Over the last decades, changes in the international Community have resulted in the emergence of new players on the world scene. Subsidiary governmental entities (local Authorities and local governments, cities, etc.) and non-governmental entities (Non-Governmental Organizations, the private sector, etc) are increasingly competing with the national central governments, previously considered as unique and privileged players with regard to internal affairs management.


Because of this, contemporary international relations are no longer limited to the States. Hence, the supremacy of decentralized cooperation, which henceforth allocates a key part to the new players on the international level in issues such as development and cooperation, or international peace and security. In this regard, two levels of international relations need to be differentiated: the "high Diplomacy" that focuses on major political and economic issues, as well as on other traditional diplomatic affairs, reserved for central governments, and the "low diplomacy" that is part of the local Authorities' competence. It aims to develop international cooperation bonds in different fields (economy, technology, environment, etc.).


On the other hand, the extension of the local Authorities' action to the international range was accompanied by an evolution on the juridical level, the goal being to enable the jurists to supervise the international activities of these bodies. This way we have witnessed the birth of a new field of international Law: the "International Local Government Law". Besides, during the last two decades, several events have emphasised the international recognition of local Authorities. They may be summarized as follows:


The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio De Janeiro in 1992.

The second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), held in Istanbul in 1996.

The project of the World Charter of Local Self-Government, prepared by the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements in 1998.

The United Nations Advisory Committee of Local Authorities, established in 2000.

The Millennium Declaration, adopted by the Heads of States at the United Nations Summit in New York, from 6th to 8th September 2000.

The "United Cities and Local Governments" Organization, founded in 2004.

All these Conferences, Declarations or Institutions have reinforced the importance of the local Authorities as new players. They have also focused on the necessity to associate these players to the global projects of development and cooperation. These entities might in fact have a positive impact considering their dynamism and the material and human means they possess. In this regard, the "Moroccan Initiative for the Negotiating an Autonomy Statute for the Sahara Region" has proven to adapt to the new requirements of this evolution. In fact, Point 15 of the Initiative states that"(...) the Sahara autonomous Region may (...) establish cooperation relations with foreign Regions to foster inter-regional dialogue and cooperation". However, the projects of decentralized cooperation that shall be undertaken by the Sahara Region must result from coordination and conformity with the overall frame of Moroccan diplomacy. In this respect, any activity cannot take place without consulting the central government, as stipulated by Point 15 of the Initiative. This may be explained by the fact that local Authorities enjoy neither an international juridical personality nor a proper statute of their own. International Law considers them as bodies under the authority of the Nation-State. Who would be the partners of the Sahara Region with regard to decentralized Cooperation, and what will be its fields of action?


I.   Partners of the sahara region with regard to decentralized cooperation


Decentralized cooperation comprises all types of cooperation between different subsidiary players in order to achieve joint goals. According to the United Nations Development Programme, the 21st century will be dominated by partnerships between local governments, civil Society organizations and the private sector.


A.  Local governments and the main international cities


Cooperation between the Sahara Region and the rest of the local Authorities around the world can be demonstrated in two forms: bilateral through concluding bilateral partnerships, twinning, or friendship Agreements, and multilateral in the form of international networks, commissions and seminars gathering local Authorities from all over the world.


1.  The process of decentralized bilateral cooperation


In view of the importance of the geographical and cultural elements in decentralized Cooperation, the autonomous Regions and the local Authorities that are geographically and culturally close to Morocco are potential partners of the Sahara Region. Basically, the subsidiary entities of the northern shore of the Mediterranean do possess considerable financial resources along with a considerable accumulated experience in the field of local management and development, from which the Sahara Region may benefit through establishing twinning and friendship relations and joint cooperation. The Sahara Region will also be called on to develop bilateral cooperation relations with some major Arab cities, such as cities of the "Gulf Cooperation Council" countries. In fact, the financial resources of the Gulf Region, with its oil wealth, arouse the interest of even the great powers. The Sahara Region should, therefore, highlight the values of Arab solidarity in order to promote the inter-Arab cooperation process.


2.  The process of decentralized multilateral cooperation


The "United Cities and Local Governments" Organization is the greatest gathering of local Authorities worldwide. It is an opportunity in which the Sahara Region may foster ties of solidarity and of decentralized Cooperation, but also an occasion to benefit from the experiences of the other Regions throughout the world. Besides, it is a work tool that aims at reinforcing sustainable development. The "2007-2010 Strategic Priorities" of the Organization have set four main goals: to advocate the interests of local Authorities, to define the international local government agenda, to promote decentralization and to foster collaboration between the members of the Organization. These differing goals are a genuine motivation for the Sahara Region and for the other Moroccan local Authorities in order to adhere to this huge gathering. They testify to how important these forums of decentralized cooperation are in the international policies to come.


B.  Civil society


Throughout the last years, the bodies of international civil Society have become an influent player with regard to the international cooperation and the promotion of development projects, mainly in the southern countries. The Sahara Region can, therefore, benefit from the skills of these bodies in local development. For this purpose, it can create direct relationships with the concerned Non-Governmental Organizations in the form of cooperation between the institutions of its civil Society and the world civil Societies' institutions. For such a process to be successful, the institutions of the Sahara Region are required to adapt to the requirements of good governance, such as transparency, democracy and accountability.


II.  The fields of decentralized cooperation


Decentralized cooperation aims at establishing long-term economic, cultural, technical and political partnerships between the Authorities of different countries, considering the fact that they are an efficient means to achieve common goals that would have a positive impact on the societies. The Sahara Region are, therefore, called upon to diversify the fields of cooperation to better meet the numerous development requirements of its population. These requirements may be divided into two goals: global and sustainable development and the promotion of international peace.


A.  Global and sustainable development


Foreign investments and the protection of environment are the two major signs of the success of sustainable development projects.


Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) have become a fundamental pillar in the promotion of local development. The Moroccan Autonomy Initiative has therefore focused, in its Point 12, paragraph 3, on the responsibility of the Sahara Region with respect to economic development, the promotion of investment and tourism. The Region is also invited to increase its attraction in order to motivate investors, tourists and multinational companies by making use of its strategic position and its assets, such as its considerable capacities in maritime, desert and land tourism.


Moreover, environment and development are two inseparable concepts. The first one is a source and a tool to assess the second one. Protecting the environment must be a priority to take into account in the implementation of the sustainable development projects. In this regard, the Moroccan Autonomy Initiative highlights, in Point 12, the responsibility of the Sahara Region in protecting the environment.


B.  The promotion of international peace


The Sahara Region may help establish and maintain international peace by developing cooperation with other local Authorities throughout the world. Such a gathering will result in a strong influence. Several major mechanisms shall be mentioned as follows:


Though they have no political power to impose their own goals, local Authorities can be an important means of pressure on the central governments and the decision centers.

Mediation is an efficient tool to help involve the local Authorities in the resolution of conflicts, by playing an intermediary part between the different protagonists and proposing alternatives to the concerned parties.

Cultural diplomacy is part of the overall diplomacy of the State, always monopolized by the central governments. However, local Authorities may significantly contribute to the multiplication of the contacts they will have to proceed with in either bilateral or multilateral decentralized cooperation. The goal is to reach a common cultural platform and to overcome the disagreements.

Parallel diplomacy could eventually serve as a large field of action for the Sahara Region at the international level. It will be an extension of Moroccan diplomacy, mainly in preserving international peace and security.



The integration of the Sahara Region in the process of decentralized Cooperation will have a positive impact not only on the concerned Region, but on the whole Moroccan territory. In fact, the new concept of "regionalization" assigns to each Region the task of actively contributing to the global development of the country within the frame of national solidarity. Besides, the foreign action of the Sahara Region needs to be established in complementarity and harmony with the goals of the Moroccan foreign policy. It should support the global policy of the Kingdom and be a complement of its work.


Said Saddiki

Professor at the faculty of law, Fez