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Public Participation: Critical for Success of Morocco's "National Initiative for Human Development"


Last month in a well received speech to his nation, King Mohammed VI of Morocco launched the National Initiative for Human Development. He described the Initiative as a "large-scale mobilization...in the effort to achieve sustainable development" and "self-reliance." Its objectives include extending basic social services and infrastructures, creating jobs and regular income, and upgrading services for the most vulnerable people. The King stated the Initiative is a "venture spanning a whole generation" and initially will target 360 rural communes and 250 urban districts that are in most need (roughly three million people). It will also be funded by the state budget (starting at over $100 million annually) without new taxes or levies.

The King stressed that public participation needs to be incorporated in all areas of the Initiative’s implementation to achieve its ambitious goals, including "a new social architecture" for the country. His assertion stems from the basic lesson of development experiences from around the world--which is that local communities need to implement projects that they determine to effectively promote sustainable development (private-public partnerships, informed decision-making, flexible economy, and self-reliance). The King encouraged strategies that catalyze and facilitate community participation in development planning, as well as transfer the needed skills to help communities across entire regions of Morocco manage new projects.

The monarch instructed Prime Minister Driss Jettou and the government "to translate this new Initiative…into concrete, practical, and integrated programs and projects, and to submit to me within the next three months a comprehensive action plan." The following five strategies that promote public participation in local development should be considered for the Initiative’s action plan. The strategies will help "translate" the Initiative into reality for the benefit of the Moroccan people and serve as a model of effective ways to address the difficult challenges and threats that face nations in the Middle East and Africa.

Strategy 1: Train in Facilitation: The Initiative should begin a two-week training period for thousands of schoolteachers and other community members, as well as outside technicians and appropriate government and nonprofit liaisons, in facilitation methods. It is highly appropriate to include this strategy as part of the Initiative, since His Majesty stressed in his announcement that "to ensure optimal implementation of the reforms underway, training…is an essential ingredient." Rural schoolteachers, for example, who are typically young and eager to improve the social conditions in the villages they serve, can be excellent facilitators of community development once they receive training, and are well-dispersed to help achieve the Initiative’s impact area. Facilitation techniques encourage broad community participation in local development. The interactive development experience creates mutually beneficial relationships and trust among the participants. Typically, communities can determine their specific development priorities in six two-hour meetings. In the beginning, international experts (from both the public and private sectors) could share and adapt with Moroccan communities and counterparts their methods for facilitating participation.

Strategy 2: Establish Community Development Planning and Training Centers: Centers can play a key role in providing assistance to people most vulnerable to poverty and therefore addresses a primary objective of the Initiative. Planning and training centers, situated in communities and managed by community members, would be able to assist local people in determining their priority goals and then in designing and implementing projects to achieve them. They also provide training in facilitation, modern agriculture, health, and other skills desired by the local population. In sum, they are able to provide one-stop shopping for community development needs and do so in ways that transfer needed skills to the local population.

Centers are educational forums that catalyze positive democratic change. In his speech, the King called on “political actors as they brace themselves …for the 2007 elections, to concentrate on preparing concrete projects. The aim is to give shape to the Initiative…and rehabilitate political activity.” Political actors that base their projects on their constituencies' self-described priorities will help achieve these large aims and increase their own prospect for success, due to heightened public support. Community members and leaders who have acquired the skills and training to achieve collaborative development and experienced its benefits make excellent candidates for local and national leadership. They understand that an effective social movement can begin with a series of community meetings where local people are given the opportunity to express their concerns and interests. They realize too that inclusive collaboration in the design and management of local development opens the door for their nation to achieve its development potential. A local political leadership will emerge that understands and is dedicated to addressing the real issues of concern to citizens.

Strategy 3: Assist the Creation of Local Associations: Experiences around the world show that local associations are created (and civil society grows) when communities work together to accomplish their collectively defined development agenda. This impacts society's "architecture" because new tiers of cooperation form as neighboring communities begin to implement projects beneficial to the entire region. Morocco already has a straightforward procedure for filing and registering associations and because of reforms has experienced a substantial increase in recent years in the number of local NGOs. An assessment ought to be made of additional reforms to further enable the Initiative to promote an innovative civil society.

Strategy 4: Focus on Potable Water, Irrigation, and Tree Planting: Rural communities across the country regularly identify these three projects as top priorities, all of which are objectives of the Initiative. More than any other project, potable water decreases infant mortality and illness among the population. Modern irrigation maximizes the utility of water supplies and creates the opportunity for schools, clinics, women’s coops, and other service centers to be built by increasing the land that has access to water. Fruit trees diversify household incomes and can help prevent rural dislocation caused by free trade with the United States. Morocco’s forests face "serious threats" that impact 4 million people, according to its High Commission for Water, Forest, and Anti-Desertification. The "National Day of the Tree" should be celebrated earlier in the season and be backed by the Initiative to include the planting of millions of additional fruit and forestry trees and saplings every year.

Strategy 5: Create an "Agency of Coordination": An "agency of coordination" is an administrative framework that organizes the achievement of the previously described strategies. It has the flexibility to operate at local, provincial, national, and international levels in order to negotiate partnerships (among communities, government agencies, and NGOs) that promote local development. Active support of the King is necessary to enable this proposed agency to ensure the Initiative is implemented in ways that reflect its "vital" goals.

The King said that "...it is deemed appropriate to establish objective criteria in order to determine urgent cases and select potential beneficiaries on a priority basis." Among the priority cases may include rural villages that neighbor Morocco’s national parks and nature reserves, which are located throughout the country. In many cases, these villages are statistically among the most isolated and poorest in the country. New income generated in these communities would reduce local dependence on the natural resources of the protected areas, which in turn advances nature conservation. In this way, economic development in itself furthers environmental goals. Thus, the Initiative should consider initially focusing its efforts in these areas and others that multiply benefits.

Based on dozens of local development experiences in rural Morocco over the past 12 years that resulted into projects similar to those the Initiative intends to extend nationally, I believe that a realistic financial projection would be that of $100 million to achieve the Initiative’s development goals for about 500,000 people. The United States and Europe should do all they can to assist Morocco's self-declared mobilization to bring development to impoverished areas susceptible to extremism, to rural communities that may suffer economic hardships similar to Mexico’s due to free trade, and create a model for the region. The international community should double the Initiative’s proposed annual budget and support projects that local Moroccan communities have determined for themselves, which will also build much-needed international trust. Morocco must also work hard to raise funds from the international community (foreign governments, businesses, and individuals). Some important Moroccan dignitaries are already doing this.

For a relatively low cost, far less than that of typical aid programs, these strategies included in the Initiative’s action plan may turn out to be among the most effective ways of achieving its goals. The strategies are, in a sense, natural extensions of the Initiative and share its ultimate objective enumerated by the King: "Enable all Moroccans, men and women alike, to avail themselves of a wide range of possibilities and opportunities." He stated that public participation is the method that effectively attains this. The question for the Initiative is: Will it implement public participation in communities across the Kingdom, whereby local people design and manage projects that meet their unique needs? If it does, it will better realize the bold and potentially historic vision for Morocco presented King Mohammed VI.

Jason Ben Meir

Jason Ben-Meir is President of the High Atlas Foundation, an American nonprofit organization that assists community development in Morocco. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer and Associate Peace Corps Director in Morocco. He is a Fellow at the American Institute of Maghreb Studies and is pursuing a Doctorate in Sociology at the University of New Mexico.

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000357.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Jason Ben Meir @ 06:48 PM CST [Link]


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