Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Twenty Years of Morocco’s Development

February 9, 2018

Edward M. Gabriel (Morocco, 1997-2001)

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Twenty years ago this year I arrived in Morocco as the new United States Ambassador. It was the beginning of a close-up view of the significant changes going on in Morocco for the next two decades.

During my first meeting with King Hassan II, shortly after my arrival, he wasted no time in addressing Morocco’s agenda with the United States, challenging me on our positions, especially the Kingdom’s existential issue regarding sovereignty over the Sahara. This unexpected candid and warm exchange set the tone for regular meetings through my tenure during which concerns and grievances were voiced in private, rather than aired publicly. King Mohammed VI would continue this practice with me after his father’s death.

My first few months in the country also coincided with the beginning of the first government of Alternance, led by opposition leader Abderrahmane El Youssoufi – a watershed moment for Morocco that many political analysts mark as the beginning of significant democratic reform and economic liberalization after years of a strong-armed approach to governing and limited civil rights. Abderrahmane El Youssoufi, whose political activities had previously resulted in two years in jail and then 15 years of exile, became Prime Minister after his party, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), won the most seats in the November 1997 elections. And since then, the international community has confirmed elections as occurring in a fair and transparent manner.

In 1998, the unemployment rate in the country was 17% and growing, with youth making up a disproportionate percentage of the population. Women lacked equal rights with men. The percentage of the population living at or below the poverty line for lower middle income countries was around 28%, and more than half of the entire adult population was illiterate, with rates among rural women much higher. Electricity in the country reached only around 60% of the population, and almost a quarter did not have access to potable water. Infant mortality rates were 23% higher than the regional average and maternal mortality ratios were nearly double. Overall, the micro-economic picture was in dire shape.

The economy was too dependent on agriculture, accounting for 20% of GDP and heavily reliant on rainfall. Infrastructure was lacking throughout the country, and environmental degradation was widely apparent throughout the cities and the countryside, presenting a challenge to the growth of tourism. Of particular note, the northern part of Morocco was completely neglected after a series of militant actions created an irreparable rift between King Hassan and his citizens there.

In contrast to the micro economic indicators, by 1998 King Hassan had established a strong macro-economic climate: low debt to GDP ratio, a low budget deficit and an open, competitive economic system. He adopted IMF and World Bank reforms that, had Morocco been a member of the European Union, would have qualified it for the Monetary Union.

Upon his death in 1999, King Hassan left the country unified with a very strong nationalistic belief in country and King, a reasonably performing economy, and most importantly, with a solid commitment in its support for U.S. objectives regarding counterterrorism and economic openness, and in promoting peace in the Middle East.

Twenty years later, where is Morocco today? Where is it headed tomorrow?

Upon ascending to the throne in 1999, King Mohammed VI immediately gave a clear indication of his vision for reform and equality for all Moroccans, stating in his first public speech in August of 1999, “How can we talk about the progress and development of society when women who constitute half of this society are being denied their rights? Our true religion, Islam, has granted them rights that are not respected. They are equal to men.” By 2004, Morocco had passed one of the most progressive family codes in the region, the Moudawana, putting women on equal footing with men in regards to children and divorce.

Also in 2004, King Mohammed established The Equity and Reconciliation Commission to reconcile victims of previous human rights abuses, providing a public forum for victims to make their case and receive compensation.

In 2005, a massive anti-poverty program, the National Initiative for Human Development, was instituted in 600 of the most vulnerable poor areas of the country and city districts to increase job creation and provide adequate social services for the most vulnerable of the population. The poverty rate in Morocco now stands at 15.5%, nearly a 50% reduction. The per capita income in Morocco has nearly doubled during this time as well.

King Mohammed VI also took great efforts at rapprochement with the north of Morocco, indicating his intentions early on with his first official visit as King to Tangier, in September of 1999 – the first visit by a Monarch in nearly 40 years. These efforts have paid off. Rapprochement brought the establishment of economic zones, port and highway infrastructure, and tax incentives. With these and other measures, the north of Morocco has undergone an economic renaissance, and is now a hub for auto, aeronautics, and renewable energy manufacturing. And although youth unemployment is still problematic, the overall unemployment rate is now around 10.4%, nearly 40% percent less than it was in 1998.

Infant and maternal mortality rates have been cut in half. Electricity reaches 98.9% of the population and more than 85% have access to potable water. The birth rate is among the lowest in the region and is now comparable to rates in Europe. Morocco even has a new law that protects the civil liberties of migrants, making it one of the most progressive countries in the world on this issue. And today, while there is still work to be done, after concerted efforts Morocco has improved literacy among adults to around 70%, with rates reaching over 90% among youth, and even higher for those under 15 years old.

The cities are cleaner, with advances in waste collection and disposal. By 2030, Morocco aims to generate 50% of its electricity from renewable sources, making it a global leader on the environment. Tourism has increased five-fold since 1998.

The country has undergone an incredible transformation after years of serious efforts to modernize and expand its infrastructure, upgrading roads, ports, and airports to support its goal of becoming a commercial crossroads between Africa and the West. In line with these efforts, Morocco and the United States concluded a free trade agreement in 2004, and last year, Morocco reestablished its relationship with the African Union and many of its members following a 33-year absence.

Macro-economic rates, strong under King Hassan, remain strong today. Agriculture still accounts for a large percentage of GDP at 13.6%, but that marks a 32% decrease from when King Mohammed assumed the throne, and a substantial amount of the production is now irrigated, reducing reliance on rain. New highways now connect most of the major cities in Morocco, and a new high speed train from Tangier to Casablanca will begin service in 2018, cutting travel time between the two cities by more than half to just over 2 hours.

When I arrived in Morocco, the bilateral relationship with the US was at a low point largely due to the lack of public support for Morocco on the Sahara issue. The United Nations was extending its MINURSO mandate overseeing the dispute for only a few months at a time, constantly prompting US criticism of Morocco regarding their differences on this issue. Following discussions and agreement with Morocco in 1999, the United States proposed a new policy, which offered a political compromise to support an internationally accepted framework of autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. By 2007, the United Nations and the United States were describing a new Moroccan sovereignty-autonomy initiative as serious and credible, and later Secretary Clinton called it “realistic”. The United States has since begun to fund Morocco to provide countrywide programs, services, and economic growth initiatives that include the Saharan regions. This, more than anything else, has solidified the relationship between our two countries during the past two decades.

Today, as I look back, I realize I’ve had a front row seat to Morocco’s internal and international evolution over the past twenty years. Morocco has come a long way, although more still needs to be done: addressing youth unemployment; improving education and creating jobs; tackling corruption and weaknesses with regard to the rule of law in both the public and private sectors; enforcement of existing laws; and, dealing with ongoing government inefficiencies.

In particular, there is a need to work for a greater convergence of the ambitious sectorial strategies launched and currently implemented so as to maximize their impact at the micro levels. The country has to tackle the issue of decentralization of the governance of the country, particularly in the Sahara, and with a priority emphasis on women and those regions that are the poorest. And perhaps most importantly, there is a need to insert the youth into the economy through effective education and job training programs.

It is obvious that Morocco is moving steadily forward, albeit at its own pace. It is a delicate balancing act as the King moves cautiously to make Morocco a more open and modern leader among developing countries. Change that comes too quickly could expose vulnerabilities and create an opportunity for those who wish to destabilize the country, terrorists among them. On the other hand, too slow a pace could cause Moroccans to rise up and demand change at a more striking rate. The United States should be cognizant of this challenge and seize the opportunity to work in partnership with Morocco as it finds its “sweet spot” for movement and change, as it is in America’s interest to see this Arab country remain stable and grow increasingly more prosperous and democratic.

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Americans can learn from the struggles and wins of Rwandan women

October 6, 2017

Swanee Hunt (U.S. Ambassador to Austria, 1993-1997; Chair, Inclusive Security)

Cross posted from The Hill

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If the hand-wringing of pundits has left you in despair that this country is beyond healing, learn from the women of Rwanda.

Most people rightly recall that small nation in East Africa as the site of a 1994 genocide of unspeakable brutality, in which as many as one million (mostly Tutsi) died in a span of 100 days. With machetes and clubs, Hutu extremists slaughtered not only neighbors, but even Tutsi in their own families. The country was decimated — the equivalent of 32 million Americans murdered this fall.

What fewer people know is that when the killing ended, the impossible happened. Women created 15,000 village councils that formed a leadership pipeline; they designed a grass-roots justice process that allowed healing; they took on influential roles historically denied them.

As chaos cracked open the culture, women surged into the breach: today they hold a world-record 64 percent of parliamentary seats. They passed landmark legislation enabling females to inherit property, which opened paths to economic opportunity.

An astounding 55,000 community health workers have been elected by their neighborhoods. Illiteracy has plummeted, thanks in part to compulsory education for girls as well as boys through the 9th grade.

These advances, forged primarily by women, have made Rwanda the gold standard for development in Africa. Virtually free of corruption, the nation’s annual economic growth has averaged eight percent.

Over the past two decades, Rwanda’s women have built bridges across the deepest chasm imaginable. To put a lid on strife, the government forbade the use of ethnic labels. And women took transformative reconciliation an unfathomable step further, adopting hundreds of thousands of orphans of the other group.

Why should this matter to Americans? Of course we should care as humanitarians. But there’s another reason. It’s at the heart of our security, our well-being, and our pocket books.

It’s a matter of insistent cooperation. Compared to men, American women co-sponsor more bills across party lines, and the huge majority declare to researchers that they’re more willing to reach across aisles. The examples are usually little known, but sometimes front- page “above the fold.” A few weeks ago, women in the Senate joined hands to protect healthcare for the poor. And remember 2013, when they dramatically banded together to avert a government shutdown.

Of course, we’ve seen only hints of what collaboration can mean in our Congress. That’s primarily because women’s representation the United States doesn’t come close to our Rwandan counterparts. Just 20 percent of our Congress is female, far from the “critical mass” (around 30 percent) that can reshape an institution.

Embarrassingly, 120 countries have a higher percent of women legislators than we do.

How do we change this? Americans aren’t going to formalize a gender quota, which is a matter of course in most countries. But our political parties could adopt minimums to reduce the huge disparity of men to women. In fact, one-third of Congressional Democrats are female; the problem is that the GOP women’s caucus has only eight percent. Republican women do run, but they have a very hard time getting out of their primary races, which are closely guarded by good ol’ boys.

Apart from quotas, we can embrace other Rwandan strategies. There, women rose because of a pull from the top and push up from the bottom. Cues from leadership matter; in both parties, high officials should be urging specific women to run, then supporting them with money and top talent to break through and win.

But let’s take apart our situation further: As Rwandan women graduated from their village boards to climbed a ladder of councils, they built a knowledge base of issues as well as the political process, and they formed professional connections. Likewise, we can support an unruly female crowd to step onto political rungs from city-wide boards to major municipal and state-wide offices. Every one of us could join organizations like She Should Run or Running Start, and encourage women we know to throw their hats in the ring.

The good news is that U.S. women compete evenly in open-seat races. Our structural problem is that Congressional incumbents (mostly men) are re-elected at a rate well over a whopping 90 percent. Some doors may open in 2018 since an unusual number of Republican men are likely not to run again, in part because home district resistance to President Trump’s policies is so vociferous.

Genocide has no silver lining. Still, Rwanda is our teacher. If women there reinvented a country out of smoldering ashes, surely we Americans can clear the way for women to break gridlock, embrace differences, and restore civility in our country.

Mali: Radisson Blu Hotel Attack to Thwart Peace Accord

December 2, 2015

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s November 30, 2015 blog post.

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The terrorist attack on November 20 at the Radisson Blu hotel in the capital city of Bamako shows that radical Islamists continue to be active in Mali. Reportedly the attack was to thwart the peace accord between the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) seeking autonomy, and the Mali government. I believe the Islamists embedded in the northern region want to hinder the peace process so they can create an Islamic caliphate.

The Islamists reportedly affiliated with Moktar Belmoktar’s al-Mourabitoune militia killed eighteen hotel guests and one local guard. Two of the Islamist gunmen were also killed. I had stayed at the Radisson Blu hotel in the past and found it popular with foreign business people, diplomats, and airline personnel.

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Why Change in Nigeria Matters to the World

May 29, 2015

Madeleine Albright (Ambassador to the United Nations, 1993-1997)

Cross-posted from Secretary Albright’s May 28, 2015 special to Time Magazine. The article was co-authored by former Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson.

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This week, something unprecedented is happening in Africa’s most populous country, where groundbreaking political change is underway. Nigeria’s incumbent president will step down and a new president from another political party, Muhammadu Buhari, will be sworn in.

The March election that brought Mr. Buhari to office was a political triumph for Nigeria and a positive step for the future of democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. Few expected that the election would be peaceful or credible, but the Nigerian people demanded nothing less.

As one of us witnessed first-hand while serving on a National Democratic Institute election observer delegation, people across Nigeria waited in lines that stretched for hours simply to have their voices heard through the ballot box. Thousands were willing to risk the threat of election violence to volunteer as citizen observers, and the outcome was seen as legitimate thanks in large measure to the work of the Independent National Electoral Commission, which oversaw the rapid release of election results. A coalition of 400 civic organizations conducted a parallel vote tabulation that protected the integrity of the process and promoted confidence in the official results; other groups conducted a large-scale, and effective anti-violence campaign.

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The Increase of Islamist Attacks is Alarming

January 13, 2015

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s January 13, 2015 blog post.

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We are living in the most crucial time in modern history since the Cold War. Today’s enemy is not a standing army of a sovereign nation. It is a theological movement with a mission to destroy Western civilization. As the Cold War ended in the 1980s, the U.S. focused more on the Eastern Bloc countries, although the real threat to our security was brewing in Africa and the Middle East. We continued to build up our military might for ground-style wars, but did not see the danger of terrorism that would erupt into a different kind of warfare.

The U.S. could have learned a lesson in the early 1980s, when there were thirty-six suicide attacks against Americans inside Lebanon. In April 1983 the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was bombed by Hezbollah, killing 63 people. At the request of the Lebanese government, the U.S. established a peacekeeping force to control the conflict between Muslims and Christians. The Muslim military viewed our soldiers as their enemies and attacked them regularly. In October 1983 truck bombs struck two barracks, killing 241 U.S. troops for which the Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility. In December 1983 a truck filled with explosives rammed into the three-story administrative wing of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City, killing five people. That attack was claimed by a radical Shiite group with ties to Iran.

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Education for Somalia’s Children is Key to the Future

November 12, 2014

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s November 11, 2014 blog post.

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Somalia is a poor Muslim country, where agriculture provides a meager existence in its arid climate, and people live on less than $2.00 a day. The country has one of the lowest primary-school enrollment rates in Africa with less than 25% of the children participating, of which one-third are female students. Somaliland has fared better than the rest of Somalia, with 44 percent of the children receiving an education.

Ms. Hodan Guled, the founder of the Somali and American Fund for Education (SAFE) noted, “With basic reading skills, a child has the opportunity to be lifted out of poverty”. SAFE has been building schools in Somaliland, the autonomous northern state, which has not seen the violence that has devastated the rest of Somalia. The southern region has been destabilized by al-Shabaab Islamists since 2006.

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Africa’s Future in the Global Economy

November 5, 2014

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s November 5, 2014 blog post.

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“Africa is the second largest continent, with over one billion people, which is expected to double by the year 2050”.

On October 20-21, 2014 the Council of American Ambassadors and the Hinckley Institute of Politics co-sponsored a conference on Africa’s Future in the Global Economy at the University of Utah. Global leaders and academics made presentations to an audience consisting of government and community leaders, diplomats, former U.S. ambassadors, educators and students.

Governor Gary Herbert opened the conference noting that a number of Utah businesses have increased their trade with Africa–a new frontier for export growth. TIME’s October 27 issue had a Gallup poll survey taken in 131 countries, indicating that 35% of the respondents planned to do business in sub-Saharan Africa within the next year; 23% in the Middle East and North Africa.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield gave an overview of U.S. involvement in sub-Saharan Africa—major achievements and some shortcomings. The future looks bright, except some of the Millennium Development Goals established at the UN in 2000eight targets to eradicate poverty and human suffering–will not be accomplished by 2015. Ms. Thomas-Greenfield served as U.S. ambassador to Liberia 2008-2012, where today there is an Ebola crisis that is also affecting several other West African nations.

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U.S. at War: Airstrikes have begun in Syria

September 25, 2014

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005) Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s September 25, 2014 blog post.

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Fighting between tribal and religious factions is not new. Rulers and dictators have come and gone through history. In the 12th century Sultan Saladin’s Muslim forces defeated the Crusaders, and created a caliphate in the Middle East and North Africa. The mantle was passed on to the Ottoman Empire rulers who controlled much of the Middle East and Eastern Europe until 1915. Islamists today want to establish another caliphate in the same region. In the early 1700’s the Muslim preacher Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab formed a political pact with Muhammad bin Saud to engage in armed jihad against the other tribes in the region. The al-Saud dynasty by 1932 had become the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, controlling a vast region in the Middle East. The Wahhabi sect has since spread throughout the Middle East, Africa and Southern Asia, and adopted armed jihad as part of the Islamic doctrine. (more…)

Ambassador Gabriel: In Africa, Solidarity Will Lead to Stability

September 2, 2014

Edward M. Gabriel (Ambassador to Morocco, 1997-2001)

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In early August, the heads of state of nearly fifty African countries gathered in Washington, DC for the first-ever US-Africa Leaders Summit. Over the course of several days, attendees participated in a myriad of forums, roundtable discussions, meetings, and other events to address issues of mutual concern, like economic development and investment, security and counterterrorism, women’s rights, and youth engagement. Individual business deals were signed and joint statements were issued. From a big-picture perspective, the Summit can be boiled down to two goals: promoting development and securing stability on the continent.

As any development or security expert will tell you, the two are intertwined, and you cannot have one without the other. The real question then becomes HOW to achieve these goals. If the Summit provided an answer, it was that of continental integration—in other words, solidarity. And for good reason.

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Timbuktu ‘Festival of the Desert’ may be Catalyst for Peace

August 13, 2014

John Price (Ambassador to Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros, 2002-2005)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Price’s August 13, 2014 blog post.

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Last year I met Malian musician Mamadou Diabate, the 2009 Grammy Award winner of the “Best Traditional World Music” for his album ‘Douga Mansa’. Mamadou had also composed the song ‘Bogna’ meaning “Respect is the healing medicine of peace. Peace is the healing medicine of love. Love is the healing medicine of life. Life is the healing medicine of hope”. Mamadou came from a family of musicians in Mali that have used music to preserve the Manika language and people’s consciousness of the past dating back to the 13th century, when Timbuktu was considered the intellectual capital of the Muslim world. He came from Kita, a town long known as a center for art and culture, where he learned to play the ‘kora’ (the 21-string harp) at an early age.

In mid-2012 Islamist extremists took control of a large area of northern Mali, and muzzled its long standing history of music culture. Musicians were attacked and many instruments were destroyed. Hundreds of musicians fled fearing the wrath of these radical hard-liners. The music tradition of story-telling has served to record history and unite cultures–a language that transcends time. Today Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) and other Islamist affiliates still have a presence in the Sahel, even though French and UN troops drove the Islamists from northern Mali in 2013. They continue to move throughout the region including, Mauritania, Niger, Algeria, and Libya. The vast Sahara desert provides a safe-haven for these insurgents. The BBC News reported on August 10, that French forces bombed Islamist militants embedded in the Esssakane region west of Timbuktu. Earlier in July there was a report of an Islamist rocket attack at the Timbuktu airport.

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