Moroccan Mint Tea, Atlanticism and Accountability

Last weekend I was fortunate to attend the Atlantic Dialogues organized by the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the OCP Foundation in Rabat. The two-day set of meetings, discussions and debates was a useful effort to move away from the traditional and narrow conception of the “Atlantic” as anchored by North America and Europe; and towards a broader analysis of the region to include South America, Africa and- given the global backdrop to the discussions- Asia. From the rise of Brazil, to regional trade, to labor mobility, the issues were wide-ranging- and were underpinned throughout by the core theme of governance and accountability.

One point that seemed to be clear through discussions on youth is that in an inter-connected world in which information flows are seamless and technology ubiquitous, governments must engage in a much more diverse set of activities than even two or three years ago. The state still has a critical role to play, but the closed-door deal-making of the past is dated. “Classic governance is finished” as Mostafa Terrab, head of the OCP Group, pointed out. As the brilliant and tireless Farah Pandith indicated, governments have a new range of tools- from social media, to online networks- with which to generate interactions across the globe and talk directly to citizens in other countries, particularly those from the “i-generation”. At the same time, societies can themselves influence policy outcomes in ways that were previously inconceivable- and this has important implications for accountability. Engagement with and between youth groups, diaspora communities, business networks and civil society organizations now plays a central role in the evolution and implementation of domestic and foreign policy, and can build greater understanding and more coherent links among diverse populations.

Governance of the Atlantic region also needs to be reconceptualized based on new dynamics- we tend to think of supra-national institutions as the logical next step for dealing with globalization- but as a thoughtful panel on the roles of cities made clear, we cannot ignore the role of sub-national institutional structures. In fifty years, over 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas, which presents both huge challenges and opportunities from an accountability perspective. It also generates difficult choices in terms of how best to divide responsibilities between municipal bodies and state authorities- should cities be able to conduct foreign policy, for example? While the idea floated by Graça Maria da Fonseca Caetano Gonçalves of a “United Cities of the World” along the lines of the United Nations may be some way off, we do need to think seriously about how to best ensure the accountability and effectiveness of structures oriented towards an urbanized global citizenry.

Many of the speakers seemed to acknowledge implicitly that consolidating transformations is difficult- whether this is overcoming the euphoria of revolution or bolstering equitable economic growth. It is evident that precipitating change- particularly in the south Atlantic- is the relatively easy part; firming-up this change is much harder. At the same time, the dynamics of reform in the South are challenging traditional actors in the Atlantic- as made clear by a great series of regional panels (Ana Maria Salazar hosted an engaging panel on Latin America that brought out the leading- and sometimes competing- roles of Mexico and Brazil; Zohra Dawood from the Open Society Foundations was eloquent on Africa’s rising prominence). With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the countries of Eastern Europe saw democratization, liberalization and freedom as synonymous. Today, countries that are passing through transitions- in Africa and Latin America for example- see freedom as the ability to choose their own future path, which is not necessarily the Western route. For Europe and North America, understanding this dynamic is central to the configuration of effective governance arrangements and responses to challenges in the Atlantic.

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Making power-holders accountable in the developing world

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