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“Morocco and the Sahel: An Important Friendship for Regional Development” – Katherine Kinnaird

Katherine Kinnaird, MAC
May 29, 2015

Earlier this month, the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program hosted a day-long event on population, environment, and security in the Sahel. Alexandra Todd, Senior Technical Advisor of the Office of Population and Reproductive Health in the Bureau for Global Health at USAID, reported that 19.7 million people in the Sahel faced food insecurity in 2012 and the situation will worsen as the population will likely triple by 2050. Meanwhile, the region struggles in the areas of human rights and access to health and education. The question at hand: What can be done about it?

As it turns out, there are a number of ways in which neighboring countries, including Morocco, can—and already do—help strengthen the Sahel, particularly in the areas of migration, family planning, and vocational training.

According to panelist Benoit Kalasa, Director of the Technical Division of the United Nations Population Fund, there was a great deal of migration from the Sahel to West Africa through the 1990s. Now, most of the movement is headed into North Africa. This shift in migration has brought the Sahel’s human development issues directly to Morocco’s doorstep. Fortunately, Morocco has recognized the challenge and is already addressing the problems within its own borders.

Sylvia Cabus, a gender advisor at USAID, emphasized the need for family planning in the Sahel. Families often take girls out of school to save money, leading to early marriages and other circumstances resulting in overpopulation. USAID is promoting behavioral change programs and organizing community training initiatives. Maiike Van Min, Sahel Strategic Lead at health NGO Marie Stopes International, added that her organization provided 18 million women in the Sahel with family planning education and resources in the last year. The challenge now is to de-stigmatize family planning in the region because all development efforts there risk failure without broad community support.

Cabus and Van Min agreed that Morocco has an important role to play in family planning and development initiatives in the Sahel. Van Min praised Morocco as a perfect example of a Muslim-majority country that is currently demystifying family planning. For example,  Morocco has made significant progress in expanding and protecting women’s and family rights under its 2004 Family Law, or moudawana; and the country’s innovative Mourchidate program enables women spiritual counselors to advise on social and family-related issues.

And Cabus pointed out that the Moroccan government is already investing by funding Royal Air Maroc’s vocational training programs for engineers in Mali and Burkina Faso. Countries in the Sahel now need to expand their definition of “education” beyond just “school” and focus on ways to train people who are not in school in different vocational areas. Morocco, using its private sector presence and vocational training programs, may be able to help the Sahel strengthen its industrial sector to generate employment opportunities.

Morocco plays a positive regional role in the Sahel and is committed to supporting these countries as they develop and respond to internal and external threats. The Sahel can benefit greatly from Morocco’s expertise in areas such as dealing with migration, family planning, and vocational training. By aiding its neighbors, Morocco will become more secure and will strengthen its presence as a regional leader for a long time to come.

Katherine Kinnaird is a Research Assistant at MAC.

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