In a Time of Pandemic, Morocco is leveraging on its Local Governance
In March 2020, after the establishment of the National Health Emergency, a female Leader named Houriya of the Moroccan City of Safi, impressed the Kingdom by her lighthearted and edifying way of communicating with citizens. She urged them to apply the principle of social distancing arduously and to quarantine. Houriya is an example, among several others, to illustrate the dedication of local government representatives to protect their community.
Morocco has always been known for having unique local administrative capacities. As a matter of fact, since March 20, 1956, the Moroccan King’s decree defined the responsibility and authority of what is called : “a Qaid,” which means “Leader” or “Commander.” Leadership (“القيادة”) is a branch of the Moroccan administrative division that allows, to first of all, have an advanced position to coordinate domestic policies within rural areas, and to secondly, have a key point of contact that is usually a representative of the executive within a city, and this representation makes him accountable for the maintenance of public order, achievement of stability and social peace. Far from an inter-disconnected bureaucracy, the structure of Morocco’s local governance is undoubtedly useful, in the context of the National Strategy for Coronavirus Pandemic, in sharing time-sensitive information with the general public.
Reducing the spread of the COVID-19 is not just about the resilience of health care systems, governmental departments, and agencies also need to enforce security and safety measures adequately. A Qaid is usually prevalent in his community; he possesses a kind of cartography of the population he deals with on a daily basis, which is critical to reaching at the right time, the right individuals. His position enables him to not only exchange with Moroccans on the on-going measures, answer their questions, and transmit their concerns to the central administration of the Minister of Interior, but most importantly, to prepare the ground for urgent policy implementations. The recent developments of the Coronavirus worldwide showed how much enforcing lockdown measures in urban and rural areas can be challenging, however, with well-developed governmental networks it is possible to at least prevent a local crisis as institutions can be being overwhelmed.
Tracking the Coronavirus is a complex task because both the carrier and individuals he has been in contact with need to be identified. A Qaid is well-equipped to do so, as it has been noted before, he knows his community by heart, he can easily transmit the necessary information to the central administration, and similarly, transmit to the local administration the data he has for further verifications while coordinating with public health officials. Governmental proximity is crucial during emergencies, by having a local government representative, it is possible to finger-point what a particular region or area needs in terms of financial or human resources. Moreover, a video that went viral on social media showed a Qaid warmly welcoming and assuring Sub-Saharan immigrants, he was saying “Dear African friends, we are here to serve you. Welcome to your second African country. Don’t panic and stay home”. The Qaids play a significant crisis leadership role by unifying citizens for a greater cause and not leaving any room for a climate of distrust towards Moroccan authorities.
The Moroccan reform of the concept of authority of 1999, made “agents of authority,” including local government representatives, the ones responsible to “ensure the protection of freedoms, to preserve rights, to ensure the performance of duties and to meet the necessary conditions required by the rule of law”. Unlike many Middle-Eastern and African countries, Morocco progressively created a defined framework for authorities. That is today, at a time of pandemic benefiting from, since the transversal circuit of information and the openness of the local and central administration structure are the backbone building block of the National Strategy for Coronavirus Pandemic. However, some challenges persists such as the violent behavior of some local representatives. As a matter of fact, a Qaid attached to the Mohammedia Prefecture appeared in a video slapping violators of the National Lockdown. Thus, the services of the Ministry of the Interior launched an investigation and arrested him. By taking harsh disciplinary actions against violent law enforcement officers and representatives, including suspending them from work for a few days, Morocco is also designing its future appropriate and sustainable local governance.
The recent development of decentralization in Morocco, as it was mentioned by OECD’s 2018 Report on the Morocco-OECD dialogue on territorial development policies, is an essential step towards coordinated multi-level governance. The Kingdom has not achieved all of its goals ultimately to reach OECD’s standards, but it is possible to evaluate and to measure the effectiveness, the adaptability, and the flexibility of local governmental agencies during the Coronavirus pandemic. Evidence from the ground is demonstrating how it would have been impossible to enforce the lockdown all-over the country without it. Also, Moroccans are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of these central and local governmental intermediaries, which is indispensable for future improvements of public consultation procedures.
Zineb Riboua is a Graduate Student at HEC Paris and a Master of Public Policy candidate at the McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University.
She is currently an intern at the Altantic Council, where she works on Middle-East issues.
She is a non-resident fellows at the Amadeus Institute.
She was also a Scholar at Harvard on International Relations and has several experiences in Government Affairs in Morocco.
She holds a certificate in International Relations & Politics from Magdalene College, University of Cambridge, and International Development from Warwick University.