Morrocan Maladies: Outside Aid Needed. (Global Notebook)

Article excerpt

In July 1999, King Mohamed VI succeeded to the throne of Morocco following the death of his father, King Hassan II. Hopes were high that the young king would be able to achieve his stated development objectives, such as modernizing the country and fighting poverty.

Three years later, Mohamed remains committed, but he has been ineffective in progressing toward the goals he set at the start of his reign. Morocco needs assistance in three specific areas in order to effect development: mediation of the dispute over Western Sahara, eradication of hashish cultivation and export, and cessation of illegal emigration to Spain. The history of failed unilateral attempts to deal with these issues demonstrates the need for international support, especially from Spain, France, and other European nations that would directly benefit from a more stable Morocco, and also from the United States, which needs to build support for its foreign policy in the Muslim world. The international community should seize the opportunity provided by a forward-looking, relatively popular monarch to move Morocco further along the path to modernization and further integration into the world community.

Morocco desperately needs money to promote development, and that money should come from legitimate economic activities. The lack of economic progress is due in large part to the residual effects of Spanish colonial rule. The most virulent legacy is the continuing conflict over the sovereignty of Western Sahara, which is currently held by Morocco but has been claimed by the Algerian-supported Polisario Front since Spain's departure in 1975. With the aid of the United Nations, a cease-fire was declared in 1991, and the last dialogues between the two sides occurred in 1996. Because of multiple delays in a referendum on the future of Western Sahara, no decision has been made regarding the wish of the territory's inhabitants to have their own state. Mohamed has attempted reconciliation by freeing political prisoners, promising the construction of houses and roads, and visiting Western Sahara, the first royal journey to the region in over 20 years.

Despite these efforts, however, the dispute worsened in late 2001 after Morocco issued oil exploration licenses for the waters off Western Sahara to two oil companies, TotalFinaElf, based in France, and Kerr McGee, based in the United States. The licenses were granted without the consent of the people of Western Sahara, and the United Nations has declared that, while the issuance of the licenses themselves was not illegal, any action taken in furtherance of the exploration process would be illegal unless approved by the people of Western Sahara. Resolution of the partition dispute would allow exploration and oil drilling that could provide an influx of revenue to create the infrastructure missing in Western Sahara during its quarter century of conflict. A decision about the territory could also pave the way for rapprochement between Algeria and Morocco and perhaps to economic cooperation between both parties.

Western Sahara is not the only region in great need of development; the northern provinces in the Rif mountains have coped with their lack of opportunity by turning to the illegal export of hashish to Europe. According to the US State Department's 2001 International Control Strategy Report, Morocco is the world's largest exporter of hashish, supplying around 70 percent of the European market. The majority of Morocco's 2,000 metric tons per year of hashish are shipped by boat to Spain where they are then distributed to markets across Europe. The illegal export of hashish brings in US$3 billion per year to Morocco and serves as the country's primary source of hard currency. In the past few years, a severe drought has wiped out many crops, but hashish has continued to flourish. The drought has been devastating to a country that already faces 23 percent unemployment and has 19 percent of its population living below the poverty line; as a result, many more Moroccans have turned to the drug trade to survive. …