At a time when countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as well as the EU and US are struggling to balance civil liberties and heightened security measures, it is helpful to look at other factors contributing to a country’s stability and progress. This was the overall theme in articles published by www.the-report.com earlier this year, in conjunction with the International New York Times.
The series featured interviews with leaders in Morocco’s public and private sector, and articles covering some of the more visible development projects that are changing the face and tempo of the country.
For example, the interview with the Head of Government, Abdelilah Benkiran, provided a much needed antidote to the fixation on the role of religion in the Islamic-led government. Disagreements both major and minor (read abortion and gay rights to ads for alcoholic beverages on television) take up most of the media space with little insight, in the English-language press, about the PJD’s overall philosophy of governance. One message that sounded almost libertarian: “I believe that the government should disengage itself from all of the sectors that the private sector or civil society would take better charge of,” says Benkiran, “and refocus the available resources towards the citizens, the sectors and the regions that need them most.”
Given the current contentious climate in Morocco over a new media/press law, rights for juveniles, treatment of immigrants and migrants, enhanced rights for women, implementation of programs that equalize treatment of the Amazigh language, and the place of English in the educational system, recognizing private-public sector partnerships in concrete terms may go a long way to building consensus on policies to move forward.
Another article in the report looked at education and progress in economic development, which are closely linked because of the challenge to Morocco’s educational system to turn out qualified human resources. As the report notes, “With top-down educational reform now the focus of ambitious investment programs to transform the labour market, the country is ready to realise its potential both as regional hub and global competitor.” International donors, various ministries, NGOs, and civil society top the list of major players in redefining and empowering education and training in Morocco.
The series also surveyed efforts by the government to improve the quality of its workforce development strategies. “A major element in delivering Vision 2030, a roadmap to wholesale education improvements, are efforts to broaden Morocco’s talent pool via a significant increase in the number of scholarships and closer alignment with vocational training to better prepare its graduates for the job market.” Only by addressing the education sector broadly, from improving retention rates after primary school to improving the quality of products generated by universities, will concrete progress be achieved.
This raises additional concerns beyond the various players in the training and educational system, such as providing the technical infrastructure to support efforts that sustain institutional players and are also vital to the continued growth of entrepreneurism. “With the National Broadband Plan aiming to achieve broadband coverage for 100 percent of the population by 2022, Morocco’s nascent tech start-ups are ready to rise.” Extensive broadband is essential for the growth of technology and knowledge industries as well as its role as an enabler for existing industries to retool and reach new markets.
“Today, Morocco is the continent’s second-largest pharmaceutical exporter, with seven to eight percent of production now leaving the country, largely southward. Following the expansion of its …state-of-the art manufacturing plant, however, Laprophan is looking not just to boost exports to Africa but also to the Middle East, Europe and the Americas.”
Morocco’s story would not be complete without acknowledging its vision to become a regional leader. “Today, although there is still much to be done, the country has nevertheless achieved the privileged status of a stable, peaceful Arab nation, governed smoothly by a democratically elected Islamist party. The successful transition from traditional kingdom to a modern global player, envied throughout the Arab and Muslim world, means that today more than ever Morocco is a key force in the region.”
The article focusing on Africa points out that “Numerous institutional and societal advances have laid the foundation for this stability, while economic reforms have succeeded in improving the day-to-day life of the Moroccan people and positioned the country comfortably and sustainably in the global arena.”
When looking south, one can’t help but be impressed with the results of King Mohammed VI’s “economic diplomacy.” “Today, 55 percent of Royal Air Maroc’s traffic goes to African countries, making Casablanca a regional hub. Morocco is also now the best-connected African country by sea routes, according to a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report, and has seen a 20 percent increase in 2015 in the number of containers going through its ports.”
In a related interview, US Ambassador to Morocco Dwight Bush, provided three reasons why he is optimistic about Morocco. The first is its open and progressive business climate. The second is security throughout the country that has resulted “principally because you have a moderate, progressive Islamic state headed by King Mohammed VI who has a vision of his country, his people and their participation both internally and on the continent to try to help other countries to come along as well.”
The third item for Ambassador Bush mentions is Morocco’s political progress. “From a political perspective, Morocco has been ahead of many others in the region.” He sums up his view in what is a fitting conclusion to the series. “The hope is that Morocco continues to show by example how to work effectively to move the country forward, recognizing that you have needs for security as well as liberties and freedoms. And so in addition to our commercial and investment orientation, we work with the Moroccans to expand civil society and political institutions.”
It is a series worth exploring in detail.