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Cablegate: Ambassador Travels to Morocco's Desert South

VZCZCXRO1444
RR RUEHLMC
DE RUEHRB #2540/01 3541633
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 201633Z DEC 05
FM AMEMBASSY RABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2329
INFO RUEHCL/AMCONSUL CASABLANCA 0991
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORPORATION WASHINGTON DC
RUEHRC/USDA FAS WASHDC 0827

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 RABAT 002540

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EB, NEA/MAG AND NEA/PD
STATE PASS USAID FOR JENNIFER RAGLAND
USDA FOR FAS/FAA RANDY HAGER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EAID EAGR KMCA SENV ASEC PGOV MO
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR TRAVELS TO MOROCCO'S DESERT SOUTH


1. Summary: Ambassador traveled to Morocco's southeastern
province of Errachidia December 6-9 to review USG assistance
programs in the area and explore ways the Government of
Morocco might use Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) funding
to generate income and employment in the overwhelmingly
rural desert region. Ambassador dedicated a USAID education
project, spoke with the local chamber of commerce,
inaugurated a girls' dormitory built with Office of Defense
Cooperation (ODC) humanitarian assistance funds, met with a
think tank, visited a Peace Corps volunteer site and toured
desert and oasis agriculture with Ministry of Agriculture
officials. The trip allowed the Ambassador to explore how
the USG can best promote economic development and reform in
Morocco's desert regions and gave him the opportunity to
discuss with local political and economic leaders their
priorities and expectations of programs like the MCA and the
U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement. Ambassador was deeply
impressed by the existing development efforts of local
leaders and optimistic for the success of MCA assistance to
the area in conjunction with the GOM's National Human
Development Initiative (INDH). MCA assistance in funding
the INDH was mentioned by interlocutors at nearly every
event, indicating the high hopes that Errachidia officials
have in both programs. The visit received wide coverage
from French and Arabic-language press. End Summary.

2. The province of Errachidia covers more than one-tenth of
Moroccan national territory. It is bordered on the north by
the mountains of the High Atlas, and extends south as a vast
dry plateau onto the Sahara desert. Errachidia's 600,000
inhabitants are mostly engaged in small-scale desert
agriculture in and around the region's three desert oases,
which once formed part of a historical caravan trade route
from sub-Saharan Africa to the Mediterranean. Tourism in
the area is centered on the famed sand dunes of Merzouga,
frequently used as a movie set for Hollywood productions.

--------------------------------------------- --------------
REGIONAL LEADERSHIP ON SECURITY AND DEVELOPMENT CHALLLENGES
--------------------------------------------- --------------

3. Ambassador began his trip December 6 with a call on the
Wali (regional governor) of Meknes-Tafilalet, Hassan Aourid.
Aourid, a former Palace spokesman and classmate of King
Mohammed VI, listed water management and human capital
development as two of his top priorities for the region. He
noted the importance of olive oil production but said palm
dates could become even more profitable than olives if
technologies used in Israel and the Emirates could be
adopted and the "archaic" ways of production currently used
in Morocco be abolished.

4. Aourid said tourism could also be profitable, but
lamented what he considered limited transportation options
and "serious security problems." Aourid explained that when
he became Wali the crime rate was very high and pockets of
Salafiya Jihadiya terrorists remained at large. While these
issues have been largely dealt with, he said, security
continues to pose a problem.

5. While Aourid was not surprisingly unfamiliar with the
MCA, he gave his views on the King's Human Development
Initiative (INDH), emphasizing that it is not intended as a
charity program, but rather will be a way to help people to
help themselves. In the Meknes region the INDH will support
olive oil cooperatives and handicrafts. In closing, the
Wali reiterated his request for U.S. assistance on water
management, to include meetings with technical experts on
the issue. The Ambassador explained that the MCA would be
important in this regard as technical experts would work
closely with the regions as they develop their projects.
The Wali thanked the Ambassador for his provision of English-
language scholarships in Meknes and said he'd like to see
the program expanded to other parts of the region.

6. Following his call on the Wali, Ambassador sat down with
Meknes mayor and member of the Islamist Party for Justice
and Development (PJD) Aboubakr Belkora. Belkora was
accompanied by several commune representatives, all
affiliated with the PJD. Ambassador announced that Belkora
had been selected for an International Visitor Leadership
Program (IVLP) and said he hoped that Belkora could
participate in this three-week exchange program. Belkora
said the invitation was an honor for him and his party and
emphasized his desire to have a closer relationship between
the PJD and the Embassy. The PJD strives to be a party of
"good governance and tolerance," he said, and is grateful to

RABAT 00002540 002 OF 003


have the support of others to help it achieve these
objectives.

7. Belkora was also unaware of the MCA, but echoing Aourid,
said his two main priorities are developing agriculture -
particularly water management - and tourism in the Meknes
area. Belkora described his vision for creating a tourist
destination in Meknes based on the concept of Disney World,
and introduced the Ambassador to a group of young Moroccan
professionals who are working with Moroccans in Orlando to
create this "Meknes Disney." The mayor said he had already
been in contact with U.S. officials regarding the
possibility of assistance (NFI) for this project which he
said would go a long way toward alleviating poverty in the
Meknes region.

-----------------------------------------
ASSISTING EDUCATION THROUGH USAID AND ODC
-----------------------------------------

8. In the desert mining town of Rich, Ambassador dedicated
three girls' dormitories built with Office of Defense
Cooperation (ODC) Humanitarian Assistance funds. The
dormitories house girls from far-flung rural villages where
no secondary schools exist. The dorms house 48 girls each,
allowing them to attend school. Ambassador delivered
remarks to an audience of 150 teachers, students and local
officials, and presented plaques to the directors of each of
the three dormitories.

9. On December 7, Ambassador inaugurated a USAID-funded
multimedia lab at Moulay Rachid middle school in Errachidia.
The visit brought out local authorities, members of civil
society and parents to celebrate the inauguration of the
media lab, established with the support of the USAID ALEF
Project. The laboratory comprises ten computers networked
through a local server to the internet and is part of a
larger initiative of USAID to support the Government of
Morocco in its recently launched effort to equip all 8,600
of Morocco's primary and secondary schools nationwide. The
ALEF Project's main contribution is to develop and pilot
materials and strategies to train teachers on information
and communication technologies, to strengthen the quality
and relevance of their instruction. School administration
has crafted a schedule that ensures all 40-plus teachers
bring their students to the lab at least once a week.

--------------------------------------------- ------------
A PROUD BERBER HERITAGE: DISCUSSION WITH THINK TANK TARIK
IBN ZYAD
--------------------------------------------- ------------

10. Ambassador met with members of the Centre Tarik Ibn
Zyad think tank on December 7 to gain insight into the
cultural heritage of the region and explore ways in which
programs like the Government of Morocco's INDH and the MCA
might be most effectively used to the benefit of the region.
The Centre Tarik Ibn Zyad was founded in January 1999 by the
Wali of Meknes-Tafilalet, Hassan Aourid, and receives the
bulk of its funding from the King's Mohammed V Foundation
for Solidarity.

11. Ambassador received presentations on the archeological
and cultural heritage of Errachidia province and learned of
its historical role as the geographical origin of the
Alaouite dynasty. Presentations detailed the center's
involvement in the development of Errachidia province; the
mosaic of peoples and traditions in the region; the historic
role of the medieval city of Sijilmassa as a stop on the
Sahara caravan route between Tangiers and Timbuktu; the
oasis ecosystem; and the status of rural women.


------------------------------
ERRACHIDIA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
------------------------------

12. At a working lunch hosted by Errachidia Chamber of
Commerce president Mohammed Belhassan, Ambassador discussed
the obstacles facing small town business leaders in an
isolated desert region. With virtually no large-scale
industrial production, business in Errachidia consists
almost exclusively of small-scale distribution and tourism
services. In the absence of any manufacturing or
agribusiness, and lacking access to international gateways
due to the region's isolation, Errachidia stands to gain
little from Morocco's free trade agreement with the United

RABAT 00002540 003 OF 003


States. Business owners sought English language training
and links with U.S. chambers of commerce to share expertise
through exchange programs and reciprocal visits.

----------------------
PEACE CORPS SITE VISIT
----------------------

13. Ambassador paid a visit to two Peace Corps volunteers
in the town of Tinjdad, 40 miles west of Errachidia. The
volunteers showed the Ambassador their work in the areas of
small business development and youth development, and
discussed some of the difficulties small artisans have in
marketing and distributing their wares. The Youth
Development volunteer teaches English as an after-school
activity and conducts a Youth Cafe in the evenings which
offers young girls and boys an opportunity to learn more
about America. The Small Business Development volunteer
assists local artisans with marketing and profitability
assessments.

14. The Ambassador also visited a local family's home that
has played host to three previous Peace Corps Volunteers.
The Ambassador's visit to this small and isolated
community became a major event that gave deserved
recognition to both the Volunteers living there and the
community leaders who are supporting and working with them.

--------------------------------------------
OASIS AGRICULTURE: ERRACHIDIA'S SINE QUA NON
--------------------------------------------

15. A desert region, Errachidia would not support any
appreciable population were it not for the three oasis
valleys that run the length of the province. Ministry of
Agriculture officials took the Ambassador through the
largest of these, the Ziz Valley oasis, to demonstrate the
importance of desert agriculture to the region and the
difficulties local producers face due to water scarcity.
Ambassador toured oasis plots of small-scale subsistence
agriculture, consisting mostly of date palms, olives and
alfalfa; saw how water is gathered and distributed through
an ancient system of underground canals called "khettaras,"
and learned how the region faces encroachment of the desert
into production areas. Ambassador discussed how MCA funding
can be most effectively used within the context of the INDH
to generate income and employment for the region.

16. At a wrap-up press conference in the city of Erfoud,
Ambassador detailed for the 12 print and TV journalists
present his impressions of existing development efforts in
the region and how MCA funding can be used to improve
conditions. Press questions focused on the U.S.-Morocco
bilateral relationship and the level of U.S. assistance to
the region of Errachidia, particularly in the fields of
agriculture, health care, job creation, and education.

17. Press and broadcast coverage of the Ambassador's visit
to Errachidia was ample. On December 8, Agence Maghreb
Arabe Presse (MAP) issued a story on the visit which
appeared in several local dailies. In addition, on December
11, Arabic-language daily Al Alam (circulation 55,000)
published an article entitled "The U.S. Envisages Increased
Support for Revenue-Generating Projects in Morocco."
Government-run, French-language television station RTM
(viewership 30 million) aired on its prime time news program
excerpts from the Ambassador's dedication ceremony at the
Rich dormitory for girls, as well as his inauguration of the
USAID-funded multi-media laboratory at the Moulay Rachid
Middle School. The same day, French-language daily Le Matin
published a favorable article under the title, "Ambassador
Riley in Errachidia."

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