The para­dox of the north

The re­gion is home to cos­mopoli­tan Tang­ier and the im­pov­er­ished, cannabis-grow­ing hin­ter­land. Can the gov­ern­ment rec­on­cile and develop both ar­eas?

The Africa Report - - COUNTRY FOCUS - Fahd Iraqi for Je­une Afrique

The Rif has two sides. One, on the west, is sym­bol­ised by its cap­i­tal, Tang­ier. It is a city both mod­ern and steeped in myth. Its past has given it a rich rep­u­ta­tion: in­ter­na­tional, cos­mopoli­tan, in­tel­lec­tual, with the whiff of sul­phur in the air. It has a jet set that is less bling and more arty than its Marrakech coun­ter­part. Writ­ers and jazz mu­si­cians still fan­ta­sise about the Tang­ier of the Beat Gen­er­a­tion. But Tang­ier is now fo­cused on the fu­ture. Af­ter its rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with the palace un­der King Mo­hammed VI, the north­ern metropole has be­come an in­dus­trial lung of the coun­try, sec­ond only to Casablanca. Since 2000, the state has poured big money into the re­gion. Be­tween 2013 and 2017, it in­vested some €660m ($768m) in an ‘in­te­grated, bal­anced and in­clu­sive’ de­vel­op­ment plan. The meta­mor­pho­sis has been im­pres­sive. New in­fra­struc­ture is bring­ing more life to the area. The re­gion now hosts the bustling Tanger Med free trade zone. It is home to the largest car pro­duc­tion line on the con­ti­nent – Re­nault’s – and the largest wind farm. The Tang­ier port has be­come a di­rect ri­val to Spain’s Al­ge­ci­ras, while next door a lux­ury ma­rina hosts the yachts of the elite. A new high-speed rail line is due to be launched in June. It will link Tang­ier to Casablanca, with trains due to make the trip in about two hours and 20 min­utes. Nev­er­the­less, with un­em­ploy­ment in Tang­ier at 11% and mas­sive ar­rivals from

ru­ral ar­eas, the city is strug­gling to profit from this eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity. That is why in­te­rior min­is­ter Ab­de­louafi Laftit has launched a new plan to in­te­grate Tang­ier into its ru­ral hin­ter­land. In re­al­ity, the suc­cess of Tang­ier ob­scures the prob­lems of the wider, im­pov­er­ished re­gion. On the other side of the moun­tain­ous Rif re­gion is the city of Al Ho­ceima. The area around this city of the cen­tral Rif is starved of re­sources. The peo­ple of Al Ho­ceima made their anger about that known in two years of restive protests, known as the ‘Hi­rak’, in 2016 and 2017. The death of a fish seller sparked huge demon­stra­tions, with riot po­lice barely able to main­tain or­der.


Al Ho­ceima’s nearly 400,000 in­hab­i­tants have about 40 schools, just 400 hospi­tal beds and no univer­sity. Un­em­ploy­ment there is ap­proach­ing 22%, and less than two out of three peo­ple in Al Ho­ceima are lit­er­ate. Although the gov­ern­ment launched a de­vel­op­ment plan–known as ‘Light­house of the Mediter­ranean’ – for that part of the re­gion in Oc­to­ber 2015, it has made lit­tle progress. Crit­ics say the 2016 leg­isla­tive elec­tions meant politi­cians did not want to move on the project. What­ever the rea­son, it pro­voked aright royal out­burst when King Mo­hammed VI re­ceived a re­port on the de­lays: he sacked of­fi­cials and promised that the pro­gramme would restart. “De­spite the de­lay, the plan will be fin­ished on sched­ule, that is to say in 2019,” says Mounir El Bouy­oussfi, the di­rec­tor of the Agence pour la Pro­mo­tion et le Développe­ment du Nord. The flex­i­ble nature of the agency – a far cry from the creak­ing bu­reau­cracy that char­ac­terises much of Morocco’s gov­ern­ment – and its healthy bud­get of more than €400m have helped it to catch up some­what. Of the 580 projects in the de­vel­op­ment plan, some 30% are now com­plete. New clin­ics and sports in­stal­la­tions were the first to ar­rive. The gov­ern­ment has in­au­gu­rated a new ma­rina in El Ho­ceima and up­graded ru­ral roads. Con­trac­tors re­built the mar­ket place of the vil­lage of Im­zouren, which had been the site of clashes be­tween lo­cals and se­cu­rity ser­vices. To im­prove gov­er­nance, lo­cal of­fi­cials now have to work with the cour des comptes, the cen­tral ac­count­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion that wrote the ini­tial, damn­ing re­port on the re­gion’s de­vel­op­ment projects.


An ob­sta­cle to eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment is that the cen­tral Rif is cir­cled by moun­tains, with higher lo­gis­tics costs mak­ing it harder to at­tract in­dus­try. Lo­cal busi­nesses await the ar­rival of the D10bn ($1.1bn) Nador West Med port com­plex, which seeks to ri­val Tang­ier when it is fi­nally op­er­a­tional in 2021. It will sit in front of the ma­jor east-west trans­port axes roughly two hours’ drive from Al Ho­ceima. That should stim­u­late the kind of eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity that could be­gin to shift the re­gion away from its de­pen­dence on drug money. But work of a much more pro­found kind also needs to be done: rec­on­cil­ing the re­gion’s peo­ple with its his­tory. The cen­tral Rif first sought in­de­pen­dence from the Span­ish, to much na­tional ac­claim, in the 1920s. It was the vic­tim of chem­i­cal weapon at­tacks in this lib­er­a­tion war, and to this day has the high­est rates of cancer in the coun­try. It then sought in­de­pen­dence from Morocco in the 1950s. That earned it the wrath of King Has­san II. The re­gion was starved of cash and left to its own de­vices – es­sen­tially aban­doned to the gangs who man­age cannabis pro­duc­tion. The gov­ern­ment’s new plan is to in­te­grate the Al Ho­ceima re­gion with its west­ern neigh­bours, Té­touan and Tang­ier. The new Ag e nc e Rég i o nal e d’exé­cu­tion des Pro­jets is in charge of this, with its bud­get of D580m. A greater fo­cus on re­gional de­vel­op­ment is part of the new ter­ri­to­rial ad­min­is­tra­tion plan that King Mo­hammed VI launched in Fe­bru­ary, which re­duced the num­ber of re­gions from 16 down to 12.

Tang­ier now basks in the suc­cess brought by its free trade zone

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