Morocco’s army service will serve interests of youth

A comprehensive strategy for youth development that integrates military service, national service and educational reform should be a priority.
Sunday 21/10/2018
Young Moroccan soldiers walk on a street in Rabat. (AFP)
Shifting priorities. Young Moroccan soldiers walk on a street in Rabat. (AFP)

To many, Morocco’s proposed law on national conscription is less about enabling young people and more about protecting the country’s power structure.

Morocco has a large, well-trained army that is expensive to maintain. Having thousands of young people rotating in and out on an annual basis may not be the most efficient use of its capabilities. Some warn that giving weapons training to those not committed to a military career may create a security risk, especially if there are few economic prospects for those people when they complete their year of service.

Youth development models in other countries often feature integration between military service and the acquisition of skills that equips young people for securing jobs. There is an array of choices to satisfy the desire to inculcate values and enable post-training employment. It may be in Morocco’s economic, political and security interests to recast the military service programme as a national service one that promotes patriotism and citizenship and teaches participants to learn respect for their fellow citizens, develop marketable skills, acquire team-building and leadership experience that will add meaning to their lives, their families and their communities.

What are Morocco’s options if it wants to develop patriots who are employable citizens? First, the programme must have meaning and relevance. To have good citizens, they must be motivated beyond a simple military salary by sharing a vision of how they can contribute to the advancement of the country.

Start with a well-thought-out strategy with several streams that can be managed effectively by a public-partnership partnership, including NGOs. It requires a vision that is communicated effectively to all Moroccans — young men and women, marginalised teens and school dropouts, unemployed university graduates and civil society.

Assuming that participation is mandatory, the vetting should begin in secondary school or with 18-year-olds who have not finished high school. Morocco has had enough experience with testing trainees to determine their likely assets and how to develop them.

After placement results are measured, students would be encouraged to choose among military service in select specialties, studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics leading to an associate degree or skills training tied to internship programmes. Other aspects could include promoting collaboration between urban and rural constituencies, encouraging participation of young women and blending the talents of university graduates with younger Moroccans.

Participants could be channelled into 1- or 2-year incentivised programmes such as those of the High Atlas Foundation, the Book Caravan or CorpsAfrica that can be extended into other areas utilising the developing talents of youth.

School dropouts can be handled in the same way: testing for skills that do not rely on literacy alone, interviews to determine placement priorities and subsidies in the form of military salaries or work-study grants. There may be many talented young people in the informal sector who could make important benefits to the country if given training and opportunities.

The larger question is leadership development. The first year should be spent training cadres of military and non-military staff participants in leadership, team building, metrics and evaluation, human-resources management, talent retention and promotion and administrative skills — all of which are essential to developing the next generation of Morocco’s leaders.

Moroccan King Mohammed VI said: “We cannot let our education system continue to produce unemployed people, especially in certain branches of study, in which graduates — as everyone knows — find it extremely hard to access the job market.”

The need is far beyond well-designed and -equipped programmes. The critical development of teachers, trainers, managers and specialists at all levels is the key to the success of an integrated national youth service model.

In discussions about this concept, Moroccans are quick to point out that the needs of the military should not be minimised. The military faces a challenge in recruiting, training and retaining young people with critical IT skills such as interpreting satellite imagery and reconnaissance to cybersecurity. These skills do not require a university education but rather a comprehensive programme to develop skills that youth seem to manage with greater ease than others.

This is all doable, practical, sustainable and relevant to the present and future of Morocco. If the government is ready to fund an ill-defined military experience for young people, wouldn’t it be more efficient and effective to take a year to develop a strategy for promoting a future of employable patriots?

If the government is committed to empowering youth with values and skills to become more able and productive citizens, then a comprehensive strategy for youth development that integrates military service, national service and educational reform should be a priority.

It is time to seize the future for Morocco and its youth.