The New Era, as the political class and public opinion have chosen to call it, is a period of Great Reforms par excellence. At no time in history has Morocco seen so many changes, programs, new policies, mutations, profusions of ideas, and profound actions.
Rabat – A young King with a new vision, a strategy based on action, a critical look, and an unprecedented capacity to mobilize the people and the political class, has been the mastermind behind a courageous leap towards the future.
The result has been a new Morocco, moving at an unprecedented speed, a fast-changing society, a new economic and social landscape, paired with growing expectations, a youth brimming with hope and questions, and a society which has tasted the fruits of development and freedom, and now wants more.
To better prepare the country for this deliberate revolution promoted by a reforming King and citizens eager for prosperity and freedom, it was necessary to heal the wounds of the past, overcome the failures, and take care of the woes of recent history. “Reconciliation” became the watchword at the beginning of the King’s reign: to face the misfortunes of the past, to come to terms with them, to establish pardon as a method of governance, and to care for the victims.
Society recognizes its difficult moments and uses its culture to heal the wounds and to deliver justice without drama or witch-hunts. The core meaning of reconciliation allows for neither winners nor losers, but true forgiveness. It is a gift of hope among citizens, to a whole generation.
Unfortunately, no light has been shed on the period between 1956-1959 due to a lack of cooperation on the part of the post-Independence generation of leaders. Those ‘forgotten events’ now haunt the political class, as has been seen during the recent sad events in the Rif region.
The basics of a new model of authority based on an approach that guarantees respect for dignity and freedom within the framework of the rule of law have been put forward since the beginning.
The new model is still “a work in progress” but important milestones have been reached, notably in the 2011 Constitution which enshrines the universality of human rights and speaks of improved governance of the security apparatus (one of the recommendations of the Equity and Reconciliation Entity or IER).
The culture of “rights and duties” has yet to be translated into citizen behavior and acts of citizenship in the public space, but the efforts of schools, families, and the media in this field must be part of a long term vision wherein rights are always coupled with duties and responsibilities.
From a political point of view, the access of opposition parties to government, known as “alternance consensuelle” and the admission of an “Islamist” party into the political arena, both initiated by Hassan II in a concern for reconciliation and normalization, were consolidated in practice by the 2011 Constitution. The famous Article 47, which stipulates that the first party that wins the relative majority in elections will form the government, has been a request made by the USFP (the Socialist Union of Popular Forces) since the end of the Youssoufi Government in 2002 (when the latter came first in elections but a technocrat by the name of Driss Jettou was asked to form the Government).
Democracy, a royal project
Elections are becoming more free overtime, paid votes and other practices persist, but government intervention is becoming less and less frequent (except for the 2016 parliamentary elections). Democratization is a long-term “reign project” that is consolidated by a real separation of powers, the establishment of strong institutions, the strengthening of the Parliament and the Head of Government’s powers, embryonic but advanced regionalization, increased participation of citizens in the management of public affairs, the establishment of the principle of accountability, and the recognition of the plurality of cultural and identity origins, especially with the recognition of Tamazight an official language of the country (along with Arabic).
Morocco is more free, more open, more dynamic politically, and more just than it was two decades ago. There are still reforms and adjustments to be made in the areas of human rights, the true sense of independence of the judiciary system, how government is formed, the need for an improved governance system for development management, and the freedom of expression and of the press. Some call for a new “generation” of political and economic reforms, which is normal for a country that is experimenting, innovating and on the move. Adjustments are always necessary to plan better for a more promising future for all Moroccans.
The idea of a polarized society between modernists and conservatives turned out to be cultural, sociological and historical “heresy”. The efforts made by some to administer a re-engineering of the political field in the light of a Manichean dichotomy of modernists versus conservatives that is strange to the culture and history of Moroccan society have only consolidated the unity of Moroccans around their King, their faith, and their territory.
The reforms initiated by King Mohammed VI and supported by Moroccans have made any interventionism (of a political nature) of the government ineffective, even unacceptable. Challenges relating to the protection of freedoms, especially freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and human rights still need to be addressed. However, Morocco is becoming more and more democratic, the field of freedoms is becoming larger, and the political field resonates with dynamism and debate. Moroccans have not yet reached the stage of a real debate of societal ideas and projects, but we must get there if we want to mobilize everyone for and around the same vision.
The socio-economic reforms desired by the King and the Moroccan people have irreversibly transformed the productive and social landscape of the country. The Moroccan economy is among the most diversified in Africa and the MENA region. GDP has almost tripled in the space of 20 years, from almost $ 42 billion in 1999 to $ 110 billion in 2019. Per capita income has doubled: $ 1,400 in 1999 and 3,000 in 2015. Morocco exported $ 10.5 billion in 1999, while in 2017 exports have reached $ 41 billion. The number of tourists reached 11 million in 2016 while they were 4 million in 2000. Before the 2000s, industry accounted for about 15% of GDP and employed only around 10% of the population. In 2017, it accounted for nearly 30% of GDP and 21% of jobs. Macroeconomic equilibrium is maintained despite a high level of public debt (including the debt of public institutions and local governments.)
The leap forward in infrastructure is breathtaking, with a network of 37 ports, including 13 dedicated to foreign trade, 18 airports, 16 of which international, 1800 km of highways, with 60% of the population directly linked to the highway network, and 85 % less than an hour away from a highway, the first super-high-speed train in Africa, mega solar power stations, tax-free economic zones, logistical stations and industrial zones of international renown, several agropoles, giant seaside resorts for tourism, development projects for valleys and lakes extended in time and space, a financial center of choice in Casablanca and so on.
At the social level, primary school enrollment has increased from 87% to 112% in 2017 (gross percentage). Poverty was reduced from 16.3% in 1998 to 4.8% in 2013. Life expectancy has increased from 68 to 76 in 18 years. Morocco has a rate of 20 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2017 compared to 63 deaths in 1990. Maternal mortality decreased from 112 cases per 100,000 live births in 2010 to 72.6 cases in 2018.
These figures speak for themselves, and are undeniable.
Morocco today is very different from what it was twenty years ago. Nevertheless, there are still challenges to be met, failures to correct. The development model has reached its limits. The King spoke about it two years ago and reiterated it this week. We need to rethink our approach, our methods, our way of doing things, even our system of governance.
The private sector remains cautious and depends largely on government action. Private internal investment is chronically low. The tax incentives given to the real estate industry have had a negative effect on other sectors, including the industry itself, abandoned in favor of housing windfalls.
GDP growth remains at an annual average of 4%, a rate unable to absorb the thousands of young people on the labor market every year or to create a real added value that can improve the standards of living for Moroccans.
Access to credit, especially for SMEs/SMIs, still hampers the ability of small businesses, the real creators of jobs and value, to finance their projects. Corruption affects almost all sectors, as government action has yet to find the right approach to tackle this devastating scourge. The cost of the environmental degradation bill has been estimated at 3% of GDP by the World Bank.
Despite the significant achievements of the Green Morocco Plan, the ROI of public investment remains below expectations. Indeed, an annual investment of MAD 10 billion produces only MAD 12 billion of exportable value (rate of return of 1.2 to 1, compared with industry and tourism where profitability in exports can reach between 6 and 10 for 1).
Agricultural productivity is still below the level of rival countries, and the small farmer is still awaiting the transition to modern, solidarity-based farming that fully values the local product. The industry is still dependent on FDI and state incentives, and private national investment remains mixed, even timid. Tourism is expected to find new sources of sustainable growth in ecotourism, rural and cultural tourism, national tourism and niche markets such as MICE and luxury travel.
Morocco, a transformed country
The competitiveness of Moroccan companies is seeing slow improvement because of a lack of modern governance, a culture that does not sufficiently value talent and does not prioritize investment in digital industry, AI, high tech and R&D.
From a social point of view, the unemployment rate persists at an alarming rate, with 14.7% in urban areas in 2017. Overstressed, overtaxed, and limited in its ability to consume and contribute fully to the national economy, the Moroccan middle class does not receive enough attention from the government.
Poverty is still prevalent in rural areas and in large pockets in cities. The lower middle class lives precariously and is vulnerable to social shocks. The education and health reforms have not yet made significant progress in digging the sectors out of the doldrums.
Morocco, which, under the leadership of its young King, was able to correct the flaws of the past at the very beginning of the century, is now strong enough and better equipped to face these challenges. Reforms certainly create change, but change comes with its risks, failures and fractures. It is normal that challenges remain, and that is how nations move forward, by working, trying, and learning from their successes and failures.
The Morocco of the future, more glorious, more prosperous, more just, will be built by allowing everyone to contribute to its making.
A new impetus is emerging on the horizon. A reorganization of the political and rights field is necessary by introducing new reforms that would clarify the roles of actors, put in place safeguards to further protect rights and freedoms, rethink the separation of powers, and strengthen the powers of the Head of Government and Parliament.
It is essential to complete the work of reconciliation with the past by targeting the Rif region and the setbacks of 1956-1959 and by putting in place real policies for the development of the regions impacted by past human rights abuses.
The prerequisites for the real takeoff of tomorrow’s Morocco are: i. pursuing the fight against poverty and vulnerability through direct cash transfers, designed and managed by women; ii. strengthening the capabilities of the middle class through the reduction of the income tax to make up for private school expenses, and iii. the establishment of funds to support access to housing, to college, car acquisition, and leisure activities. Government must work more effectively on the employability of young people by acting through a better offer (more life skills, entrepreneurship, communication, etc.), a more fluid and timely access to temporary and alternate employment, flexible bridges between businesses and training centers, and the orientation of public investment towards strong job-creating sectors such as services, tourism, culture, technology, travel, sports, social entrepreneurship, etc.
Investing in the future depends on setting up a real knowledge economy and society. Morocco must be able to reach 15,000 to 20,000 invention patents by 2035.
Education and training, priority projects
To achieve this, we must invest in the offer of university training and research. Morocco must build 200 to 300 universities and world-class research centers in the next 15 years. It must also be able to invest 3 to 5% of GDP in research and development. A real Science, Technology, and Innovation Strategy over 20 years is paramount. Science and innovation must be the concern of schools, media, universities, civil society, and the private sector. The use of science and research in life and business must become sacrosanct.
We need to overcome the gap that separates us from advanced countries by focusing on artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, robotics, 3D printing, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, flying vehicles, blockchain, genetics, space technology, energy storage, materials science, Big Data, etc.
It is by entering the world of the Fourth Industrial Revolution through the “big gate” that we can create value, lasting value, which will transform the industrial and economic fabric of Morocco. The genius of a King and a people, who transformed Morocco and its economy in the space of twenty years, is also capable to hoist the country to the level of the best governed countries on the planet and to the level of the countries most capable of producing sustainable wealth from knowledge and science. The successes of the last twenty years must give us all the courage to work harder in the hope of achieving a better Morocco in the very near future. Provided we maintain faith in our collective genius, in our King, and in our culture. The rest will follow. Hope is the beacon that will guide our collective journey to our destiny, the fate of a nation that is searching for itself and that will definitely achieve its dream.