Morocco’s CESE Project: The Makings of Democracy – Jean R. AbiNader

CESE was commissioned to address five key areas of development in Morocco’s Southern provinces.

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.”


Jean R. AbiNader, Exec. Dir., Moroccan American Trade & Investment Center

Jean R. AbiNader, MACP
September 10, 2013
Washington, DC

For its 2013 International Day of Democracy—this upcoming Sunday, September 15—the United Nations is promoting 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.

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