The modern offices are flooded with light; some figures in face masks face the empty space, which is embraced by total silence. The air conditioning system is producing fresh air, indicating that the Policy Center for the New South continued to work in the shadow of the pandemic.
Some researchers and analysts worked from home, others left large spaces between their desks, lost in thought and reflection, not even tempted to look out of the windows for orange trees, which spread their color and bouquet through the streets around Hay Riad, an elegant quarter of Rabat. The intensity of the pre-pandemic earthly paradise was replaced by tranquility, with no cell phones ringing, just a movement of computer keys or the sound of unwanted paper thrown into a waste basket.
The respected Atlantic Dialogues, which the over years have brought together the elite of world leaders and thinkers (invited by the PCNS), to debate world affairs in the elegant Mamounia Palace Hotel in Marrakech, was temporarily replaced by webinars, virtual conferences with audience participation, and other soulless digital meetings, Zoom conferences, podcasts, and essential global contacts assured by an ever growing virtual communication world.
No intellectual exchange accompanied by a stimulating espresso poolside at the Mamounia, or a mint tea in the manicured garden of the Royal Mansour. Affinity, empathy, and the feeling of compassion, were all choked by an invisible virus, which (as of November 1, 2021) had killed 5 016 880 people worldwide (worldomers.info).
Cyberspace connected the trembling world, every so often driven to despair by the predictions of virologists and epidemiologists. Their scientific colleagues, desperately searching for salvation in their laboratories, were condemned as villains when their vaccine designs failed, or lauded when, finally, in December 2020 the first dose of a fully tested vaccine (Pfizer/BionTech) was administered in the United Kingdom. Six billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines later, the world is slowly returning to normality. Hugs are allowed, planes are flying,(although countries like Germany, Netherlands and the UK have temporarily been cut off from Morocco) and the Policy Center for the New South, which during the worst phase of the pandemic (14,668 deaths in Morocco, as of October 30, 2021) never ceased to propose its papers to governments, universities and colleagues around the world, is intensifying its global presence.
In early October, Karim El Aynaoui, Policy Center for the New South Executive President, was digitally present at the T-20 Summit in Milan, Italy, selected as one of the speakers in a panel discussion on the subject of ‘Poverty and Inequalities: turning the tide’. The Think 20 Summit brought together policymakers and experts from all over the world, including United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres and World Health Organization leader Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, to discuss global challenges at the heart of the G20: health and vaccines, the climate emergency and sustainable growth, international finance, trade and investment, digitalization, poverty and equality. On October 7, PCNS’s Senior Economist, Rim Berahab, chaired a virtual roundtable, titled ‘From crisis to opportunity: the cornerstones of a viable Mediterranean strategy for sustainable economic recovery and prosperity’. The conference was cohosted by the NATO Maritime Command.
The Great Green Wall
In recent weeks the PCNS, one of the most respected think tanks in Africa, has published policy briefs and policy papers on “Climate Change and Ecological Pan Africanism”, “Covid -19 and Digital Repression in Africa”( October, 2021), “The Maghreb’s Outlook towards the Sahel—an analysis of Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania standpoints” (October 2021), and ‘Risk mitigation tools to crowd in private investment in green technology’ (September 2021). In their “Green technology ”paper the authors concluded: “At the time the report was issued the energy sector needed around $30 billion in investments per year, in order to match a projected six-fold increase in energy demand by 2040”. In other words: “There is an urgent need to find new mechanisms to enhance the participation of the private sector in financing sustainable, climate -resilient infrastructure on the African continent, combined with the participation of the public sector”.
The policy brief ‘A regional connectivity partnership in the Mediterranean’ (September 2021) stated: “Investments of at least USD 100 billion annually to 2030 (7% of GDP) are required to maintain existing and create new infrastructure in the MENA region (World Bank 2020). The MENA region needs to invest over 7% of its GDP in the next five to ten years in order to fill the current infrastructure gap”.
In his paper ‘Climate Change and ecological Pan-Africanism’, Hisham Aidi evokes the spirit of Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary leader of Burkina Faso (Brian Peterson, “Thomas Sankara: A Revolutionary in Cold War Africa”, Indiana University Press, 2021), who in the mid-1980’s was “one of the first heads of state to warn of the dangers of climate change and to call for a coordinated cross border African response” In 2007, the African Union, along with international partners, raised eight billion dollars (of an estimated $14 billion) for the construction of an 8000 kilometer Great Green Wall, which will cut across 21 states to contain the desertification process.
This Green Wall, writes Hisham Aidi, who teaches at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, “aims to restore the degraded landscapes of the Sahel, by planting trees and bushes, which will hold an estimated 275 million tons of carbon”. For “the first time in decades” African leaders have revived Sankara’s dreams of a Great Green Wall, yet, the question remains, who is to finance all these urgently needed projects?
The authors of the green technologies report, among them Karim El Aynaoui and Senior OECD economist Raffaele Della Croce, pointed to one African nation excelling in “recent advances in modernizing its infrastructure—Morocco”. “This country offers an interesting perspective on how other African countries can rely on the public sector with the participation of the private sector in building sustainable green infrastructure, capitalizing on the strong involvement of the government and state-owned enterprises, in special public-private partnership schemes.”The challenges for Africa seem almost unimaginable, colossal, or to remain in the spirit of the continent, elephantine. Africa counted 1.34 billion inhabitants in 2020; by 2050 the population will be 2.5 billion and will nearly match the Asian population by 2100 (Statista, August 10, 2021), figures which hide staggering problems, beyond food insecurity, unemployment, and epidemics.
Hisham Aidi noted that, “By some accounts, the Middle East and parts of North Africa are warming at twice the global average. Greenhouse gas emissions have tripled in the Middle East in the last thirty years, all of which could make cities unlivable, spurring migration and exacerbating ethnic conflict”. And: “Climate change is a ‘threat multiplier’ in various parts of the Middle East and Africa”. In their Policy Paper (October 2021), ‘The Maghreb’s outlook towards the Sahel’, Noamane Charkaoui and Youssef Tobi confirmed the pessimistic and realistic notes of their colleague, describing the present day agony of Morocco’s neighboring regions: “The Sahel currently suffers from a crisis that is systematic in nature, with aspects like separatist groups, an incessant arms flow, food insecurity, and vulnerable economies merging to produce a complex amalgam for policymakers to address. A paradox exists at the heart of the Sahelian crisis”, noted the authors, “which is that in terms of natural resources it is one of the richest regions in the world, but in term of governance it is one of the poorest. To illustrate this paradox and the complexity of the crisis at hand, Mali, the fourth largest gold producer in Africa, is a country central to the geopolitics of the Sahel”.
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