging from the latest version of the media law to subsidy and judicial reforms and strengthening protection for whistleblowers are well reported in the press, many critics are claiming that there are few results after 16 months in office. My assumption is that this is politics as usual in any democracy, especially a hybrid like Morocco. But there is more going on here that I want to explore.

In a country where labor issues can bring thousands of people into the streets, it is remarkable, but not surprising, that a common platform addressing labor mobility, training for work, and an open regulatory environment has not been vetted and moved through parliament yet. As in the US, political leaders seem to have a block against cooperating on issues despite the reality that their constituencies voted for change, not for stalemate.

Morocco badly needs to restructure the labor environment to enable workers to acquire skills and access to jobs while employers will benefit from more flexibility in responding to variable market conditions and a reduction in restraints on employee hiring and firing. This is not to say that important steps have not already been taken. As I’ve written previously, the government is moving incrementally to improve the labor force by broadening and upgrading technical and vocational training and by setting up a system to certify on-the-job skills acquisition. These steps however have not made a significant dent in the unemployment and underemployment rates.

An equally daunting task is focused on reducing and realigning the government’s subsidies to better serve the less well off in a country where a significant portion of the population is in the informal economy. Today, rich and poor equally benefit from fuel and food subsidies and the government is exploring options that not only relieve human needs but also encourage small business expansion. One proposal that I heard last night is to subsidize small farmers rather than the price of imports to the wholesalers. Of course, I asked if this was just another form of welfare that could grow into corporate subsidies, which like in the US distort market prices. But that is not the approach that Morocco is considering. Greater support to local growers would include training and equipment for better crop practices ranging from higher quality seed and watering to the use of fertilizer and more efficient cultivation, storage, and distribution. This would expand their capacity for more production, new employees, and fresh local supplies to market.

Whether it’s better labor practices or rationalizing subsidies, at the heart of the movement to reform is human development. Last week, I met with Mariam, a very capable, multilingual woman IT graduate from the top school in Morocco. She graduated months ago and still doesn’t have a job. Less than 30 percent of her classmates have found employment. One woman friend found an unpaid internship in Turkey through an organization that places capable graduates, for a fee, in positions scattered around the world. Now, Mariam is seriously looking at a position in India…ironic, isn’t it that Morocco is sending its talented young people, at their own expense, to fuel the IT capabilities of other countries.

I can’t help but put these concerns into a larger context – the daunting challenge of building consensus around reform policies that will benefit Moroccans and the simultaneous need to greatly enlarge capacity building training for the grassroots as well as the managers of Morocco. The promised policy of regionalization – devolving power to local governments – requires local communities and their leaders to have skills for administration and governance. The demand for more and better jobs requires policies that enable the transformation of a rigid economic regime into a market-friendly, results-driven, equal-opportunity economy that prioritizes achievement over status. Hopefully, in next week’s posting, there will be some success stories that I can share about where Morocco is heading.

Managing the dynamics of Morocco’s reforms, can a tidal wave be tamed?

“…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.