Why Morocco won’t be next

The country’s plan to decentralize in order to advance democracy from the bottom up is an important reason why the protests have not gained the incredible traction they have in other parts of the Arab world.

March 20, 2011 22:04

Arab world PROTESTERS HOLD ‘f’s. (photo credit: REUTERS)

With socio-revolutionary movements in North Africa and the Middle East, and governments seeking to implement viable political reform, Morocco is fortunate to have been raising public awareness over the past two years on its own model. Morocco’s approach to promoting both democracy and development – which King Muhammad VI often discusses, and did right after nationwide protests on February 20th – is to wed the two, so that each is advanced by way of the other. In practice, this means that Moroccan people are to engage in participatory democratic planning and managing of development initiatives intended to benefit them.

Decentralization, which transfers managerial authority, skills and capacities to sub-national levels, is Morocco’s chosen framework to advance democracy from the bottom up.

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This approach is to be applied by local communities together assessing their challenges and opportunities, and creating and implementing plans that reflect their shared priorities, such as job creation, education and health, and the environment. Since 2010, the Charter of Communes in Morocco (Morocco is composed of approximately 1,500 communes at the most local administrative tier) mandates that communities’ own development plans be created and submitted to the ministries of Interior and Finance. Based on studies by the World Bank, USAID and UN development agencies, the participatory method is becoming understood to be the sine qua non of sustainable development because people’s participation in the determination of projects intended to benefit them provides the needed incentives to maintain them.

While not posing an existential threat to the monarchy, Moroccan protests and the popular revolt in other Arab nations hastened implementation of the already existing Moroccan decentralization plan, including the significant constitutional democratic reforms that are implied. Having this democracybuilding sustainable development initiative already in motion and the king declaring immediate further action in a speech to the nation on March 9 appear to be satisfying many of the protesters for the moment.

Morocco’s plan to decentralize is an important reason why the protests have not gained the incredible traction they have in other parts of the Arab world.

MOROCCO’S MODEL is potentially useful to other countries, since it responds to popular calls for direct engagement with democratic practices, while identifying with the Islamic concepts of shura (participation and mutual consultation regarding all matters involving the whole community); umma (a decentralized yet integrated worldwide Muslim community that brings about human rights and social justice); and ijma (consensus- building).

One major requirement is an ever-growing supply of “facilitators” – sometimes called animators, catalysts, change agents, consultants, extension agents or field workers. Their functions are to help coordinate community planning meetings, remove barriers to participation, encourage community dialogue, ensure all voices are heard, consider and explain macro factors that affect local projects, understand the needs of the poor, manage competing interests, build confidence and self-reliance, form diverse partnerships, inform beneficiaries of what government and other resources may be available, develop analytical skills, promote democratic practices and serve as a bridge between people, government, NGOs and academic institutions.

Facilitators are specialists in relationships between people, and absolutely vital during the initial stages of a community’s development.

IN MOROCCO, based on my own study, a productive ratio of facilitators per general population is 1:500.

The cost to train one facilitator is $2,000, or $140 million to train 70,000 – enough to engage every Moroccan rural village and urban neighborhood (numbering 35 million people) in the participatory method.

In addition, the cost to implement priority projects (for example, clean drinking water, women’s cooperatives and youth centers) that will generate critical socioeconomic improvements for a rural population of 10,000 is $1 million, or $100 per person.

The very low cost relative to the number of beneficiaries is the combined result of utilizing local resources and generating a range of important in-kind contributions.

Four billion dollars could developmentally transform Morocco. The approach does require granting fiscal power to the communal level. Where taxes set and levied by the central government were not transferred to local authorities (like in Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana during the 1980s), local governments were unable to support development.

Nominal progress was achieved by the National Initiative for Human Development – an ambitious and ongoing project launched by the king in 2005 and based conceptually on the participatory approach directed toward the most marginalized rural and urban people. NIHD raised national awareness of matters related to sustainable development. In fact, drawing attention to the ideals of participation has helped NIHD prepare the nation for decentralization, and perhaps has helped decentralization avoid becoming a vehicle for transferring power from national elites to local ones.

However, the levels of community participation are less than ideal. This is likely attributable to the fact that NIHD is implemented by host ministries (mostly the Ministry of Interior), whose modus operandi is top-down management.

Morocco’s participatory decentralization will require reforming the Ministry of Interior, whose purpose is internal security – just as it is in most countries. To put this ministry – that has traditionally created fear and suspicion among the public – in primary charge of human development is counterproductive. The ministry’s responsibilities related to development should be handed to social service ministries, the Ministry of Agriculture which carries the mission in rural areas, and the new decentralization agency that will likely be created.

Protocols requiring notification of community planning meetings and project implementation activities should be phased out. Genuine decentralization involves a level of local activity that will increasingly make this kind of reporting an administrative burden. However, the Ministry of Interior could play an important role in building institutional partnerships by making available, via the Internet, information related to the mission, region, and how to contact the tens of thousands of nonprofit Moroccan associations.

While offering an innovative model that unites democracy-building with sustainable development, Morocco’s implementation must be absolutely bold to be successful. Clearly, based on the Moroccan model, the monarchy is open to transformative change of the whole of society through a bottom-up process.

The writer is a sociologist and president of the High Atlas Foundation, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to community development in Morocco. The views expressed in the article are his own.

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