In 2011, Morocco went through unprecedented changes culminating in the passage of the new Moroccan constitution. The constitution introduces the principles of participatory democracy to empower citizens to engage in the political decision-making process. It also promotes representative democracy through the right of citizens to present petitions and motions to elected representatives to initiate laws, issue regulations and act on citizens’ input. Such direct engagement of citizens is very new for Morocco and has generated enthusiasm and also concern among both elected officials, public servants and civic activists on how the aspirations of the Constitution will be realized.
For the last two years, the USAID Civil Society Strengthening Program (CSSP) has worked with more than 21 civil society organizations, five communes and one region in Morocco to promote citizen participation in the decision-making process. This has included their participation in the development of communal plans, establishment of gender and equality committees, the design of a structure to monitor and evaluate citizen requests and the development of a strategy on the relationship between territorial entities (councils of communes, provinces, and regions) and civil society organizations.
The process of implementing a participatory approach is important both for civil society and for local government entities. When government demonstrates it is listening to citizens and prioritizing their needs, this helps build trust between citizens and government.
Building Organizational Capacity
To foster this trust building, the CSSP program organized several public forums to generate dialogue between civil society actors and local government representatives to help build stronger partnerships and collaboration. For example, inspired by the successful experience of the commune of Fez, the municipality of Tetouan organized a study day on good governance.
The CSSP program provided trainings and coaching sessions on management, advocacy, strategic planning, public policy, communication and gender approach to more than 2000 citizens from civil society organizations and local government representatives. The program produced 26 training materials to help civil society organizations replicate the trainings with other associations.
“The participatory approach learned during CSSP’s trainings is now implemented on a daily basis in our municipality” declared Mohammed El Hadaji, Director at the Municipality of Safi.
A New Era of Partnerships
CSSP also supports a core group of local organizations focusing on improving the country’s lawmaking and public policy process. These organizations, with CSSP support, are building their own capacity and skills to work collaboratively with government partners.
Mr. Lmrabet, in charge of relations between civil society and the commune of Fes, said, “It is important for the municipality of Fes to develop a dialogue with civil society so that they may engage with the municipality. Our main role is to create a participatory dynamic with civil society and to train CSOs on good governance and transparency principles.”
With more effective civil society organizations, and government’s commitment to listen and respond, Moroccan citizens now have new opportunities to participate in decisions that impact their lives …. And the promises embedded in the Constitution can be fulfilled.