A river with many sources

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The critical role of consensus in political and economic reforms

Regardless of their original circumstances, successful economic and political transitions have a single, unifying characteristic. They may be motivated by crisis, but their successful implementation requires a broad consensus on the need for change, a shared vision of its goals and a common agreement on how to reach them.  The need for this critical consensus emerged over the course of a seminar on the role of governance reform in the current transitions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Hosted by the World Bank in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, the Transitions and Governance Reforms in MENA seminar brought together a diverse range of government, civil society and media representatives to discuss the region’s challenges with former world leaders and members of the international development community who had undergone similar transitions.

Former Romanian Prime Minister, Petre Roman pointed out that each transition is unique, and therefore has no model to follow. This does not mean, however,  that they are unplanned. Both he and the former president of Slovenia, Milan Kucan, stressed the need for a process that included the entire country in spelling out very clearly the goals of the transition, and ensuring that everyone understands  how it will play out. The more detail and clarity the better, as it is one of the principal means of establishing the needed consensus. Milan Kucan described this process as a ‘river with many sources.’ Roman Petre’s government brought together 4,000 Romanian experts, supported by 400 international experts, to produce a strategic document that clearly articulated the collected interests of the entire cross section of Romanian society. It was a concrete expression of consensus and served as a guide for the transition.

The emphasis on consensus, and the need for clarity and inclusion to achieve it, established a narrative that put vital changes in the relationship between citizens and their government as the prerequisite for transitions rather than their product. The response to the demands for more open and accountable governments that were at the heart of the ‘Arab Spring’ created the conditions that made the launch of the current transition processes possible. It was the embrace of governance reforms, with a commitment to transparency and the adoption of access to information laws that allowed for the all encompassing dialogue needed to establish the complex project to effect change. Transitions follow no script, but they require fundamental changes in how governments and citizens interact, to establish a social arena where consensus is possible.

There was no doubting either the importance of, or the focus on governance reform in the MENA region. Mohamed Boulif, the Moroccan minister for governance and general affairs, held up the very existence of his ministry as proof of the recognition of the vital link between governance reform and meeting the popular demand for change. Apart from creating the ministry, the new constitution adopted in July of last year, which inaugurated the current Moroccan reform process, devotes whole chapters to governance. Much like the document described by Petre Roman, it spells out how the various institutions of government should function, thus establishing the basis for accountability. It consecrates the initial fundamental reforms and maps out a path for the transition. The challenge now is keeping the consensus stitched together while the transition plays out.      

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