Why 13 governments, 10 ministers and 270 people decided to gather for policy discussions on infrastructure in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the role of the private sector. (And no, it wasn’t the fact that the forum was in Marrakech because none of us left the hotel). I was really inspired by the enthusiasm generated by the March launch in Rabat of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability – Arab World. The event brought civil society people from across MENA together and demonstrated a real ability to shape and further a debate around the issues of participation and youth.
“I am sorry, I am so very sorry, I did not mean to be disrespectful,” the young man says as soon as he has blurted his story out. He fidgets nervously with his little notepad. He is young, but the deep lines that crease his face reveal the hard life he has led. This is his story: “Do you know what it is like to wake up feeling ashamed every morning, feeling deeply ashamed that I cannot help support my aging parents,” he says, “that I cannot go and buy a bit of fruit for my little sister since I do not have a single coin in my pocket? I went to school, I did well, I went to university, I did even better but what was it good for? Nothing! Here I am, I cannot afford to get married. I cannot even look my mother in the eyes as I spend the nights in the street drowning my sorrows.” The young man lifts his head, his eyes welling up with tears. “I have been stripped of my manhood, or maybe I should say, I was never even allowed to become a man.”
Knowledge is as vital as oxygen. It drives innovation, allowing economies to grow and countries to prosper. As one of the primary creators and disseminators of knowledge, universities play a critical social role. Their proper management should be a top concern of governments everywhere. Much as the failure of a major organ affects the entire body, a malfunctioning university system has widespread consequences.