By Mustapha El-Khalfi – Minister of Communications, Spokesman of the Government of Morocco
With difficult global headwinds and regional instability, now is the time to embrace a new era of national unity
Since 2004 $1 billion has been invested in the Moroccan Sahara, which is evident in the construction of more than 150 new local health centers, eight major hospitals and 500 schools. These investments – alongside billions invested in business-critical infrastructure – have transformed lives with greater access to services such as healthcare facilities and education. Engagement in the democratic process is also high in the Moroccan Sahara with a 79% participation rate in the September 2015 local and regional elections. Nationally 53.67% turned out to vote. This is a part of Morocco that is passionately engaged in the political process and that wants to be a part of the nation’s future.
So, what’s the problem?
The problem is one that many nations around the world have faced, and continue to face: small nationalistic movements that purport to represent the will of the majority but instead represent the narrow political will of a tiny minority who pose a threat to stability and prosperity. And stability is particularly important right now in a region that has undergone major political upheaval and conflict over recent years. Separatist movements often court popular opinion as the protagonist but in reality they only serve to offer an alternative of small, weakened statehood in an increasingly global and integrated economy.
We should be under no illusions: the politics and economics of this part of the world have been transformed. Within a decade our neighbours have moved from social and economic growth and stability towards military conflict, decimated infrastructure and societal collapse. Moroccans are proud to live in a country that is at peace with itself, which has a stable government and social cohesion. Last year Morocco’s economy grew by 2.6 per cent and is on target to expand by a further 5 per cent this year. Anybody walking through their local neighbourhood will see small traders doing well – we have seen our exports grow by 6.4 per cent over the past year. Our trade deficit in H1 of this year shrunk to $7.8 billion from a high of $10.2 billion in H1 2014. This represents greater demand for Moroccan goods and services, more money in the pockets of ordinary working people and greater tax receipts for the Treasury. This economic success means that we can continue to maintain the pace of investment that we have enjoyed over recent years.
Right across the Moroccan Sahara, billions of dollars have been invested in business-critical infrastructure. These investments give us a significant competitive edge and, I believe, strengthen our role as the true gateway between Europe and the African continent. Infrastructure in areas such as ports and road networks are essential because they provide world-class export logistics for our rapidly growing automotive sector, which surpassed phosphates for the first time in 2014. Companies choosing Morocco include Renault, Bombardier and Sumitomi Electric Wiring – major global manufacturing companies selecting Morocco as an African base. Last year the government launched a seven year Industrial Acceleration Plan, which aims to boost industrial output from 14 per cent to 23 per cent by 2020. And as manufacturing rises, so too do levels of employment.
The economic and political stability that we enjoy has been recognised not only by global companies but also by international bodies such as the IMF and the World Bank, which have both extended multi-billion Dollar credit facilities to the country – funds that are specifically earmarked for investment in national infrastructure, economic development and public services. These represent a nod of approval from the international community, allowing us to progress on our goal to becoming a regional industrial hub – but also a country that supports the vulnerable and provides opportunities for social mobility.
Issues such as poverty reduction and job creation are important national priorities. His Majesty the King, Mohammed VI has been a strong advocate of social and economic reforms that benefit all Moroccan people. During a speech in 2015 he commented on the importance of social inclusion, saying that, “Setting up institutions, no matter how important they may be, is not an end in itself. By the same token, economic growth can only be significant if it contributes to the improving people’s quality of life.” His Majesty’s strongly held belief in social mobility is borne out in practice. He created the Hassan II Fund for Economic and Social Development (FHII) which supports growing businesses in key growth sectors through direct grants that help companies expand; particularly in industrial sectors with high potential for job and export growth such as automotive and aviation.
It is now 40 years since the Moroccan Sahara was liberated from the restraints of colonialism. Since then it has flourished, mirroring the national picture. Morocco is North Africa’s most competitive economy – and the fourth most competitive in the entire region according to the World Economic Forum. The Moroccan Sahara is indelibly wound up in that success. We now have an opportunity to accelerate socio-economic growth for Morocco and all Moroccan citizens, from Tangiers to the Southern Provinces. Morocco has this year set out plans to double the Southern Sahara’s GDP over the next ten years through reform and investment, promising to create in the region of 120,000 new jobs. For Moroccans, the next chapter looks incredibly promising. It is a period that will see a surge in investment in social and economic projects, widening access to education and the creation of career and job opportunities in industries that have never been seen before in this part of our nation. This is a future that I hope all proud Moroccans will embrace.
Image courtesy of SuperCar-RoadTrip.fr