Virtual Magazine of Morocco on the Web
Morocco Week in Review
January 12, 2008
Morocco's ICT sector sees rapid expansion
02/01/2008 By Adam Mahdi
2007 was a pivotal year for the development of Internet, mobile telephony and fixed-line telephony in Morocco, with deregulation beginning to make a notable impact. The information and communications technology (ICT) sector in Morocco is undergoing a telephony explosion. According to the latest quarterly report by the research and monitoring centre of the National Telecommunications Regulation Agency (ANRT), the country now has 2.3 million fixed-line customers.
With 450,000 high-speed Internet subscribers, Morocco leads all of Africa for broadband connections. The country also has 20 million GSM customers and more than 1,500 ICT firms employing over 42,000 people.
The current 70% penetration rate for the fixed-line market was helped by the entry of new player Wana, which managed to sign up a million customers since going into business at the beginning of 2007. The public telephony market now totals 177,000 units.
In the mobile telephony sector, Morocco consolidated its position as a regional leader. It has a total customer base of nearly 20 million GSM customers and a penetration rate of over 62%. The market is still dominated by the original market player, Maroc Telecom, with a market share of 66.9% as compared with 33.1% for Meditel. The dynamics of the mobile market are sure to change with the scheduled entry in April 2008 of Wana, which currently has a limited licence for mobile telephony.
The mobile market is currently dominated by prepaid subscriptions which have gained the upper hand over contract subscriptions. The latter account for just 800,000 customers out of a total of 20 million.
These growth trends in the ICT sector look poised to accelerate further, thanks to a new opportunity targeting Morocco's three million credit/debit card users. The Centre Monétique Interbancaire decided to create certified Visa and MasterCard platforms enabling secure credit/debit card electronic payments. Since early December, Internet shoppers making online purchases have been able to enter simply the number of their local credit or debit card, its expiration date and the three-digit security code on the back. There are currently no restrictions on online payment, with everything depending on the policies and services of seller sites.
In addition to the CMI (payment by buyer) platform, Morocco’s new e-commerce channel also comprises the services of the original market player, Maroc Telecommerce (MTC), an Internet service provider. It will now act as a virtual Electronic Payment Terminal (EPT) linking seller sites, e-shoppers and the CMI. http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/2008/01/02/feature-02
Morocco considers compensation fund reform.
04/01/2008 By Sarah Touahri
In the face of rising oil prices and increasing demands, Morocco's government is considering an overhaul of its programme of subsidies on consumer goods. Morocco's long-running compensation fund has come under fire from critics seeking to reduce government spending. The fund's operating budget has ballooned from 3 billion dirhams in 2002 to 20 billion for the current year, which led parliamentarians to press for reform during their discussions of the 2008 finance law.
The fund – first established in 1941 to make European products available in Morocco at reasonable prices – has evolved into a broad programme of subsidies on consumer goods and petroleum and gas. Advocates of the policy stress the universal benefits of subsidies, as they affect all citizens, both rich and poor. The relative value of such assistance, however, is greatest for the poorest citizens.
The compensation fund is becoming more and more of a burden on State finances. Economics professor Karim El Hafi told Magharebia the programme's current cost (20 billion dirhams) constitutes nearly two-thirds of Morocco's investment budget. "We need to revise the current compensation system to make [the fund] more effective, and in the medium term to introduce mechanisms which will bring direct assistance to citizens who are in need, because the cost of basic commodities is rising all the time," he said.
Parliamentarian Abdelhamid El Mernissi said Moroccans should not expect money to be available for the compensation fund over the coming year. "Looking to 2009, I think Moroccans have to understand that this institution cannot be milked endlessly for cash. We already know who is benefiting, but how to resolve their problem is quite a different matter. It requires serious thought." The finance ministry has announced that in 2008 it will seriously consider an overhaul of the compensation fund, in order to improve performance for the poorest Moroccans.
The main thrust of the reform will concentrate on several aspects: control, intermediary organisation, revision of the tariff structure and re-organisation of the sectors involved. The government is currently laying the groundwork for a new compensation system; one that takes the experiences of other countries around the world and adapts them to Morocco's specific needs.
In the interests of reducing the fund's burden on the national budget, the government has told citizens to expect no additions to the list of subsidised products: petroleum, butane gas, sugar, sunflower oil and flour. http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/2008/01/04/feature-01
New projects will aid women in Morocco's Ouarzazate province.
Morocco's King Mohammed VI launched two social projects on Thursday (January 3rd) to improve living conditions for women living in the province of Ouarzazate. The $415,000 allocated to the projects will be managed by the National Initiative for Human Development, MAP reported.
The king laid the foundation stone for a training centre for women in the rural area of Tizegzaouine. Three professional workshops for handicrafts, improving local products and livestock farming will be located in the centre. The second project, a girls' residence hall in the rural municipality of Ait Zineb, will benefit 80 girls and with the aim of preventing them from dropping out of school. The hall includes a library, an IT room and other facilities.
Morocco's GDP growth rate reached 2.1% in fourth quarter of 2007.
Morocco's GDP growth rate reached 2.1% in the fourth quarter of 2007, the latest figures released by the High Commissariat for Planning (HCP) indicate. The rate is significantly lower than the 8.2% the country enjoyed in the same period of 2006. On average, the non-agricultural sector performed well, but high oil prices and drought affected grain output causing the growth to fall below the 2.5% Economy Minister Nizar Baraka announced. Unemployment remained steady at 10% in 2007 while inflation fell from 3.3% in 2006 to 2% in 2007.
Morocco inaugurates blog awards.
Following the success of blogs in Morocco, Agadir bloggers Younes Qassimi, Ahmed Chergaoui and Mehdi Reghai organised the first "Maroc Blog Awards", Aujourd'hui Le Maroc reported. Moroccan bloggers will have until January 24th to elect 17 winners in 17 categories. The award ceremony will take place on February 2nd in Casablanca. Foreigners blogging about Morocco also have the right to participate in the competition. One of the winners will be named Best Moroccan Blog of 2008. Other categories cover the best blogs in politics, music, solidarity, IT and others. An estimated 40,000 blogs focus on Morocco.
Morocco unveils new national centre to monitor corruption.
10/01/2008 By Sarah Touahri
At the new National Corruption Monitoring and Transparency Development Centre in Casablanca, Transparency Maroc will work to track, publicise and resolve corruption problems throughout the country. The NGO is calling on the government to make its anti-corruption action plan a reality.
Transparency Maroc kicked off the New Year by opening the National Corruption Monitoring and Transparency Development Centre in Casablanca. Created in November 2007 with the financial support of the Embassy of the Netherlands, the centre has just begun work on tackling corruption, assisting victims of the problem and building integrity in both the government and the private sector.
The new facility will inform public policy on corruption prevention and gather data on corruption, governance and transparency. It will also advise corruption victims and whistle-blowers through a support and legal advice network. The centre has a hotline and a contact e-mail address for people wishing to make reports.
Transparency Maroc Secretary-General Azeddine Akesbi acknowledged that it can be difficult to prove incidences of corruption. To prevent slander, complainants will "be asked to provide hard evidence including financial accounts and video footage, if possible," he explained.
Akesbi said Transparency Maroc hopes to involve the private sector, NGOs and specialist bodies in its work. "Plans have been announced to create a National Corruption Prevention Authority which could be given some of the information we generate and act on complaints which we receive here at the monitoring centre. We're therefore calling for co-operation with partner agencies, whether state-run or otherwise," he said.
By collecting information, the centre will be able to lead thinking on a number of specific issues, including Morocco's legislative elections in September. Transparency International, the governing NGO for the Casablanca centre, already works worldwide on bringing corrupt politicians to justice, monitoring elections and investigating vote-buying and parliamentary ethics.
Transparency Maroc says that the country must make a united effort to stamp out the corruption that is entrenched in Moroccan society. Political will is necessary to end impunity, Akesbi emphasised. "We need to see this desire translated into action on the ground. We shouldn’t be focusing primarily on specific, isolated cases – we need to clean up the system as a whole," he told Magharebia.
He is calling on the government to make its anti-corruption action plan a reality. "We already have the framework – the United Nations Convention, which has been ratified. Now it’s time to take action. The government has a huge weight of responsibility on its shoulders since they’re the ones who hold executive power. We also need to get political parties involved during election campaigns," he added.
Exposing the damaging effects of corruption is just as vital as enforcing penalties, noted Professor Mohamed Mrani. "It’s up to the media, in partnership with civil society and the state to raise awareness," he said.
Mrani added, "This phenomenon is well-entrenched in Morocco. Over the course of time, it has become a culture all of its own."
However, there is one recent, objective indicator of some progress. Morocco improved its ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, climbing from 79th to 72nd place in 2007 among the 179 countries listed by the NGO.
Morocco to create desert resorts in south.
Morocco's Ministry of Tourism announced it will create desert and oasis resorts in the southern regions of Errachidia, Ouarzazate and Zagora at a total cost of $14.4m, Tourism Minister Mohamed Boussaid said on Thursday (January 10th). The minister said the resorts will include three hotel units, inns, campgrounds and facilities aiming at promoting the local craft industry. The projects are expected to create approximately 6,000 jobs.
6.72 million tourists visited Morocco between January and November 2007, an increase of 14% over the same period in 2006. Morocco has developed an ambitious strategy dubbed "Vision 2010" which aims to attract 10 million tourists per year by 2010. http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/newsbriefs/general/2008/01/11/newsbrief-04
Italy to grant Morocco some USD 11Mn to fund development projects.
Rabat, Jan. 10
The Italian government has approved a donation amounting to some USD 11.3Mn to Morocco, as part of bilateral cooperation, to finance development projects and projects aimed at fighting poverty, planned this year.
A communiqué of the Italian embassy in Rabat notes that eight initiatives of Moroccan-Italian cooperation were approved and financed in 2007. They are particularly related to fighting poverty in conformity with The National Initiative for the Human Development (INDH), launched by King Mohammed VI in May 2005 to bring down poverty and fight social exclusion.
Another thirty initiatives, the communiqué goes on, are under way, amounting to some USD 310Mn for the period 2005-2007. Two further initiatives will be finalized in the region of Figuig (southeast) and in Tangier (north). They concern the development of the cultural heritage. Another project will be carried out to promote ecotourism, mainly in the region of Al Haouz (center).
In last December, a USD 2.5Mn was approved to support health services in the province of Settat (center).
Over 10 Italian NGOs are operating currently in Morocco. The total amount of Moroccan NGOs’ initiatives financed by the Italian government amounts to some USD 10Mn. http://www.map.ma/eng/sections/imp_economy/italy_to_grant_moroc/view
Neolithic human mandible fragment discovered south.
Rabat, Jan. 5
A fragment of human mandible that probably dates back to the Neolithic Age (6,000 to 5,000 BC) and several rock shelters were discovered at Oued Lksab, in the region of Essaouira (440km south of Rabat), by a Moroccan-French archaeological team, Culture Ministry said in a press release.
Excavations in Oued Lksab showed that the prehistoric populations living in the area made flint tools and ate Alcelaphine species, Bovidae and ostrich eggs, the ministry added. Besides this discovery, several Lithic tools aged about 40,000 years, animal's bones, fossils and sometimes sea shells -mostly oysters- were discovered in the region of Essaouira in the Bizoune cave, part of an archaeological research program, conducted in the region in November- December 2007.
The research, that will continue in 2008, represents the first excavations of prehistoric remnants ever carried out in the region, the ministry added, noting that this research is carried out by the Rabat-based National Institute of Science, Archaeology and Heritage (INSAP) and France-based National Center of scientific research. http://www.map.ma/eng/sections/imp_culture/neolithic_human_mand/view
Morocco unveils health sector reforms: minister.
Mon Jan 7, RABAT (AFP)
The Moroccan health minister Yasmina Baddou unveiled Monday a string of reforms aimed at improving hospital management, utilising cheaper medicines and reducing infant and maternal mortality rates. In an interview with the Aujourd'hui Le Maroc newspaper, Baddou published a document drawn up with the cooperation of the public and private health sector stakeholders, which develops a four year strategy for 2008-2012.
The plan envisages decentralising the management of 130 hospitals and 2,000 health centres which currently function at less than 50 percent capacity, she said, and recommends independent autonomous management structures for hospitals. Currently the "public sector, which has 50,000 employees, is not competitive compared with the private sector," she said.
The plan has twin objectives in reducing both infant and maternal mortality rates by 2012: the infant rate from 40 deaths per 1,000 children to 15, and the maternal rate from 227 deaths per 100,000 births to 50.
In order to guarantee better access to healthcare for the most disadvantaged in society, Baddou proposed allowing pharmacists to prescribe generic medicines, which are the equivalent of brand-name drugs but cheaper.
The plan also envisages reducing the financial contribution individual Moroccans pay in to the healthcare system.
Baddou said she also intended to tackle the black market in prescription drugs, whereby "medicines are sold in places other than pharmacies."
Finally, the minister announced she would be inviting the non-governmental anti-corruption agency Transparency-Morocco to help collaborate in the battle against graft, to "stamp out those who profit from the suffering of patients
Morocco: land of scented candles and scatter cushions.
06 January 2008
King Mohammed VI has turned his country into a prime exotic spot where they know how to spoil tourists. Oliver Bennett barces himself for some pampering
Candles – I'd never seen so many. Big, tapered cones. Tea lights around pools. Smart scented jobs in glassware. Boutique Morocco runs on hot wax and scatter cushions, and these days you're more likely to find interior designers than kif dealers in the souks of Marrakesh.
It's been a long journey from difficult destination to frou-frou haven, but Morocco seems to have accomplished it, at least in part. In the era of "M6" – as some call current King Mohammed VI – the country has positioned itself as a prime soft-exotic destination, with Marrakesh the pink-encrusted jewel in its crown, surrounded by a plethora of safe-intrepid side options. Top line? A little light Orientalism, three hours from Heathrow.
I flew into the kingdom recently to see how things had progressed. First stop was Marrakesh, the rose city, and I began at the astonishing Amanjena, one of the toppest-end of Marrakesh flophouses. The central pool was the size of two football pitches; my "pavilion" room was the size of a flat in Kensington. It was like walking into an Orson Welles set. I was checked into the room by my "personal butler", Adil, who told me that Marrakesh kept breaking records. "We've had 6 million tourists this year in Marrakesh already," he said. "It's a record. And in 2010 we're expecting 10 million."
I wandered around the hassle-free Marrakesh medina – the old art of shaking tourists down has been heartily stamped upon by M6 – and eyed up lime-green babouche slippers and puce pouffes. The place was seething with bourgeois bohemians, all piled into Marrakech's riads, of which there are now an estimated 500. At Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakesh's mega-sight, our small group met two guides, Lydia Lecetre and Laetitia Trouillet, both French and both mistresses of the art of shopping. Laetitia led a female posse on a "personal shopping" trip, while I went sight-seeing with Lydia, who led me deep into the medina to Ferblantiers square, specialist in metalwork; the carpet section, the weaving section, and so on.
I raised my camera to take in these preposterously photogenic sights, and a few heads bobbed expectantly. Careful: Lydia warned that photography had inflated to 20dh (£1.20) a snap, Never pay more than 10dh, she said, adding that "some think it is forbidden by the Koran". But wasn't the Koran written 13 centuries before photography? Never mind. Postcards were fine.
Marrakesh can only detain one for a while, and our second leg was due. I set off to the airport, to ride a small Cessna over the High Atlas mountains. The rosy pink of Marrakesh gave way to the khaki of the high ground then we touched down in tongue-twisting Ouarzazate, in a spanking new airport. Why here? Because Ouarzazate is home to "Mollywood": the desert film industry. The Atlas Studios has plugged the gap for desert locations: Gladiator, Babel, Black Hawk Down, The Kingdom – all made here. Indeed, Leonardo DiCaprio was rumoured to be close by filming Ridley Scott's latest.
We skirted the prosperous town and went east. A few disconsolate camels straddled the roadside, and the odd pea-green grand taxi plied the road, otherwise it was rocky and remote: an almost Martian landscape of reddish rocks, hillocks and dry gullies. Several miles on, and ruined hulks began to emerge surrounded by date palms and djellaba-clad locals. This was the Dades Valley, aka the "Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs": the route once plied by caravans from Timbuktu. Now the great adobe piles are obsolete and rotted by rain, but some (mainly French) entrepreneurs were restoring them, re-chiselling the curiously Inca-like decorations, and bringing them on to the holiday market. How much was an old kasbah? "Best not to ask 'how much'," said Abdou, a guide for my destination, the Dar Ahlam. "Ask 'how many owners'." After centuries in the same family, getting clear title was tough.
The car turned off on to a mud road, through a palmeraie, across a wadi, and into the Dar Ahlam, precisely one of those refurbished kasbahs. Truly frou'd, the Dar had cushions coordinated to season – red for winter, green for summer – and candles a-plenty: in niches, on floors, in candelabras. Bossa Nova gently played as I checked in, then we set off once more along the valley, inshallah to return for tea.
The countryside became prettier, then came the town of El-Kelaa m'Gouna, the centre of Morocco's rose industry, with pretty shops selling rose water. Further on we climbed, stopping at a remote highland valley where the few locals eked out a living as troglodytic nomads.
Off piste we went in the four-wheel drive (many roads aren't sealed in rural Morocco) then Abdou led our small group on a walk along a river valley, where clear water trilled from the mountains, irrigating strip farms where wheat, barley, figs and the valley's signature pink roses grew – honoured in the spring festival which brings the valley to life.
On return, I went to the hammam and took a gommage, the hard core scrub that precedes a massage. Normally handled by a beefy geezer, this gommage-ist was female, chic and followed by a nimble-fingered colleague, offering a choice between verbena, ylang ylang and argan; the latter from the spiky tree that grows only on Morocco's coast. Things could have been worse. Afterwards, I walked around the olive grove, nosed in the leather and candle shop, then wallowed in the pool. The view up to the Atlas over the papyrus was stupendous, the air soothing.
The next day Abdou led us to the Kasbah Amerdihl, pretty well Skoura's sole attraction. Inside this 17th-century edifice, figs and lemons grow around a fountain, while ghostly, uninhabited rooms hint at previous functions: men in one, women in another, cooking here, washing there. It shouldn't be long before it's filled with scented candles.
Morocco, where bloggers can write about anything...almost.
by Sarah Benhaida Sun Jan 6, RABAT (AFP)
It may be a far cry from the millions of blogs active in the West, but Morocco's blogosphere has taken off as the liveliest free-speech zone in largely conservative Muslim North Africa. The Moroccan "Blogoma", as it is called, is home to at least 30,000 sites. Inspired by bloggers elsewhere in the Arab world, Moroccans quickly saw these personal websites as a way to circumvent censorship while debating taboo or touchy subjects -- like the monarchy, Islam or the disputed Western Sahara.
"It is a genuine revolution because everyone can comment freely on such sensitive topics," said veteran blogger Larbi El Hilali, who set up Larbi.org.
His more than 450 posts since his blog began in late 2004 have encouraged 18,000 replies. He now gets 3,500 visitors per day, with much discussion on the constitution -- which some feel gives too much power to the king, and press freedom -- in a country where journalists have been slammed with fines or suspended sentences for "defamation against Islam and the monarchy".
Though Morocco's own national press union SNPM concedes that press freedom has improved, it and global watchdogs say there are still attempts to gag the media.
But El Hilali's blog has found that "opinions are sharply divided and many people defend the status quo," he said.
"The Blogoma is like a friendly cafe," said Mehdi7, whose site weaves light-hearted news and "gossip" from the sidelines of royal visits with more serious reports on prostitution and cannabis cultivation -- which the government is trying to eradicate to end a flourishing illegal drug trade.
Morocco today counts 30,000 blogs for four million Internet subscribers. "That's not much compared to the 1.7 million blogs in France but it's a lot more than in our neighbors," El Hilali said.
Algeria, next door, has five times fewer, according to DZblog.com, the Algerian umbrella which has counted 5,892 blogs, two million visitors and seven million page impressions since January 2006.
Tunisia is barely breaking the thousand threshold. Blogs in Tunisia and Egypt are more akin to citizen journalism sites, but with fewer residents online they draw less attention than in Morocco. About 1.6 million Tunisians surf the web while in Egypt they number only one in 10.
User-generated web technology, however, is making an impact in the region. Wael Abbas, a 33-year-old Egyptian blogger, was decorated in November by the Washington-based International Centre for Journalists after his site was credited with getting two policemen accused of torture sentenced to three-year prison terms.
But blogs in North Africa are not without risk. Karim Amer, 22, landed four years' detention last year on charges of criticising Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Islam on his blog, Al Azhar. And in 2002, Tunisian blogger Zouhair Yahyaoui was given a two-year sentence on charges of "publishing false information" about alleged human rights violations but released on bail a year later after three hunger strikes. He has since died.
Mehdi7 contends that "Morocco is a country where you can still run a good blog. "I've not yet heard of a blog that has been censored in Morocco, in which case the whole blogosphere here would mobilise," he said.
Global Voices Advocacy, however, a non-governmental agency that fights against censorship on the web, highlighted 17 countries on its "Access Denied Map", seven of which were Arab states including Morocco.
In May, Rabat blocked access to the video sharing website YouTube for six days after it aired videos considered insulting to King Mohammed VI. In June, Live Journal, an overseas platform hosting two million blogs, was also shut down internally after airing material seen as backing Polisario Front rebels, who are fighting Moroccan forces in the Western Sahara. "The authorities end up looking ridiculous if they believe they can impose censorship on sites because anyone can get round these obstacles," said Citoyen Hmida, the prolific "doyen" of Morocco's Blogoma.
Arab bloggers -- whose language varies from Arabic to English, French and local dialects -- have sought to uphold independence from the powers that be. In the Muslim-ruled Gulf monarchy of Bahrain, for instance, the blogging community resolutely backed three chat forum moderators arrested in 2005, openly announcing the time and place of demonstrations in their support. In Morocco, "certain political groups have tried to infiltrate the Blogoma but it has shown a remarkable capacity for self-preservation," said Moroccan web consultant Othmane Boummalif.
"These blogs are like taking a regular temperature, distinct and localised, of the daily reality," said Mehdi7.
It may be a far cry from the millions of blogs active in the West, but Morocco's blogosphere has taken off as the liveliest free-speech zone in largely conservative Muslim North Africa. (AFP/Illustration)
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