25 June 2014

West Africa: Morocco and the Sahel Sahara

Today, while the promises of prosperity are tremendous and the challenges to insecurity real, the entire Sahara - Sahel region and the Maghreb often seems to be mostly looking back, in the rear mirror.

Pressed by a high population growth rate, a rapid urbanization and a steady growth of youth unemployment, most governments in the region are struggling between the need to forget past unhealthy political practices and the need to adapt to today's political requirements.

Obviously, in a context of strong international competition, the future belongs to those states that are able to cooperate by pooling together their efforts and resources. To survive and prosper, the Sahel which consists of sparsely populated states with weak infrastructures, needs the strength of the aggregated critical mass of all its member states. In such a context, a greater involvement and a more active presence of Morocco in the Sahel has become an economic, political and security imperative. The indispensable catalyst.

In this regard, the kingdom can play a triple role in the Sahel Sahara. The first, of political nature, is based on the success of its multi-party system and political pluralism that have never ceased to prevail in the kingdom even during the darkest era of authoritarian and totalitarian one-party system in the region. The lesson to be drawn is the validity of inclusive policies. The second contribution is the priority Rabat has always given to promoting agriculture i.e. the rural population. State imposed industrialization has been an economic disaster with consequences not yet fully assessed in a number of countries. Third, the most awaited contribution of Morocco is to bring its expertise in the field of security, presently the priority sector in the Sahel. In this regard, three priority areas deserve full attention.

First is crisis prevention. Crises are often caused by multiple frustrations essentially of a political and economic nature. Prevention will focus on the establishment of political dialogue as a method of governance. Economic issues and the nature as well as the quality of maintaining law and order should come as an added value. The best outcomes should result from targeted actions in the following areas: training security forces, imams and other religious figures, supply of equipment in the fields of telecommunications and health sector systems (field hospitals), establishment of commercial banks, etc. This bilateral cooperation will be successful if the professionals are trained in a spirit of tolerance and inclusion. Due to the cultural and historical proximity between Morocco and the Sahel, the overall objective is to reclaim all their common traditional values, presently threatened by violent extremism. Another additional objective is to help the Sahel countries to modernize and bring up to speed their police forces, gendarmerie and armies.

Second, conflict management may no longer be carried out as before, through the good offices of one single mediator, whatever his or her objectivity and expertise. Today, the mostly old and well entrenched Sahel crises require the contribution of several mediators and facilitators that can reassure all the belligerents. The joint action of several intermediaries, working in close cooperation, offers more guarantee of success. With no political hegemonic tendency, Morocco is well positioned to encourage and promote, in cooperation with other stakeholders, in particular ECOWAS and Algeria, the dialogue between the various actors in the Sahel Sahara. At this level, the overall objective is to provide each party with an additional expertise in a reassuring and peaceful environment.

Third, the economic needs of the Sahel countries are enormous, particularly in the areas of physical infrastructure such as roads, airports, railways, and housing. Given its ancient and strong relationships with donors in the Middle East as well as with the Sahel states, Rabat can promote triangular transactions. The objective is to mobilize large financial resources in the Middle East to form joint ventures for investments in those major infrastructures. While financiers in the Middle East and entrepreneurs in Morocco would, no doubt, benefit from such tripartite arrangements, those most to gain are the Sahel region national economies and especially in the area of their youth employment.

Looking forwards, and not in the rearview mirror, the Sahel and its neighbors will renew with the path of development. That path is the way that Morocco and the whole Maghreb, as well as the international partners should follow and strengthen.

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