Sunday, December 17, 2017
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Analysts say alleged slave trade in Libya may lead to int’l intervention

Recent CNN report about markets of African migrant slave has drown regional and international criticism, which might eventually lead to the international community intervening in Libya to protect the rights of stranded migrants.

“The migration of Africans through Libya cannot be eradicated. It can only be managed and its negative effects can be treated,” Col. Zayed Arhoumah, a former associate of the Libyan anti-illegal immigration department.

European and African leaders decided to make “emergency deportations from Libya” for migrants, who are victims of human trafficking, to their countries of origin.

Arhoumah said the Europeans opposed a plan to forcibly deport migrants from Libya. “They even demanded Libya not to forcibly deport migrants,” pointing out a “great contradiction” that the actual process showed deportation of migrants “forcibly, not voluntarily.”

“The international community is completely untrue in its intentions,” he said.

According to the plan announced by French President Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of the Euro-African summit in Abidjan in November, work will also be on dismantling smuggling networks and freezing bank accounts of smugglers, provided that the African Union will set up a committee to investigate allegations of migrants slave markets in Libya.

The plan adopted by France did not specify the timing and mechanisms for the evacuation.

Ayob Qassem, spokesman of the Libyan navy, said the French plan was suspicious and might lead to military intervention under the pretext of protecting migrants.

“We are afraid of any international action or intervention, even if limited. France was supposed to support international organizations to deport them, protect Libya’s southern borders, and close borders of Libya’s neighboring countries such as Chad and Niger, especially with its military presence in these countries,” Qassem said.

“Any international initiatives that do not pressure Libya’s neighboring countries, which are the basis of immigration to us, should be rejected. Frankly, France has a suspicious role in Africa, especially as immigrants depart publicly from Chad and Niger, where it has the necessary military force to stop their flow to us,” Qassem added.

France has tried to reduce fears of military action in Libya, but stressed that an African force should carry out the task of deporting migrants.

“There will be no French military intervention,” French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said in a press statement last week, stressing the importance of an African military force capable of intervening, for which France and the European Union would provide intelligence and technical support.

“Libya is in a state of chaos, and there is a responsibility,” Griveaux said. “Today, people are dying. These initiatives should have been taken in European context.”

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, confirmed that there was no military branch of the working group formed on the sidelines of the Euro-African summit on Libya. She pointed out that the group’s mission was only to carry out rapid evacuations of a large number of migrants abused in Libya.

Fears still exist despite the European Union’s words, as Libya worries that the French president’s plan to deport migrants might escalate to a military intervention.

Jalal Al-Fituri, a law professor in Libya, said any process of deporting migrants from Libya will face “logistical and military challenges, which should not be overlooked at all.”

“The French plan is very complex. Practically, no part of it can be implemented, because Europe will face a significant challenge on what forces would implement the plan within the politically divided Libya,” Al-Fituri said.

“In best case scenario, no Libyan force will be able to confront smuggling networks that have more weapons than an entire army. Therefore, Europe and France in particular will consider sending special units to facilitate access to immigration detention centers outside the control of authorities,” Al-Fituri explained.

Khalid Turjuman, chairman of the Libyan National Action Group, questioned the France’s intentions and abilities to implement such a plan, describing it as a “maneuver between European parties.”

France has a foothold in southern Libya, and any movement there is predictable and not excluded, Turjuman said.

He described the French desire to move in Libya as an “attempt to take advantage of the political stalemate and to place Paris in as important figure in Europe.”

“I wonder how a migrant from Africa can afford their risky trip, which costs about 3,000 U.S. dollars,” Turjuman asked, saying that this amount can already earn them a decent life in their countries of origins.

“Who enabled smuggling gangs to fund their activities in Libya, to finance their operations in favor of foreign intelligence, after the gangs’ sources of their funding from the treasury of the Libyan state was cut?” he said.

CNN published a report recently of auctions in different parts of Libya, where stranded African migrants were sold as slaves for as little as 400 U.S. dollars.

The alleged slave trade in Libya was condemned regionally and internationally. International organizations expressed concern for the violations against migrants in Libya.

Turjuman said the solution to illegal migration is to “support the Libyan army to eliminate, or at least limit the flow of illegal immigration.”

Arhoumah believes that solutions are possible, beginning with a solid security initiative and plan, and unification of anti-illegal immigration agencies in the east and west of Libya, in order unite all possibilities available to help deport migrants.

“Between 1992 and 1994, we were repatriating migrants to Algeria via Ghadames border. We did not allow them to come back. They were quickly brought from the country they entered from as soon as they arrived in Libyan territory. Therefore, control over our southern borders must be strengthened. As long as our doors are open to immigrants, they will not stop coming,” Arhoumah said.

Nevertheless, it is viewed that regardless of the type and form of international intervention in Libya to resolve the crisis of stranded migrants, the way to carry out any humanitarian or military action will face great challenges, as Libya is politically divided.

Court awards DR Congo ex-child soldiers $10m in damages

International war crimes judges on Friday awarded $10 million in landmark reparations to hundreds of former child soldiers left brutalised and stigmatised after being conscripted into a ruthless Congolese militia.

Warlord Thomas Lubanga, 56, was jailed for 14 years after being convicted in 2012 by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of abducting boys and girls and press-ganging them into his Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) in the eastern Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The judges said Friday that Lubanga, who is serving his sentence in a Congolese prison, was also liable for compensation to 425 victims, identified by the court. At the time of the crimes in 2002-2003, all were under 15.

They stressed, though, that it was difficult to determine the exact number of child soldiers drawn into Lubanga’s militia — many of whom were exploited as bodyguards or sex slaves — saying there were “hundreds or even thousands of additional victims”.

Each of the 425 named victims had suffered harm amounting to $8,000, giving a total of $3.4 million, presiding judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut said.

But in a surprise move, the judges then awarded a further $6.6 million to help any others who may now come forward.

The award is collective, and will be used in projects to help victims rebuild their lives and integrate back into society.

Lost childhoods

Local rights groups welcomed the award, saying it was a relief for victims, many of whom are now in their 30s with children of their own.

“What is important to us, is not the amount attached to this award… the main thing is that it has been recognised that there are victims in this case,” said Xavier Maki from the Justice Plus group.

The award, equivalent to 8.5 million euros, will be administered by the independent Trust Fund for Victims, which has already drawn up a three-year project to help Lubanga’s victims, and set aside a million euros for the case.

Fund director Pieter de Baan told AFP the $10 million award was a victory for the victims.

“It is really important that this is an acknowledgement that if harm is suffered on a mass scale by victims, you need to take it seriously, you need to recognise that and you need to put an amount to it,” he said.

But the fund, which is solely supported by donations from ICC member states, said it would be “challenging” to come up with the money, after the court also declared Lubanga penniless.

“We don’t have 10 million dollars. We didn’t know what was coming, we had no idea. We have in our reserves 5.5 million euros,” he said, adding he would be appealing for more funds from ICC member-states.

The fund will assess the needs of each victim, and provide medical and psychological treatment. Other forms of help will include educational and vocational training.

The nongovernmental organisation Child Soldiers International, which works to stop children being used in conflicts, welcomed Friday’s award as the “recognition of the great suffering experienced by the children exploited and abused” by Lubanga.

Child soldiers still used

They hoped it would “act as a catalyst in showing that those who recruit and exploit children in conflict will be held accountable for their crimes,” said programme manager Sandra Olsson.

Ituri remains “a highly militarised province” and the use of child recruits remains prevalent, she warned, urging the authorities and international bodies “to ramp up” efforts to free children and prosecute abusers.

Lubanga can appeal the decision, and his lawyers have argued he should not pay anything.

“Who are these victims that the court is going to compensate?” asked Pele Kaswara Tahigomu, a leading member of Lubanga’s party in Bunia, adding the ruling was “just another move against” Lubanga.

Lubanga’s is the ICC’s third reparations award. In March, judges awarded $250 each to 297 victims of another Congolese warlord, Germain Katanga.

And in August, the court ruled a Malian jihadist caused 2.7 million euros in damage when he destroyed several Timbuktu shrines in 2012.

Dlamini-Zuma, Ramaphosa in tight race for ruling ANC leadership

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) holds an election this weekend – seen as too close to call – to replace Jacob Zuma as party leader, with the winner also likely to become the next president.

The ANC will announce current president Zuma’s successor as party leader on Sunday, concluding a bruising leadership battle that threatens to split the 105 year-old liberation movement, which has been in power since 1994. Zuma’s term as head of state runs out in 2019.

The race has been dominated by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, 65, generally favored by financial markets, and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, 68, a former cabinet minister and chairwoman of the African Union Commission.

South Africa’s rand firmed 2 percent after courts ruled senior officials in two provinces seen as supporting Dlamini-Zuma had been illegally elected and could not attend the conference.

“Early signs of a win for Cyril Ramaphosa, the more investor-friendly option, have provided support for the rand,” John Ashbourne, Africa economist at Capital Economics, said.

“But while Mr. Ramaphosa is popular among party members, the result will be decided by political insiders, who may opt for his leftist opponent, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.”

Ramaphosa won a majority of the nominations to become leader of the party, but delegates at the Dec. 16-20 conference in Johannesburg are not bound to vote for the candidate their ANC branch nominated, meaning it is unclear if he will actually win.

Ramaphosa has recently stepped up his criticism of Zuma’s scandal-plagued government, while Dlamini-Zuma has said her priority is to improve the prospects for the black majority.

To his supporters, Ramaphosa’s business success makes him well-suited to the task of turning around an economy grappling with 28 percent unemployment and credit rating downgrades.

In contrast, Dlamini-Zuma is seen as a fierce campaigner against racial inequality whose hostility to big business has rattled investors in South Africa.

“The outcome is difficult to predict. This creates considerable uncertainty that is reflected in significantly increased volatility for the rand,” Elisabeth Andreae, analyst at Commerzbank, said in a note.

Growth in Africa’s most industrialized economy has been lackluster for the last six years, and the jobless rate is near record levels. Analysts say the ANC leadership battle has made it hard to reform the economy and improve social services.

Zuma Scandals

The election of a successor to Zuma is perhaps the most pivotal moment for the ANC since it took over the leadership of South Africa after apartheid ended. Zuma’s presidency, tainted by scandal and allegations of corruption, has badly tarnished the ANC’s image both at home and abroad.

In a move likely to please the party’s rank and file, Zuma announced hours before the conference kicked off that South Africa would raise subsidies to universities to 1 percent of GDP over the next five years from nearly 0.7 percent at present.

Speaking at a breakfast of businessmen and politicians at the venue of the ANC conference, Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba said South Africa’s government would take “necessary tough decisions” to stabilize public debt and grow the economy.

On Friday evening, Zuma cracked jokes at an ANC dinner and said leading the party had “been a worthwhile experience”, while adding he looked forward to stepping down. He is expected to make a formal speech to launch the conference.

The 75-year-old has denied numerous corruption allegations since taking office in 2009 and has survived several no-confidence votes in parliament.

Zuma has faced allegations of undue influence in making cabinet appointments and awarding state tenders to his friends, the Gupta family. Zuma and the Guptas have denied any wrongdoing.

“People can’t wait to see his back,” political analyst Prince Mashele said in a newspaper opinion piece.

Mugabe in Singapore for medical check up

Zimbabwe’s former president Robert Mugabe, who was ousted from power last month, visited a Singapore hospital Friday during a trip to the city-state for a medical check-up.

It was the first time he has been seen in public since he was forced to resign after a military takeover brought a sudden end to his authoritarian 37-year reign.

The 93-year-old was seen leaving a lift in Gleneagles Hospital in downtown Singapore around midday (0400 GMT), wearing a white shirt and black trousers, and accompanied by eight people, AFP journalists said.

He walked quickly out of the building before he and his party were driven off in two cars.

Two hospital employees, speaking anonymously as they were not authorised to talk to the media, confirmed to AFP that Mugabe had visited. A spokeswoman for Gleneagles declined to comment, citing patient confidentiality.

His ex-spokesman, George Charamba, said Thursday that Mugabe was visiting Singapore for a medical check-up as “part of his package as a retired president to travel overseas”, adding the new government was keen to show him respect.

The military stepped in on November 14 and ushered President Emmerson Mnangagwa into office after a power struggle with supporters of Mugabe’s wife Grace, 52, who had emerged as his chosen successor.

He has been in increasingly frail health and has reportedly battled prostate cancer.

In recent years he has made several trips to Singapore, a popular medical tourism destination, for undisclosed medical reasons.

Mnangagwa was formerly one of Mugabe’s closest allies, and the ruling ZANU-PF party remains in control.

Mugabe will miss the party’s annual conference in Harare on Friday when Mnangagwa is expected to be confirmed as its candidate for elections next year.

South Africa’s ANC to announce party leader on Sunday

South African president Jacob Zuma with one of the frontrunners Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) will announce current president Jacob Zuma’s successor as party leader on Sunday as it looks to conclude a bruising leadership battle and focus on policy, a party spokesman told radio station 702 on Friday.

“On Sunday morning as we arrive we should be able to make an announcement of the top six and take nomination of the rest of the leadership. We need to take out this item from the conference agenda as quickly as possible,” party spokesman Zizi Kodwa said.

The ANC holds an election this weekend to replace Zuma as party leader in a closely fought contest whose winner is likely to emerge as the nation’s next president.

The front runners are Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, a former trade union leader and one of South Africa’s richest people, and Zuma’s preferred candidate, his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a former minister and chairwoman of the African Union Commission.

The top six lead the party’s national executive committee which sets the tone for policy and the appointment of members of parliament.

The structure includes the president, deputy and key positions of secretary general and treasurer.

In the last 18 months, the executive has been the scene of fierce factional battles as Zuma’s leadership came under scrutiny, particularly after the most recent cabinet reshuffle in March that saw Pravin Gordhan fired as finance minister.

In August, Zuma narrowly survived an umpteenth attempt in parliament to force him from office after some members of his party voted with the opposition.

Libya’s Bani Walid offers rare ‘Safe House’ for migrants

For migrants who escape torture and starvation at the hands of people traffickers, a “Safe House” in an oasis town offers a rare commodity in Libya: shelter and medical care.

Bani Walid, on the edge of the desert 170 kilometres (110 miles) southeast of the capital Tripoli, is a transit point on the way to the coast and perilous boat journeys across the Mediterranean to Europe.

With the old green flags of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime fluttering in the wind, time appears to have stood still in what was one of its last bastions before he was toppled and slain in the 2011 revolution.

The basic housing consists of rooms made of concrete bricks built around a central courtyard in the industrial zone of Bani Walid, a town outside the control of Libya’s UN-backed government in Tripoli.

Amara, a 30-year-old from Mali, is one of the lucky ones.

“There were three of us… ,” he said, hesitating to hold back the tears before telling of how the other two died of starvation in one of the jails run by trafficking gangs extorting money from desperate migrants.

“We told them we had no money to pay, so they only gave us food one day out of two,” said the Malian with a gaunt face behind a full beard.

Seated on a breeze-block, Amara was unable to stand up on legs that bore the scars of eight months of being locked up and tortured.

One of his guards, having given up hope of any ransom being paid and taking pity on Amara, decided to let him go before he ended up the same way as his two companions.

According to a local official, Bani Walid numbers around 20 illegal detention centres or gathering points of migrants.

– ‘They beat me morning and night’ –

A 28-year-old Nigerian, named Lucky Monday, received treatment from the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) which makes weekly visits to the shelter appropriately named Safe House.

“I was planning to go to Europe so that I can live a better life, but unfortunately in this country… they can take your life at any moment,” he said.

Lucky was kidnapped by a militia who demanded $2,000 to let him go.

“They beat me and destroyed my hand. They beat me morning and night,” said the Nigerian with his hand in plaster, whose ordeal lasted three months.

He finally came up with the money after asking his family back home to sell a small plot of land he owned and transferring the funds.

Behind him was a fellow resident with tuberculosis who was spitting blood into a plastic bottle.

“Rasta, that man needs to be isolated, away from the others, until a doctor comes to examine him,” said Salah Ghummaidh of a local activists group that runs the refuge housing around 400 migrants.

Rasta Moraba, a 32-year-old from the Ivory Coast, is a founder of the Safe House.

Having arrived in Libya two years ago to work, Rasta came across many migrants robbed of their possessions and left without shelter in the wild by kidnappers.

“I decided I had to do something… and I started to organise things here,” with help from local residents, said Rasta.

“I’ve seen a lot of things here. I’ve seen people die. They come here very sick” from torture and abuse.

– Cemetery in lunar landscape –

Apart from running the Safe House, the “Association for Peace in Bani Walid” has set aside a two-hectare (five-acre) plot for a cemetery to bury migrants’ corpses.

Between 30 and 40 are found in the area every month, said its chairman, Hatem Atawaijir.

“Most have died of hunger, but some of them carry signs of torture,” he said.

The cemetery is set in a lunar landscape, an arid plot dotted with black volcanic rocks at the end of a stony track some 15 kilometres out of Bani Walid.

Diggers have carved out one-metre-wide (one-yard-wide) trenches, ready for the next anonymous victims to add to the 400 already buried.

On a visit to the grim scene, Atawaijir could not control his anger over what he termed the indifference of Libyan authorities and the international community.

“Their only concern is to prevent migrants reaching their side of the Mediterranean!” he fumed.

EU leaders bicker in Brussels over refugees crisis

Two years after the Mediterranean migrant crisis blew a hole in the European Union, a tentative effort to patch up differences over what to do with refugees underlined continuing rifts among the bloc’s leaders.

A free-wheeling discussion over a Brussels summit dinner that began on Thursday night and spilled into the wee hours of Friday was intended to clear the air and see if there was a way to reconcile opposing views on how to reform defunct asylum rules.

But leaders emerging from nearly three hours of talks made clear that while there was little of the angry passion of 2015, when a million people flooded into Greece and headed for Germany, the “frank and sober” discussion failed to blunt sharp rifts pitting some eastern states against many of the rest.

“We have a lot of work to do,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters. “The positions have not changed.”

Divisions over how to share out relatively small numbers of refugees have poisoned relations in the EU, complicating efforts to present a united front in talks with London on Brexit and to agree an EU budget out to 2028.

New Polish and Czech leaders stuck to lines shared with Hungary and Slovakia that their ex-communist societies cannot accept significant immigration, especially of Muslims.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis called the debate “quite stormy” and told reporters that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had been “quite aggressive.” But, he said, the eastern allies would not let the majority impose obligatory refugee quotas on them.

Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni were among those who demanded that all countries take in a mandatory share of people requiring asylum, who have been concentrated on the Mediterranean coast, or after chaotic movements across Europe, in the richer northwest of the bloc.

German officials said Merkel has been critical of the summit chair, Donald Tusk, a former Polish premier, who in an letter to leaders earlier in the week, said that a controversial scheme of the European Commission – the EU’s executive arm – to relocate refugees around the bloc according to mandatory quotas had failed.

That echoed the complaints of the eastern sceptics but it irritated many western states and the European Commission itself.

Merkel said there was a broad appreciation for work on bolstering the bloc’s common borders, which has sharply reduced the number of people arriving, notably through deals with Turkey and Balkan states to close off the migrant route through Greece.

“I made very clear that I am not satisfied with the fact that the rules we have are not working,” she said. “Solidarity cannot just apply externally, but must also be internal.”

One EU official, anxious to accentuate the positive in the discussions, said Tusk had succeeded in having an honest and open debate on the most contentious issues that would help EU leaders see where there was room for compromise.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he would not rule out ramming through mandatory relocation quotas by majority vote next year, something Tusk has been trying to avoid to prevent a repeat of the bitter rift a similar vote caused in 2015.

A diplomat from a country in favour of compulsory quotas said there could be a move to vote if there was no consensus in sight by the time leaders discuss asylum reform in June.

Gentiloni, preparing for an election in March, insisted that such mandatory relocation was vital and should be expanded. The leaders of Luxembourg and Belgium, among others, echoed his comments.

Nigerian pleads guilty in New York to taking part in global email scams

A Nigerian man was sentenced to three years and five months in prison by a U.S. judge on Thursday after he pleaded guilty to taking part in email scams to defraud thousands of victims around the world of millions of dollars, U.S. prosecutors said.

David Chukwuneke Adindu, 30, was sentenced U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty in Manhattan, according to an announcement from Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim in Manhattan.

Prosecutors said in a court filing Tuesday that Adindu tricked victims into wiring more than $25 million into bank accounts he opened in China, where they said the funds would be difficult for victims in the United States to recover.

Gary Conroy, a lawyer for Adindu, said Adindu’s role consisted mostly of setting up bank accounts in China and Hong Kong. He noted that the sentence was substantially less than the 97 to 121 months called for by federal guidelines.

“I think the judge accurately assessed his relatively minor role in this conspiracy,” Conroy said.

Adindu defrauded his victims by impersonating executives or vendors of companies, prosecutors said, directing employees of those companies to make large wire transfers. Such scams are known as “business email compromise.”

Prosecutors said in Tuesday’s court submission that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has found that business email compromise scammers often use Chinese bank accounts.

Adindu was arrested at a Houston airport last year. Prosecutors said in an indictment that Adindu, who during the period in question resided in both Guangzhou, China, and Lagos, Nigeria, worked with others to carry out business email compromise scams from 2014 to 2016.

Prosecutors said the scammers’ targets included an unnamed New York investment firm, where an employee received an email claiming in June 2015 to be from an investment adviser at another firm asking for a $25,200 wire transfer.

The employee later learned the email was not actually sent by that adviser and as a result did not comply with a second wire transfer request for $75,100, according to the indictment.

Zimbabwean’s Mnangagwa vows crackdown on corruption

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Thursday vowed a crackdown on corruption as he warned that he will name and shame all those who externalised funds if they fail to return them.

Mnangagwa issued a three-month window which expires at the end of February 2018 for all people who shipped money out to bring it back without any questions being asked or face arrest.

Addressing his first ruling ZANU-PF central committee meeting since taking over from former president Robert Mugabe three weeks ago, Mnangagwa said the nation needs to get rid of corruption and create jobs for the people.

“I have a list of the people who took money out. So in March when the three-month grace period expires, those who would not have heeded my call, I will name and shame them,” Mnangagwa said.

He said the ruling party needs re-orientation so that it does not only focus on politics but on the economy as well.

“We will not be able to accomplish much for as long as the sense of party work remains in the old template of looking at politics and politics alone. No more – we want politics and the economy. The best politics comes from the market place where livelihoods are made,” he said.

He said his administration was wasting no time in implementing measures to attract foreign direct investment and ensure Zimbabwe becomes a safe haven for foreign capital.

Among the measures is the scrapping last week of the indigenization law limiting foreign shareholding to 49 percent. The requirement now only applies to two minerals – platinum and diamond.

While appreciating the support his new administration had received from regional and international countries, the president reiterated his call for the removal of Western sanctions on Zimbabwe.

He said the sanctions had crippled national development. His comments came a day after the United States said it would maintain sanctions on Zimbabwe until the new administration commits to implementing political reforms.

This was after some members of Zimbabwe opposition and civil society appeared before the U.S. Senate foreign relations committee this week where they allegedly urged the Western country to maintain sanctions on Zimbabwe.

Mnangagwa reiterated that his administration will work to ensure next year’s polls are credible, free and fair.

In a move to quell jostling for posts by senior party members which may spring new divisions within the party, Mnangagwa extended the tenure of the current central committee by another five years until 2022 when the next elective congress is due.

He has also maintained the same politburo until the end of its term in 2019.

Morocco’s Casablanca gets over $200m loan to improve urban management

The World Bank has approved a loan of 172 million Euros (202.6 million U.S. dollars) to improve the urban management of Morocco’s largest city of Casablanca, local media reported Thursday.

The loan will help fund the Greater Casablanca Development Plan 2015-2020, which aims to boost the city’s economic attractiveness and competitiveness, the financial news website reported.

The objective of the World Bank’s support is to increase the city’s investment capacity by improving Casablanca’s revenue management systems, and attracting private investment in urban infrastructure and services through public-private partnerships.

The program will also support reforms aiming to promote an environment conducive to business development by automating business procedures, increasing administrative transparency and reducing delays to obtain authorizations such as building permits and business licenses.

Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly, World Bank’s country director for the Maghreb and Malta, Middle East and North Africa, hailed Casablanca’s ambition “to enhance its role as the main driver of the country’s economy.”

With the regionalization agenda, Casablanca will prioritize its efforts to respond to citizens’ demands for more efficient urban services, Marie-Nelly said.

“Strengthening the municipality, both financially and institutionally, and helping it reduce intra-city disparities are key to allow it to fulfill its service provision mandate while being accountable to the city dwellers,” she added.

Boasting around 12 percent of Morocco’s total population and contributing 20 percent of the national GDP, Casablanca is faced with mounting urban management challenges.