Conflict Resolution & Development: Morocco Pioneers a New Model or, Getting By With a Little Help From Your Friends – Robert M. Holley

Robert M. Holley, Senior Policy Adviser, MACP

Robert M. Holley, Senior Policy Adviser, MACP

Robert M. Holley, MACP
January 8, 2014

As we hear from time to time, most often on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, the Good Lord helps those who help themselves. That is to say, good things more often happen when we make the first effort ourselves before looking to others to make them happen for us. But that is also to say that it is often equally important that we get a helping hand from those who appreciate the effort and want to see us succeed.

In its Saharan provinces, Morocco has recently reinvigorated its own effort to promote a durable and equitable compromise political solution to a conflict whose moment for resolution clearly is upon us.

The instrument of that effort is the recently completed study and recommendations from Morocco’s independent Council for Economic, Social and Environmental Affairs (CESE) on advancing development in the Sahara to address a series of local concerns.  CESE’s report was courageously unsparing in its critical commentary of problem areas that require both urgent and longer term steps to resolve imbedded structural problems in the region.

The study and recommendations were the product of a nearly year-long consultative process with outside experts and the direct participation, through a series of open town hall meetings, with the local population. Local critics were not only invited, they were encouraged and welcomed. The recommendations focus on the need and mechanisms to foster greater private initiative to help jump-start a local economy that has substantial long term potential, but is now overly dependent on heavy state investment.

An equally important set of recommendations revolves around the need to empower local elected officials and civil society to assume a much more responsible role in the management of the region’s current and future affairs.  This is a very positive step in the right direction to help lay a more solid foundation for the substantial autonomy that Morocco has offered the region.

The CESE final report was met with genuine enthusiasm by the local population, but also with some concern about how quickly its more immediate recommendations and more ambitious longer term development goals could be implemented. People in the Sahara are anxious to move beyond the conflict and ongoing local problems to solutions they believe will significantly improve their quality of life, as well as their command of their own affairs.

CESE’s recommendations have also been welcomed by the Palace in Morocco. Indeed, it was the Palace that recognized the need for such a project and initially requested CESE to undertake the enterprise. But a Palace endorsement, important as it is, is only a first step on the journey towards full and steady implementation.

Many other elements of Moroccan society, both public and private, must now step up to the plate and do their part.  The will to implement this courageous new effort on resolving the Sahara conflict is clearly there. The question now is whether Morocco can find the means and resources to move quickly enough to meet the higher expectations among the Saharan population that the project has raised.

This is where I say—enter Morocco’s friends, helping hand extended. The Joint Statement resulting from King Mohammed VI’s November 22 meeting with President Obama seemed to recognize the need for this kind of help, saying, “The two leaders affirmed their shared commitment to the improvement of the lives of the people of Western Sahara…”

That statement is certainly welcome news to the people of the Sahara who will now be watching and expecting to see the United States live up to that “shared commitment,” not only in words, but in deeds.

This should be a relatively easy lift for an Administration that continues to face much more difficult and intractable problems elsewhere in the MENA region, where the political will to undertake such progressive reform projects remains an open question.

Indeed, this is one of the few areas where the Administration can count on substantial bipartisan political support from the US Congress, which has been urging exactly this kind of action for the last several years.

The Good Lord helps those who help themselves, and sometimes the United States also gets a good chance to get in early on the side of the angels. This is one such time.

Robert M. Holley is Senior Policy Advisor for the Moroccan American Center for Policy, MACP

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