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.
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.