Closing the Development Gap – What Morocco Can Do – Jean R. AbiNader

Jean R. AbiNader, MATIC
May 25, 2017

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

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

We have written recently on IMF and World Bank reports assessing Morocco’s progress on economic and fiscal policies and human and social development indicators. A new analysis from the North Africa Report reinforces the positive aspects of Morocco’s development while noting continuing challenges identified in the earlier reports as well as other concerns that impede the country’s growth.

Morocco is justifiably proud of its rapid expansion in serving its people, as witnessed in the early achievement of its Millennium Development Goals, bringing power, water, and primary education to most of the country. Its human resources are often mentioned as a key factor in attracting external investment, which requires qualified workers for such industries as call centers, automobile and aeronautical manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and logistics and supply management. Its national planning vision provides guidance for managing a broad diversification of its economy beyond agriculture and phosphates. And King Mohammed VI’s economic diplomacy in Africa has strengthened its commercial ties through growing market penetration on the continent.

As the article points out, Morocco has avoided the trap of other African (and Middle Eastern) countries of excessive economic dependence on commodity exports (in Morocco’s case, phosphates and agriculture) by building a world-class infrastructure in locations such as Tanger-Med port, and opening new opportunities for products manufactured in the country. And the article cautions, “Now it must build on this foundation, investing in education and sharing the wealth.”

The author takes the reader on a tour along the highway from Marrakech to Casablanca, pointing out the widespread development that can be seen and communities that have benefited from the highway, which is constantly being extended to points southward along the Atlantic and eastward along the Mediterranean.

While marveling about the rapid and beneficial growth in less than 15 years, he notes, “But Morocco remains an outlier. Many other African countries are struggling to meet the levels of growth recorded earlier in the decade. As their commodity dependence has been laid bare, Morocco has continued to build a liberal economy underpinned by strong state structures… So what is the secret sauce? Where Morocco has played to its strengths, it has outperformed its neighbours – often with ‘champion’ corporations directed by the state. The country has success stories, from its leadership in developing renewable energy to the expansion of its banks and major industrial companies into ever more markets.”

Now Morocco faces a period of transition, a point raised by the World Bank report as well. How does the country move from a top-down driven model of development to one that is more inclusive, enables small and medium sized enterprises to thrive, and provide the types of education that continually produce market-ready labor?

This is a critical challenge for Morocco as it has benefited greatly by having, in many ways, its development driven by the King’s overarching vision and state-owned entities that have the assets and expertise to implement broad-scale projects that are beyond the financial capabilities of the private sector. Now that this infrastructure and economic framework are in place, from high-speed rail service coming on line in 2018, to the tramways growing in Rabat and Casablanca, to well-performing financial institutions, air and sea transportation networks, and a world-class corporation overseeing the phosphates industry and moving it downstream in Morocco and elsewhere, what comes next – what does Morocco need to do to continue and even expand its growth?

Allied with this is the thorny challenge of how to realize social and human development goals within the context of an evolving parliamentary democracy that is still formulating its identity atop myriad political parties and traditions. The article notes the recent difficulty in forming a new government as an example.

The Hard Truths

Progress does not come without challenges, and Morocco is no exception. The article says it this way: “Back home, another Morocco ­exists, peopled by poor farmers and an ­increasingly urbanised underclass whose development indicators fall well short of international norms. The education system has created some impressive talents for the banks and corporations driving the ‘modern’ economy, but public education is seen by many to have failed the majority. In turn, this is undermining economic progress and building up a well of social discontent.”

Similar to the World Bank report, the article emphasizes the need to build a high-performing education sector as a critical priority moving forward. Many initiatives have been tried over the past decade but too often education is caught up in political debates from languages of instruction to STEM content for school and university curricula. A recent study found that teachers were on average absent for a third of their working hours. It is no wonder that parents have opted for private education, if they can afford it. In disadvantaged areas, illiteracy levels remain shockingly high – pointing to severe urban-rural and gender divides,” says the report.

Morocco is working hard to change the overall environment for education. One strategy is exemplified by the public-private partnerships that feed skilled workers into the manufacturing sector, as the article points out, “A strong and focused state can play a critical role in driving policy, supported by a profitable and job-creating private sector.” As Morocco continues to engage companies in specific sectors, it must also raise the overall quality of its educational system, reduce the drop-out rates among middle school students in rural and marginalized urban areas, encourage a higher rate of acquisition of vocational and technical skills, and enable small and medium size enterprises to create jobs that attract young men and women to look for opportunities to prosper in the new Morocco.

Morocco is committed to meeting these challenges, through the second National Initiative for Human Development, focusing on raising employment and education among rural and marginalized communities; its pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals to benefit the quality of life for Moroccans; and upgrading its services and agricultural sectors to keep up with technology advances that will generate more employment and prosperity. While it may not have all the answers, the King has make it clear that Morocco will continue to place its citizens at the nexus of its economic and social development.

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