Cablegate: The Ambassador's Visits to Zagora and Agadir

DE RUEHRB #0155/01 0501748
R 191748Z FEB 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary: During January 24-25 visits to the provinces of
Zagora and Agadir, the Ambassador called on ranking local
officials, met with local civil society leaders, and visited
a range of USG-funded projects. The Ambassador and Embassy
team found in Zagora a rural and remote province beset by
drought and poverty, now betting primarily on tourism to
attract investment and generate employment and development.
The Agadir visit, during which the Ambassador was accompanied
by Minister of Agriculture (and regional council President)
Aziz Akennouch spotlighted planned MCC investments to support
Morocco,s artisanal fishing industry. In both areas, the
Ambassador's trips yielded positive coverage in the national
media including an extensive report on Moroccan State TV's
Channel 1. End summary.

2. The Ambassador and Mrs. Riley, supported by Mission
personnel from Public Affairs, USAID, DAO, MCC and the
political and economic sections visited the provinces of
Zagora in the far southeast of Morocco and Agadir on the
south central Atlantic coast January 24-25. Flanked by
enormous date palm oases, Zagora is situated at a bend in the
great Draa Valley, where it turns abruptly west after a
southeast trajectory from the high atlas, eventually ending
at Tan-Tan on the Atlantic coast. Agadir, the principal
gateway to Southern Morocco, is the hub of Morocco,s
agro-industry, and an important fishing port and tourist
center. The region's business climate was singled out for
praise in USAID,s recent assessment of doing business in
Morocco,s regions, and under the leadership of Regional
Council President Aziz Akennouch, who accompanied the
Ambassador, the region has embarked on an ambitious economic
development program.


3. Governor Ali Biougnouch, who heads a region that was the
last to receive provincial status under the late King,
highlighted an ambitious regional development program that
has electrified over 98 percent of provincial communities and
brought piped potable water to 90 percent of them. Water
availability is one of the most urgent issues before the
province. The local economy, traditionally based on
agriculture, has been stunted by years of drought. The
province is now exploring the feasibility of bringing water
from the Mansour Eddahabi Dam at Ouarzazate.

4. While Zagora is the most prolific producer of dates in
the Kingdom, the Governor indicated that years of drought
have led the province to increasingly pin its hopes for
economic growth on the tourism sector. The beauty of the
local oases, flanked by the rugged walls of the Draa Valley
and dotted with casbahs (traditional mud fortresses) could
attract many more foreign tourists, he opined. Already, he
estimated, 60,000 tourists per year visit the province. A
number of four- and three-star hotels, along with restaurants
and tour operators, have sprung up in Zagora in the past few
years. The geographic challenge (Zagora is three hours'
drive from Ouarzazate, the nearest international airport)
would be overcome if Regional Airlines, an internal carrier,
follows through on a tentative plan to establish bi-weekly
flight service at Zagora's one runway airstrip which boasts a
small but shiny new terminal inaugurated by King Mohammed VI
in late 2007.

Building Civic Participation

5. The Ambassador visited the village of Bni Zoli and
stopped at the "Bni Zoli Forum for Development and
Communication," a non-governmental organization that
encourages underprivileged youth in the Zagora area to become
more involved in their community. There he met with a group
of local youth who benefited from a series of forum workshops
last year on the Moroccan electoral process, human rights,
religious tolerance, and the political process. The
workshops were made possible in part by a grant from the U.S.
Embassy's Public Affairs Section in Rabat. Also in Bni Zoli,
the Ambassador viewed a brief exhibition soccer match staged
by rival girls' teams. The girl's soccer league, managed by
the forum, aims to build confidence and self esteem in local
teenage girls, funded in part by an Embassy grant. After the
match, the Ambassador and Mrs. Riley distributed new shin
guards and uniforms to the enthusiastic girls.

Girls' Education

RABAT 00000155 002 OF 003

6. In the adjacent village of Tissergate, the Ambassador
visited a girl's home that is part of a network of
dormitories created by local non-governmental organizations
with support from the U.S. Agency for International
Development. Part of the Rural Girls' Scholarship Project
managed by the Girls, Educational Support Committee (CSSF)
and its local NGO partner, the "Women's Association for
Development and Solidarity" (AFDES), the program was
developed to address one of the main impediments to girls'
education in Morocco: the lack of access to middle school
for rural girls whose schools are located far from home.
AFDES manages the home in Tissergate, a traditional
mud-thatched house structure that currently houses 40 girls.
AFDES also manages another girls, home in Bni Zoli. In
addition to lodging and food, the association provides
tuition support to the girls, and often arranges extra
curricular activities during weekends, sometimes along with
the home in Bni Zoli.

Income Generation for the Poorest

7. In Asrir, an economically distressed neighborhood on the
northern fringes of Zagora city, the Ambassador visited the
"Association Salam," a grassroots NGO that aims to better the
living conditions of local women and children. Salam hosts
projects such as literacy classes, courses in carpet-weaving
and other income-generating activities, and training in
animal husbandry, sanitation and health awareness. Also in
Asrir, the Ambassador and Mrs. Riley visited a kindergarten
for local children aged 4 to 6, which frees the children's
mothers to pursue remunerative work. They distributed to
each child a (privately donated) "goody bag" containing
stationary supplies and small toys. (Note: The Association
Salam is currently working on a proposal for a grant from the
USG. End note.)

8. The Governor re-joined the Ambassador for lunch with
selected members of civil society (including local NGO
activists, International Visitor Program alumni, journalists
and teachers) to discuss current challenges and projects in
the province. The Ambassador also observed youth activities
at the Zagora Youth Center, where he was serenaded by a teen
choir. He visited the Youth Center's library and made a
donation of books from PAS, including texts from the Bureau
of Educational and Cultural Affairs' book translation program.


9. In Agadir, the Ambassador and Mrs. Riley, together with
Minister Akennouch, visited a Japanese and Italian-financed
prototype of the 20 fish landing sites that will be financed
through the small-scale fisheries portion of Morocco,s
Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) Compact. The Immessouane
site, adjacent to one of Morocco,s most picturesque beaches,
serves 800 artisanal fishermen operating 200 boats, and has
permitted the fishing cooperative to more than double its
turnover from 4.6 million MAD to 11.2 million MAD. On site,
the Ambassador viewed the varied operations of the
fishermen's cooperative, including a small shop and
restaurant, and motor repair facility. Fishery officials
stressed that the positive experience at Immessouane resulted
not just from the Japanese-provided infrastructure, but from
subsequent Italian engagement with the cooperative,
highlighting the need for sustained engagement to ensure such
a project's success. Local officials added that fisheries
are just one part of an integrated local development plan
that also includes tourism and real estate development.

10. Subsequently, the party visited the project site in
Tifnit for one of the planned MCC-financed landing sites.
The cove currently harbors 450 fishermen operating 169 boats.
MCC will invest USD 3.9 million to construct the landing
site, less than half the cost of the Immessouane facility.
The savings results from discovery that the jetties that
figured in the original landing sites Morocco developed (and
which constituted 70 per cent of the cost of the project)
though providing protection from the seas were actually
counterproductive, and rapidly silted up.


11. The Ambassador's visit to both provinces generated
positive coverage in the national media. Aujord'hui Le

RABAT 00000155 003 OF 003

Maroc, the leading French-language daily published a
comprehensive account of the Ambassador's activities in the
provinces. State TV Channel One, with the highest audience
in Morocco, broadcast an upbeat five minute report on the
Zagora stop featuring footage of the Ambassador distributing
sports equipment to disadvantaged girls, stopping at the
Youth Center, and explaining the USAID grant to support
girls' education. A subsequent report highlighted the
planned development at Tifnit.

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