The Moorish Wanderer

Cry, O My Beloved Country. My Day at the Police Station

Posted in Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Moroccanology, Read & Heard, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on December 28, 2010

I just emerged from a nap. Yes, at this hour and on this side of the hemisphere, it looks like over-laziness. I am recovering from a 6 hours stand as part of my application for the new ID card. I have successfully completed the third and penultimate step before I can be granted my new ID card.

It’s not like I did that for the first time. I already had mine this summer (and I would have written about it, but some considerations prevailed) but the dumb-witted, incompetent, and careless police services mis-transcribed my family name. Both in Arabic and French. So in my ID card, I sound like I do not belong to the Baghough family (although my family name is not Baghough. but you get the gist, right ?). Spooky. And because of that, I had to go round the application process all over again; Common sense would be for me to present the police services with a paper stating they made a mistake, then print a new card.Common sense, or indeed the most straightforward, rational and inexpensive course of action. But no! You will have to start all over again, Mister, and make sure you stop by every potential police centre before they showed you the one you are supposed to go to to get your fingerprints done. And [drum rolls] that was the same one I was in for this summer.

I am middle class, with some working class background, with which I have nothing to be ashamed of. My neighbourhood however, is part of an aggregate of  heterogeneous districts. Bad luck, the constabulary overseeing the borough is located right in the outskirts of a shanty town. So there I was, having the incommensurate pleasure to deal with policemen whose regular day involves shoving delinquents for mugshots, with a more than acceptable amount of verbal abuse, and some occasional physical one as well. How could a mild-manner, cosmopolitan and liberal Moroccan like me be possibly at ease in such place? By the way, most regular applicants there were good-mannered, partly because they came from similar neighbourhoods to mine, or because of this gut-feeling fear for the police uniform. There was little difference between what I lived through last summer and today. I have now the opportunity to report on these matters.

Civil services can err sometimes. As far as Morocco is concerned, they do that a lot. But in my case, they most certainly are in a striking form: first my baccalaureate degree, then my passport, my first ID card, my second ID card, my first Scholarship application, you name it. I understand the civil service in Morocco is not some sort of coalesced conglomerate administrations, but rather a motley of departments, each one ambushed with a missing paper, a mistyped name, an uncompleted application form on their behalf. Each department made mistakes, but I am the one paying for them.

Today, or rather, the couple of days before, the sole institution I had every motive to believe to be doing its job right, admitted, -explicitly- its own carelessness. Because I tend to write some carping pieces about Morocco, more specifically on some influential spheres on Morocco, and because of some much-prided family history, I thought I had my own entry with the intelligence services. I still think it to be so. I have no problem with that, they are after all doing their job in monitoring potentially troublesome elements. I now realize they might not be getting my name right, a revelation that strikes a fatal blow to the image I had of police and security services, as a juggernaut of ‘can-do’ attitude. I mean, the guys have all the papers, all the records, my family records, my dates of entry and exit from the country, possibly some tapes and recordings of phone conversations with the family, my internet history for all I know. How can they miss such a thing?

I wrote a post for Talk Morocco about the need and benefits for a civil service. I still stand by it, but the extent of time wasting and the ferociously contemptuous attitude the policemen affected there was a bit of bewilderment: ‘how can they hold the country together if they keep on being like so?’. Things started at 7 a.m, where about 70-ish people already were waiting by, their names on that piece of paper the policeman in charge of lining (applicants, not suspects) collects at 8.30 am. There’s at least one commendable thing on allowing elderly and disabled people to go through the fast lane. But for others, hellish waiting list. at 9.a.m. the shout-y lining constable came in, and started barking his orders: ‘get in line’, ‘check your papers’, ‘women on the left-hand side of barrier, men on the other side’, ‘shut up, I’m talking’… Just regular morning talk.

At the station. Today was apparently a light day. 100 applicants.

I don’t need to bother the readers with trivial details during the waiting bit, unless you might be interested that the police is cracking down on sub-Saharan immigrants: loads and loads of them were boarded out of the Police vans and hurled onto the gates, sometimes with helps of forceful shoving and contemptuous ‘happy slaps’. This unexpected encounter triggered some racist comments from my fellow applicants about their skin colour, and the usual array of stereotypes about our fellow Africans. At that moment, I wish I’d brought my earphones. I would have gladly argued with them, but when it comes to Cartesian arguments with Moroccan average Joe, I tire rapidly. Women looked more disciplined, in the sense they kept on to the line, and displayed some surprising solidarity, like this young lass cadging her fellow liners to let her in first, because time was running out, and she was due to go back to the factory. Or indeed that young mother who lost sight of her child (who brings children to police station? She might have circumstances, though). Mixing backgrounds give surprising results: I unfortunately eavesdropped on a conversation between a fair-skin middle-aged woman (which, by my account, looked and sounded like a native Rbati) and a darker, more humble-background young woman, on the benefits of education, and how they dealt with their respective offspring.

I held off reasonably well till noon. My patience started to run out. I felt I was actually looking for a trifle to start off a riot-y shout against the police station. I thought the poor guard was going to bear the brunt of my angst, even though he had little direct responsibility for it. I cooled down with a gum, but soon after I started wondering: ‘what was I doing here?’ I even considered walking out. Come what may, I thought I should be content I had my ID card, albeit with a small typo. Who cares? That’s what happens: within a brief amount of time, I radicalised to the point of looking for a brawl with the hateful representative of the oppressive regime, and the moment after, I was down in the troughs, just wishing to go back home. The humiliation of being reduced to a number, waiting for the good graces of a fifth-rate constable are unbearable, even to the coolest.

1.30 p.m, I was finally let in the vestibule leading to the fingerprints room. staff computing the data on computers are dressed in civilian clothes. They look young, and some of them are indeed young graduate from Police institute. They smell poor: they had a rise a couple of months ago, so they started buying new clothes, with a profound lack of harmony in their choices.They frankly looked bedizen, gaudy, and for some of the female staff, openly bawdy even without make-up. I assume they work with the Renseignements Généraux. they looked down on the constables, giving them orders with obvious sneering. Some offensive jokes flew around about what they thought were comical names. No ethics, no respect for the applicants.

20 minutes later, I was called in. The young female staff in front of me was dyed-hair blonde, garish-clad, with a soupçon of ill-educated tone when she addressed me. She had a look to my ID card, then, without looking at me, uttered: ‘something’s wrong with the card?’. I surprised myself into answering ironically, but I was even more surprised to note she did not response to my pique.

– ‘My family name was mis-typed. You people made a mistake and I had a hard time trying to correct it’

– ‘It can’t be helped. Oh wait… (She compares papers and card) there’s nothing wrong with your card.’

– ‘If I may. there’s a space here that should not be there. Someone was being incompetent at the central, or here when I applied last July. You people should check your paperwork more carefully’

At that point, I felt I my nudge was unbearable to her. She had to assert her authority back. She had to rebalance things up, to show who’s the boss. But I had the taste of open rebellion in my mouth, and I was not ready to give it up.

-‘What do you mean, incompetence?’

-‘I mean some of your colleagues were sloppy in transcribing my family name. My parents and others pay for your wages, you know. And you just had a pay rise, so please do make sure you do not screw up this time’

My line must have had an effect on her, because she retreated carefully into her redoubt of papers, while her co-workers looked me up in an estranged manner: ‘who’s that young lad ?’ I had crossed a line in confronting the staff with their own incompetence. But right now, they had so much work they did not pay much time to my calculated insolence.  Fingerprints went down fairly quickly. In ten days, I will have to go to the central station to claim my ID back, and resume my dignity as a would-be citizen of this country.

Stability First: Foreign Exchange Terms

Posted in Dismal Economics, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Morocco, The Wanderer by Zouhair ABH on December 26, 2010

Last issue of Bank Al Maghrib was of great interest especially the foreign exchange bit. Apart from its comparatively low productivity per exported output, one of the curses of Moroccan economy is its inability to field enough foreign reserves to hold a long-term shadow exchange rate, or just to attract confidence and therefore more diversified foreign investment.

downward trend in terms of trade and a high volatility in capital cashflows. The relationship is cardinal: Morocco is not a financial center, so most of its currency flows must be secured from goods exports, as FDIs are growing more and more volatile (Source: Finance Ministry)

Following the November issue of the “Revue Mensuelle de la Conjoncture Economique, Monétaire et Financière“, the Foreign Trade balance is definitely worsening. Indeed, the Goods and Services balance is in a MAD 114.5 Bn deficit, which means that it aggravated by 5.1% compared to last year. This is mostly due to the fact that imports increased by 13%. However, cover rate (i.e. Exports/Imports ratio) climbed back to the average of the past decade to 48% (from an average f 46% in the last 3 years); and so one of our structural weaknesses is that of exports’ inability to match the imports. In value of course, especially -but not only- when it comes to energy imports. Indeed, the digest does underline the fact the deterioration of the present goods and services balance deficit was due to the increase of 34.8% of energy-based imports. “L’expansion des achats de produits pétroliers est due à l’accroissement du prix moyen de la tonne importée de pétrole brut et du volume, respectivement de 40,6% et de 19,3%. Le prix moyen de la tonne importée s’est en effet établi à 4.689 de dirhams, au lieu de 3.334 dirhams pendant la même période de 2009. Quant aux importations de demi-produits, chiffrées à 45,5 milliards de dirhams, elles ont enregistré une croissance de 18,3%, attribuable pour l’essentiel à la hausse des achats de produits chimiques, de fer et acier et de matières plastiques, respectivement de 23,4%, de 17,9% et de 15,8%.” This is one way of explaining why our imports do not cover exports fully: the cost per exchanged good is in favour of imports, which means that value -in terms of capitalistic or skilled labour intensity- is lower in the exports when compared to exports, excluding energy goods (whose prices are market future, thus encompassing the expectations rather than any cost of production or indeed any efficient factors’ combination). The total average cost of imported ton was for the first semester 2010, MAD 7.663 per ton, while the total average cost per export ton was, for the same time period, MAD 6.41 per ton. (Office des Changes Figures) Oil and energy-based goods do not represent the most expensive imports (Their weighted average was MAD 4.05 per ton, but the strain they put on the balance deficit is due to their intrinsic volatility. On the other hand, some imported quantities can be substituted away due to the fact electricity is mainly produced by means of conventional fossil fuel. Seeking new sources of energy would result in an expanding GDP, a net creation in jobs and partial resorption of the deficit in goods and services balance. Furthermore, more efficient energy sources would enhance production, and thus increase exports productivity (again, reducing the balance of commerce deficit) cutting by half the MAD 114.52 Bn deficit is possible if import of MAD 52 Bn in energy-based goods can be halved one way or the other. In facts, there are other ways around to cut the deficit, especially any re-exports. However, this is not my subject. I wanted to discuss the effects on foreign reserves and perhaps some ways to finesse it.

The structural commerce balance deficit compels the Moroccan economy to finance it by getting real money (service like tourism, or FDIs) into the domestic market, foreign currency money. The Moroccan economy has to face two broad challenges in managing the foreign currency reserves: it has to sustain the announced peg, and to pay for any outflows of these hard currencies as well (whether in terms of exports, or for FDIs when the investors want to cash out their dividends). The first decision is basically a matter of policy-making: there was an official decision that the local currency -the Moroccan Dirham- needs to sustain a certain level of exchange rate with dominant currencies, either large commercial partner (Euro for France or Spain) or because strategic goods are labelled in Dollar (Phosphate, Oil and Gas).

Crawling pegs: Euro fixing is tighter compared to USD -mainly because significant commercial partners trade in Euro (Bank Al Maghrib Data)

This crawling peg though, is not credible for the forex markets: either because of interest rates and/or inflation rate differential with the significant currencies, or because the foreign reserves Bank Al Maghrib holds are not deemed sufficient to sustain it. The peg is an artificial exchange rate, to be sure. And speculators can from time to time arbitrage the Dirham (it is true the currency is not that important in terms of foreign trade, but if the differential is above market levels, then arbitrage is possible, even over small amounts, dozens of millions are gained usually) and thus increase the exchange rate with say the Euro. BAM will indeed from time to time buy up some Dirhams on these markets to sustain the desired level and needs to pay it up from the foreign reserves it holds. This can be observed on the exchange rate Bank Al Maghrib sustains with the Dollar, and more specifically the Euro. Basically, an idea can be tossed around about the variables that could have an effect on our foreign reserves , are mainly due to differentials between our own business cycle, and those of significant partners. Because our currency has tied itself to, say the Euro, differentials in inflation rate, in interest rate, in output gap and in an array of less , significant but non negligible other micro-variables, all of which make the official exchange rate more or less artificial, and so, more or less easy to manage. Ideally, the central bank would seek ‘smoothing’ the exchange rate by synchronising our business cycles with those of our partners. The trouble is, we do not have the same structures, the same weaknesses or strengths countries like France or Spain’s. The ensuing peg can therefore differ from the real exchange rate Morocco sustains with the Euro. This differential results in speculation attacks on the Dirham’s value, thus a pretty useless waste of precious foreign reserves. The problem can be solved either by abandoning fixed or pegged exchange rate -with its drawbacks and benefits- or do the courageous thing, that is, to look for commercial partners with congenial business cycles, or the least thing to do is to diversify a bit (and I got an interesting theory about that. Not mine, but something about diversifying risk) so as not to be fettered with an expensive exchange rate. This money can be used for other things: investment in infrastructures, paying back foreign debt, alleviating pressure on the domestic debt market, or even to pour it so that our exports can create value instead of destroying it.

Real Exchange rates. Starting from the 80's (financial liberalization in France and ECC entry for Spain) each country took a separate path but both countries remain significant markets for the exporters.

The depletion of our foreign reserves can, with reasonable assumptions and extrapolations, be delineated as the effect of constant desynchronizing of our economy, and that of the Euro-zone, France in particular. Let us walk through the figures here. Consider the real exchange rates of France and Spain compared to that of Morocco. Prima facie evidence shows a seemingly good correlation between our exchange rate and their over a long period of time (and 50 years is a long time series as far as Moroccan economics is concerned). However, statistical computations would show that starting from the 1980’s, figures wildly diverge, which means that in real terms, the relative prices of goods produced in Morocco, in Spain and in France are getting more and more different from each others. The assumption that our business cycles are desynchronizing is not inherently extravagant, and the observations on real exchange rate just shows it. The question is now how to move away from this unhealthy relationship to a state in which not only our reserves would stand a larger chance than a snow ball in hell, but also, how to actually make foreign exchange in goods and services worthwhile.

Real Exchange rates of some Scandiniavian countries are similar to those of Morocco

First, we need a benchmark of similar countries in terms of exchange rate -we while then move to another, more detailed argument. Computations on the U-Penn world table allowed for 4 countries to compare to Morocco as follows (graph on the side). The group countries is unlikely, to be sure. But the fluctuations since the 1980’s do prove that there is a certain convergence, if not a good synchronization of Morocco’s and the Scandinavian countries’ cycles. The fact that some are Euro-dominated currencies is not important, as the currency is not an aggregate  of Euro economies. Let us now examine their structural imports to see if there’s some opportunities Moroccan business can leap on and get us some honours (this does not exculpate them from looking into other sectors to invest in).

Beforehand, I wanted to discuss the differences between imports and exports values (for Morocco), more specifically, the clothing industry. For the 2009 figures, the Office des Changes reports an average price MAD 15,855  per ton for the synthetic textile fibre used for clothing. The average price for exported clothing was, for the same time period, %AD 4151,5. Synthetic fibre is a key component in textile products, thus actually destroying value for imports. When it comes to overall clothing however, figures are trickier: the nominal value for exported clothing items is MAD 23,180 which could lead to think that value is created out of fibre input; However, the nomenclature subsumes other items that do not require the synthetic fibres for their industrial process: the complete name for clothing rubric is ‘ARTICLES D’HABILLEMENT ET FOURRURES‘ which includes Fur as well. The breakdown shows that Fur items have actually a value of MAD 19533, which is part of the overall clothing exports nomenclature- fur does not need synthetic input, the wildlife supplies it.

It is, without a doubt, a sad indictment of how competitive one of our leading export. Not only do they specialize in poor capitalistic and skilled labour-intensive goods, but they actually are gradually destroying value, rather than creating it. This explains partially why Morocco is running a balance deficit. What applies to clothing and textile could apply to other industries as well, but because clothing exports make up for 20%, along Chemical products (15%) and Food industry (14,1%), I rest my case.

Now, what sort of imports Scandinavian countries like Sweden, Norway and Denmark? Sweden imports more than $ 16 Bn. worth of manufactured goods and continues in doing so, chiefly clothing and textile (surprise, surprise !). Denmark imports similar pieces of goods and amounts in Dollar. It is true Morocco suffers from juggernaut Chines competition, but that is due to the fact that our clothing industry competes on the same sectors, and quite often on the same markets. If textile business were to put their heads together into increasing productivity, or indeed increasing the level of capitalistic and skilled labour contribution in output, that would insure far better quality, and the little extra in production cost can be passed on to consumers like Scandinavian without much losses in terms of competitiveness, as long as Moroccan textile can differentiate itself as a “good quality” product.

That’s were challenges lie: how to increase the average cost of exported ton, so as to create value, and subsequently cut down the trade deficit. In order to provide resources for these policies, our exports need to look somewhere else, get rid of the small and shrinking niches they got so comfortable in, and start looking for new markets. The positive externalities would have far-reaching consequences: a more diversified pool of export markets would render us less dependent on our traditional partners’ business cycles, with all the benefits on our foreign reserves and the Dirham value.

Thesis Working Paper n°1

Posted in Dismal Economics, Read & Heard, The Wanderer by Zouhair ABH on December 23, 2010

This year is definitely being bitchy all the way down to early spring. Can it get any worse? (I am masochist, so It’s a bit of wishful thinking)

I’m getting pieces together for the thesis; it’s definitely going into game theory as a theoretical background in describing how a central bank should set the optimal interest rate, and how the fact that rate can be credible when a certain set of conditions are satisfied. I am having an enormous amount of fun in trying to get things going around… In an economic universe, the Central Bank has few objectives to fulfill: “stabilizing inflation around an inflation target and stabilizing the real economy, represented by the output gap“. (Svensson, 1999) the output gap is a reference to the gap between the actual GDP and the optimal GDP, or potential output, and can be roughly computed with the labour and net capital productivity, plus the total productivity factors, which can be proxy for technical innovation (or how to combine factors differently to get a higher output, or the same amount of output for lower level of capital and labour)

Because I claim to be a monetarist, and because I am fully in favour of an independent -but responsible before an elected body of representatives- central bank, I believe this institution is the one adequately geared to influence other players into accepting it as the best level of interest rate they should act upon. The game theory technique is there to prove that it can set a rate and an output target such that all players -that is economic actors- would stand by the targets as credible signals and would yield larger common welfare if they did not.

There is of course a strong assumption going on about the Central Bank’s motives: following institutional backgrounds, banks like the Federal Reserve has a triple objective to fulfill: inflation, growth and employment (Federal Reserve act, Section 2.a) the European Central Bank on the other hand, is mainly focused on inflation, and growth is a purely secondary objective, contrary to the Fed whose 3 objectives are of equal importance; these are even more stressed upon when put in perspective with regard to the kind of relationship their entertain with the political power; There is a wide-range consensus among economists about the virtues of an independent Central Bank, for all of the benefits it brings in terms of credibility, and thus efficiency in monetary policy-making.  As for the Moroccan central bank (Bank Al Maghrib) things are certainly different, but that is another matter.

Another assumption is that other players are interest-rate sensitive: firms are likely to expand or restrain their investment; The assumption looks credible, even though there are occurrences of sub-optimal or indeed irrational decision-making regardless of what the levels of interest rates are. In a dynamic setting, some players, like the unions or households do not change their behaviour overnight, as indeed there is a certain delay (a lag variable that can empirically observed thanks to econometrics) and would therefore blur the bank’s decision;

– Starting/working assumptions:

The Central Bank handles interest rates setting and assigning to the economy a target output (or in most cases, a target output gap) both of which variables are set in a fashion such to maximize common welfare, namely by selecting a pair (r,Y) that yields to the Nash axioms (or at least, to start with, Pareto conditions). These decisions are taken subject to other players’ respective preferences sets. The Central Bank is considered benevolent, and pursues no agenda of its own (that is to say, the Nash pair is the Bank’s own preference).

The aim is to prove that in monetary policy, there exist a Nash pair (r,Y) for which common welfare is maximized, and that Game Theory techniques and findings would help describing mechanisms and strategies that would allow the Central Bank, under specified conditions, to reach this equilibrium set over time. The difference with the ‘regular’ Game Theory setting and the present attempt to model the monetary policy lies in lotteries and risk aversion. The first one is relegated to random events (as perhaps used in econometric study) the second one would be rather about time preferences, as we can assume that agents value time, and would rather reach an agreement sooner rather than later.

Therefore, the starting concepts for this paper are going to be related to bargaining issues: for each Player i there is a function [f(r,Y)] called a utility function, such that one lottery is preferred to another if and only if the expected utility of the first exceeds that of the second.

– Simple Model: We borrow elements from the bargaining model as specified by Osborne & Rubinstein with a simple monetary set: two players, Central Bank (CB) and a Business Firm (BF) in an economy, which have to reach agreement on a specific set (r,Y). Both have their own preferences (CB’s is exogenous to its own condition) We keep the definition 2.1. For the agreements pair (S,d) where S is the set of all feasible pairs (r,Y). Of all Nash axioms (SYM, PAR, IIA & INV) only the symmetry assumption has to be dropped, as CB and BF display different preferences. The feasible set of pairs (r,Y) is divided up between desirable pairs’ sets –to which both players want to yield- and worst outcome possible (WOP) which both players want to avoid at any price. (and is the primary component of bargaining cost)The border between both sub-sets is set by the economy’s own productive capacities (or indeed how far the output gap can be sustained without slipping down into recession) Let us start with the bargaining game of alternating offers, and define monetary policy setting as follow:

1/ CB announces a pair (r,Y) to BF. BF has three ways to go: accept the pair, refuse it or refuse it and submit to CB an alternative pair. If BF accepts or refuses point blank, the game is over, and both parties reach a pair (r,Y) that belongs to the disagreement pair, an outcome both of which are made worse off when reached.

2/ CB, in turns, accepts the pair, refuses it or re-computes another pair (r,Y) and submits to BF.

3/ The game is rolling as long as each players refuse the proposed pair and proposes another.

We have to assume beforehand that CB has access to complete information (a fair assumption as CB uses resources to obtain sufficient information to make an accurate decision- an assumption to be discussed later on) and therefore whatever decision made is necessarily optimal. We can also assume that BF has access to complete information as well, and knows why CB fields its strategy. We also assume both players to adopt an optimal strategy at each point of the bargain, that is, that they are able to order their preferred pairs and play them accordingly at each knot of the game.

This proves that an equilibrium set of pairs (r,Y) can be reached very quickly, as both players know each others’ respective preferences, and if there are resistances from one part or the other, the disagreement –that is, the delay in reaching agreement- does not go further than a couple of periods. In a sequential equilibrium however, ‘We can interpret the equilibrium as follows. The players regard a deviation as a sign of weakness, which they “punish” by playing according to a sequential equilibrium in which the player who did not deviate is better off. Note that there is delay in this equilibrium even though no information is revealed along the equilibrium path.’

This can be used to provide a first-hand punishment deterrent to hurry both CB and BF to reach an equilibrium pair. The time value can be used as well, as indeed the longer both parties reach agreement, the more painful –or indeed the less desirable- the equilibrium pair would be. In real life, that is the case when CB fails to convince other economic players that they will stick to their decision, or that their announcement was not credible. That compels the bank to come after with a much stringent, more constraining announcement, something that could have been avoided if they took their signal seriously in the first place. As mentioned before, the central bank has objectives to stabilize inflation by setting optimal interest rate, and computing optimal (resp. minimal) output (output gap). For the time being, we set up for the output gap, as described in the paper by Gaspar & Smets. Their starting assumption was that both the Central Bank and the private sector (in our case, BF) observe the potential output, an assumption that can be deemed to be realistic, in view of semi-perfect information universe they evolve in.

Milestone 100. Random thoughts & Others

Posted in Flash News, Morocco, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on December 22, 2010

Or so it was. 100th post -after I’d scrapped some I deemed to shameful to display- and blank screen to go, if not a desperate yearn to put together 2 ideas. I do have some drafts on economics, which I neglected a bit, but these are not enough. Although I can aver that I am going pretty well on my thesis.

So, what’s to talk about? random thoughts indeed, which should certainly not degenerate into desultory soliloquies of a fitful madman. Perhaps Wikileaks. I did not discuss the stuff, and I certainly am not going to do so -in depth I mean- in this post. Perhaps I could venture some thoughts on the matter. Wikileaks is very embarrassing. Not only to the US -they will get over it eventually, but damage has been done- but to one of the perks modern states enjoyed throughout the ages, i.e. secrecy, is about to disappear. Leaks are not a new phenomenon in the Western hemisphere: There was an earlier occurrence when the Lyndon administration had the unfortunate honour to deal once with mass-scale leaks during the Vietnam War -what came to be dubbed as ‘the Pentagon Papers‘-  and in 1971, beans were being spilled about how the war was conducted, contrary to official claims. It did contribute to the downfall of Lyndon Johnson. Of course, these leaks were massive because a document was compiled, and then put into the public domain. Wikileaks, on the other hand, benefited from new technologies, and was initially focused on ‘War Logs’ of Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns.

Secrecy goes with one of the modern state features: bureaucracy, with its specific and specified rules of process, extensive description of procedures and the like, is a quasi-institution that inevitably produces mass amounts of written documentation, some of which is deemed not to be made public. It could be motivated by the claim that it could hurt someone’s career, or reveal sensitive information damaging the national security, stability, institutions… the argument is contingent on how open the political master is about information. ‘Top Secret’ is the word. In that case, the bureaucracy produces its own rules protecting its individuals, or rather, the positions, a protection that is justified to the extent that the edifice need wholesome credibility. However, evidence and literature did underline the human aspect to it: Michel Crozier did point out, through the example of French civil service, that bureaucracies tend to create their own rules, and when consciously so, try to protect themselves from outside inquiries.

This, however, changed a bit. Partly due to the rise of libertarianism to prominent political thinking, and an increasing suspicion towards large bureaucracies and the State more generally. The Official Secrets Act gave way to the Freedom of Information Act, and secret agencies are required to disclose documents after a certain amount of time. Group pressure and individual citizens in the post-industrialized world are increasingly holding governments to account, a trend that is likely to be observed in the newly democratic countries in other parts of the world. Wikileaks, is therefore just “fast-tracking” these documents and quite frankly, they would not threaten much interests, save perhaps for some US officials to be roughed-up for their blunt style in diplomatic cables. On the other hand, it would be good to read some confidential memos from Morocco, least of which on the true nature of agreements with France after 1956, or perhaps what happened exactly to Ben Barka in 1965.

I did not grasp fully the implications of the Sahara issue: media in Morocco are still drumming up domestic support for the cause, as I watch on television the Foreign Affairs minister congratulate himself on negotiations about which we know very little, and about which the Moroccan people have very little if anything, to say in it. It is either a matter of media manipulation (as a cover-up for something else) or just as a under-the-table kind of deal that would contradict the domestic line on “Moroccan sovereignty or bust”. As far as I am concerned, Spanish and Algerian animosity, if anything, account very little for the current issue. It is a matter of institutional resilience, a deeper problem to address, something the policy makers do not have the incentives, nor the means, nor even the will to tackle. As for the Moroccan people, they have been rendered, well, as they say in Arabic: صُمٌّ بُكْمٌ عُمْيٌ فَهُمْ لَا يَعْقِلُونَ. C’est pas demain la veille !

I finally got my new ID Card. It took me about 3 months to get it. To my dismay, they mistyped my family name (which is a bit complicated, granted); A Kafkaesque discussion with the local clerk followed:

Me: “My family name is not typed correctly”

Clerk: “Central used the official paper you have put in your application”

Me: “Well, yes… I have the document here, my name is typed like so”

Clerk: “This is not my problem. You’ll have to do the application all over again, or perhaps just the fingertips bit”

Me: “I thought it was electronic; Why do I have to start from square one ?”

Clerk: “I don’t know, please stand aside, let 3ibad Allah yi choufou ch’ghoulhoum”

I did state my belief in civil service, but sometimes, I wonder how the Moroccan service is holding the country together. I always thought I was listed on the DST file -and I have no problem with that, it’s a family tradition, plus it’s their job to keep an eye on troublemakers, even harmless ones such as myself, but if they fail to transfer correctly my name on a computer file, then on the ID card, I have serious doubts on their ability to ensure security and to run effectively national register database. Oh, and that’s the tip of the iceberg: I still have my passport to renew, too… I am a Public Service loving person at heart, but, as far as Morocco is concerned, it’s high time they abolished the cosy rent civil servants are benefiting from, and start whipping them up for the common wealth, and to get value for their salaries.

I was thinking about social engineering as well: the first duty of government -left wing government of course- is to ensure common welfare is maximized, which implies redistribution, and thus making some people less well off, though they redistributed amount does not hurt their wealth to significant extent. This, among other things, can be achieved by means of public policies, the so-called public choice, subject to ideological tendencies: for instance, pro-family governments would for instance grand generous allowances for married woman to quit their job to take care of children, or indeed build kindergartens nearby. Pro-individual officials would on the contrary facilitate non-marital partnerships by passing laws allowing for it, or by introducing fiscal incentives. Econometric studies do show that individuals do respond to incentives of such features. Now, some could argue, and it could be sensible, that authoritarian tendencies lie in these policies. Sure. However, as the British Conservative Party advocated once, “We’re all in this together”; that’s the textbook trade-off that makes civilized societies what they are: individuals abdicate part of their individual freedom in exchange to larger, more secure collective privileges. Public policies, social engineering are just part of this explicit pact.

These policies are necessary to discuss in my opinion. I belong to a group of people that advocate a constitutional reform in Morocco, that would emphasise on human rights and genuine democracy, and these are views I subscribe to. But there is a fine line between romantic idealism and down-to-earth, bread-&-butter policies to put them to practise. Liberals and left-wing radicals did not, or failed to provide precise measures. I mentioned something about legalizing prostitution, on how defence spendings should be allocated among the Armed Forces; I would gladly do research on how to rethink taxation and budget spendings. We need more social engineers, and certainly less human rights activists. Too much time, energy and resources are spent lamenting on the lack of liberties -which is perfectly true- and very little is spent on actually putting forward proposals to achieve greater wealth, greater responsibility and wider freedom margins.

Last thing: Maroc Blogs Awards is closing nominations. Do vote for me, I’d appreciate it. thank you.


Strategic Defence Review: Contributions for Military Reforms

Posted in Flash News, Moroccanology, Morocco, Read & Heard by Zouhair ABH on December 11, 2010

Any defence review should be strategic, if it has the ambition of rethinking the existing, or indeed in trying to think outside of the orthodox box in terms of defence policy. And as far as resources are concerned, any rational decision has to be reflected on the choices of doctrines, training requirements and anything that shapes up the broad lines of defence policy. Also, the numbers I will refer to from time to time are public, widely distributed and assumed to be a fair estimation of reality.

Do major military forces still need Main Battle Tanks (MBT) for their asymmetrical wars? How useful is a tank in the mountains of Afghanistan, or the Marshes of Iraq?

Morocco enjoy relatively stable institutions, and keeps at bay from significant exogenous geopolitical threats. The Sahara dispute is monitored by the UN through its MINURSO establishment, and hosts regular peace talks between the Moroccan authorities and the Polisario representatives. Despite the regular clashes and showdowns, both parties have little incentives to go back on the warpath, and in any case these remnant of cold war legacy are likely to be cleaned up over the medium or long term. In addition, the Moroccan army is increasingly integrated to international expeditionary forces commitment, whether in Africa (Cote d’Ivoire and Congo) Europe (Kosovo) and the Middle-East (during operation Desert Shield). NATO nomenclature considers Morocco a “non-strategic partner” which, even though it does not sound exciting, means that Morocco remains involved in joint manoeuvres with NATO armies, including on the national territory, joint intelligence briefings and meetings.

The Cold War ended some two decades ago. Countries all over the world are still struggling to adapt to a major change in strategic thinking and military doctrines; the recent conflicts like in Afghanistan, Iraq or the recurrent special operations around the African horn do provide valuable empirical results for rethinking strategy and tactics, but surprisingly enough -or indeed because of financial restrictions- there are no major innovation as far as conventional weapons are concerned: the US Army and Marine Corps for instance still use M1 Abrahams, M2 Bradley, Apache and M4 rifle, all of which were either produced prior to 1991, or are upgrades of pre-existing weapon systems. Setting aside special forces, the existing weapons are not fitted for optimal asymmetrical combat configuration like their cold war predecessor, though considerable efforts were consented in terms of personnel web gears, camouflage patterns and even new hardware like the extensive use of Piranha vehicles, or new replacement for the M4 carbine. France operates the brand-new AMX Leclerc, a tank that was first designed in the late 1970’s, and by the time it was effectively in service the whole warfare doctrine that laid its requirement was long gone; As a result, this piece of art saw limited service (and is mostly used as a parade-ground toy for July 14th).  If major economic and military powers struggle to find the right arms for constantly changing battle condition, at an affordable price, what sort of hardships the Moroccan forces would be facing? It is even more pressing when one has to take into account how reliable the Moroccan army is on foreign military supplies, thus compelling decision makers to be careful in their choices.

Apart from their institutional weaknesses -and the establishment is not entirely without blame, far from it- there is a great deal to be done about the staggering heterogeneous weapon systems available to the branches of the armed forces. These problems are exacerbated by the unbalanced ratios between different classes of weapons which, in case of high intensity conflict, can lead to sever handicaps on the field, putting soldiers in harm’s way without the adequate level of hardware superiority: there is here a strong assumption that the army has a consistent combat manoeuvre tactics, involving inter-arms operability coordinating mobility, fire-power and reliable intelligence or reconnaissance into a formidable task force. The institutional shortcomings can be dealt with at the political level, with the authorities setting a comprehensive agenda for structural reforms, the only viable solution to transform a wasteful behemoth and opaque institution into an juggernaut machine devoted to efficiency and high standards for defence.

Equipment heterogeneity is mainly due to the fact that right after 1956, Morocco started expanding its army at a high pace, and as such,

Italian-Moroccan Joint Activities, SFOR outfit, Bosnia, February 2001 (Picture: NATO)

tried buying up systems of weapons from many countries east and west, not necessarily to fend off external threats (the 1963 desert war with Algeria was small scale, and against an enemy that lacked the proper structures and resources beyond an organized guerilla movement) and more into asserting a certain political balance. However, things changed resolutely after the Green March and the difficult years of semi-state of war with Algeria -now a fully fledged military power with a ‘massive fire power‘ Soviet doctrine to go-, the armed forces, especially the ground forces, expanded into an aggregate of arms from France, Germany, Italy, USA, Soviet Union and Israel to name but a few, all hurriedly bought and misused against an enemy much less endowed with initial military resources, but highly mobile, experienced and allowed to draw on considerable resources from behind the Iron curtain, Libya, Algeria and Cuba. The trouble with diverse weapon systems is that heterogeneous standards render logistics largely ineffective: the 1976-1991 is littered with unfortunate occurrences of field commanders issued with the wrong spare parts for their vehicles, inadequate ammunition allocations and indeed an amateurish use of military hardware to name but a few. Because most of past engagements were on the ground, battle condition requires logistic units (transport regiments and battalions, regimental repair shops and hardware supply damps) to be fully operative and equipped with the proper spare parts; Their efficiency increases as they have standardized sets homogeneous vehicles with common parts and proven reliability. This is particularly cardinal when ammunitions are concerned: firearms in Morocco are too diverse: Soviet-made guns (AK-47 and its variants: AK-74, Romanian and Czechoslovakian versions), Western-made (obsolete MAS-36 and MAT-49, M16, FAMAS, H&K MP5, and even WW2 Italian sub-machine-guns) as well as new acquisitions (Singapore copies of Steyr Aug and SAR-80) use each a different type of ammunition, ranging from 5.56mm NATO bullets to 9.mm parabellum. It is quite easy to prove that even with one type of firearm per country of origin, the possible calibration for each gun quickly lead to an inflated number of calibres to manage, a major cause of inefficiency, as well as increasing the likelihood combat units to be issued with the incorrect ammunitions. For instance, the AK-47 uses a 7.62 mm bullet (calibrated 7.62 x 39mm) so do some NATO firearms. however, these are calibrated into a standard 7.62×51 mm bullet, like the FAL (Fusil d’Assaut Léger). Both rifles are widely used in Morocco, and other firearms have a wider range of calibres: MAS-36 has a 7.5mm bullet, Beretta side-arms are 9mm parabellum. This is particularly bad when Morocco orders ammunition, and has therefore to put different orders for different types of ammunition, which not only increases costs for no sane purpose, but also complicates the delicate business of logistics. It is much wiser to scrap the obsolete weapons, and take up a unified set of calibres for light armament. There could be a limited range of calibres to be selected following use: light vs heavy machine guns (typically, that would be 5.56 or 7.62 NATO for individual weapons, and 12.7mm for heavy and support machine-guns) because Morocco is working hand in hand with NATO, the 5.56 mm or 7.62 mm NATO bullets can be good choice (although there is argument among the military about 5 mm ammo and its weaknesses of low velocity and lower probability of a first shot should kill). The ammunition choices are certainly determining the type of weapons the armed forces ought to retain or purchase, and that choice is contingent on the political decision of associating Morocco with UN and NATO interventions.

Sample of uniforms and outfits in the Moroccan Army. the obsolete 'Leopard' camouflage was inherited from the French army, and only elite units are issued with the garment, quite useless when it comes to desert warfare. (Picture: Aujourd'hui Le Maroc)

What applies to guns applies to spare parts for vehicles too: Morocco has a dozen types of vehicles, all of which come from different issuers. Tanks like M60 and M48 do have common spare parts, but these are useless as far as the T72, AMX-13 or VAB are concerned, and even equipment from the same seller have low commonality ratios when there is considerable discrepancy in service date (the commonality ratios are the strongest evidence in favour of integrated and standardized weapon systems). It is crucial for the army to renew its equipment indeed, but choices have to be made in terms of harmonized hardware. Hardware like the M48 Patton or AML armoured vehicle are definitely obsolete tough still kept in store -with all entailed inventory costs-, and so there is a need to either scrap or sell them off to other countries (Lebanon is building up its army to bridge the gap with Hezbollah militia. Good prospect customer), while retaining some for training and target practise purposes.

A good analogy for the ideal tank suited for desert warfare would be that of the French light tank AMX-13: it was designed in the early stages of cold war, and requirement were that of a light chassis with a powerful cannon (first 75mm, then 90mm and 105mm) and subject to possibilities of airborne transportation. Under some operational assumptions, Morocco can defend its southern and eastern borders quite effectively with a small but extremely mobile armoured task force with tanks lighter than regular MBTs, like the AMX-13, but less obsolete, and perhaps with a higher protection. The plausible axis of attack Algerian or Polisario troops would hypothetically launch would involve a massive use of armoured troops (a remnant of soviet-style blitzkrieg) and can carry on an in-depth penetration in Moroccan territory of about 400kms on plain fields, and because soviet-built tanks have a at best a slope engagement of 30° in mountain and hill regions, not more than 100 km. distances are roughly computed on tanks’ average autonomy, and without taking into account defensive actions from the Moroccan forces. Now, the ground forces have two ways to go: either assume battle will take place on our soil- or beyond borders, and behind Algerian lines. For the sake of appeasement and because wars ultimately are definitely a bad outcome, strategic outlines need to be defensive, although allowing for a margin strip of 100-150 km inside enemy territory and avoiding urban centres and subsequently, collateral damages: the purpose of such exercise is not seeking the complete destruction of the opposing force, not even on the basis of pre-emptive strikes; The nexus of any comprehensive military strategy is defence on the border, nothing more.

In any case, large scale battle tanks proved in the past to reach stalemate or very marginal gains for the winning side, an in that case unorthodox strategy could be the key in defeating the enemy. The idea behind tank concentration illustrates the Lanchester law: combined tank fire-power provides more than the mere sum of individual MBTs taken separately, and eventually obtains absolute fire superiority. There is however a paradoxical weakening of the armoured force as concentration makes them vulnerable to air strikes, a fact Morocco should take into account in building a new armoured corps, and an increased liaison with notably ‘hunter-tanks’ helicopters, like the Apache.

Hypothetical battle ground on Moroccan soil in the event of Algerian/Polisario attack. Assumptions attached are as follows: a) Morocco waits for an attack and adopt defensive plans. b) Attack is mainly led by tanks and other armoured vehicles. c) Active engagements are not sought

So there it is: a comparatively small but highly mobile and comprehensive task force to intervene when necessary: MBTs (weighting between 32t and 48t) APCs and AIFV for mechanised infantry, light recon tanks, mobile support and anti-aircraft artillery, and finally engineer vehicles for landscape contingencies, the ground element of a coalesced task force relying on air superiority, an element helicopter can achieve in direct confrontation situations (Operation Desert Storm brutally ended the myth of modern Blitzkrieg by reminding military strategists that armoured vehicles are vulnerable when friendly air cover is not guaranteed). To that effect, and in addition to the SA-342 Gazelle already existing, more Apaches need to be purchased, and can be financed either by selling some material, or indeed getting a deal with the United States (The USA have been giving Egypt some $ 1.3 Billion a year since 1979 in military aid, Morocco can certainly manage to get a fraction of it, large enough to buy a squadron or two). The same applies to other vehicles: NATO vehicles are increasingly fitted for greater commonality parts ratios and are therefore a good trade to renew the existing equipment. The present spending in ground forces is roughly MAD 14.Bn (2009 Budget) and at the time, the Forces Armées Royales spent MAD 10.2 Bn in new acquisitions and maintenance equipment. Because there is much secrecy about these transactions, it is difficult to assess the way things are heading: is there an effort in modernizing ? In fact, there is: I remember 3 years ago I couldn’t help but notice that guards posted around the GHQ (near the Royal Palace) the late Prince Abdellah’s palace (near Mohamed V university) or indeed the Parliament garrison, were issued new rifles instead of the old MAT-49, rifles that looks very similar to the Steyr AuG -a very fine piece of armoury- that turned out to be Singaporean copies SAR-21 (so-called Bull-pup rifles like the SA-80 or the FAMAS). It would look good if the same quality rifles were issued to all corps.

AH64 'Apache' Tank hunter

Other branches of the armed forces do not face the same acute problems as the army does: Air-force fleet looks more homogeneous, even though it has some obsolete planes -in the process of being either retrofitted, upgraded or entirely renewed- (hell, some of them feature on Buck Danny’s comics !) either because of over-extended service, or because of shifting standard mission assignments make the existing equipment no longer fit for service. This might have to do with the fact that requirement are pretty high in that branch. The air-force, besides its purely military assignments, is likely to be increasingly associated with other tasks, ranging from forest fire-fighting or more generally in monitoring coastal borders to prevent illegal immigrants, a task jointly carried out with the Navy. As for the primary armament, some efforts have been made to buy missiles to make up for their temporary disadvantage in air superiority, until F-16 and JF-17 deals are closed. JF-17, the Chinese plane could be a good deal though, as a temporary and inexpensive replacement by the time a more suitable alternative -and its funding- comes along.

Surprisingly enough, the navy got interesting bargains for its ships; This might have to do with the fact that Morocco is involved with joint crackdowns on illegal immigration and drug trafficking. The trouble with ships is that Morocco has to restrict its naval ambition to coastal defence, para-military assignment, and perhaps add a helicopter carrier to its existing fleet (that’s as far as I can get with boats.)

There was a mention earlier on the need for a combined task force to ensure a mobile outfit. That means ground forces will need to free themselves from the rigid, mass armies-like units; For instance, brigades should become ad-hoc structures: as far as the regimental level is concerned, arms classification (Mot. infantry, Armoured, Engineer, Artillery, etc…) can be kept as is, but staff level has to be broken down to allow for a more flexible structure: brigades as large units would not consist of definite units, but rather a contingent aggregate of regiments, the contingency being  specifically the ground field. Brigades would have a larger engineer component if it is expected to engage in difficult landscape.  It is becoming a common practise among NATO armies to break down their large units into temporary combined regiments, so as to fit the terrain and its constraints by increasing availability of a specific expertise: the 4.500 strong German expeditionary force in Northern Afghanistan consists mainly of Explosive Ordinance Disposal units and 233rd Mountain battalion (Gebirgsjäger), units that are more than qualified to evolve in a mountainous, IED-littered environment.

ISAF German vehicle in Afghanistan. the painted Palm tree is similar to the WW2 Afrikakorps symbol

It is quite astonishing to read that Moroccan ground forces can field only 3 camel corps (albeit independent and thus enjoying a great deal of operational flexibility) when it has 2/3 of its troops in the Sahara. One way to remedy to these shortcomings is to create LRDG-like units. The British and Commonwealth armies provide interesting examples of desert commando warfare that can be put to good use. the LRDG (Long-Range Desert Group) was an aggregate of commandos raiding behind German-Italian lines during WW2, with light armament, substantial resources and an outstanding human element. Far from seeking sophisticated weapons for their assignments, they relied on rustic Jeeps and Vickers machine guns, or even camels when there was need for, but most importantly, an in-depth intelligence with local Arab and Bedouin tribes. Up to 1958, Morocco did have similar experienced and battle-hardened soldiers (the MLA-South) that could provide some interesting insights for new commando units, specialized in desert warfare, trained in local dialects and able to mount deep penetration raids in enemy territories. In short, the Moroccan army has to learn from past battles against the Polisario, and develop contingency plans for reprisal raids in any event.

All these proposals are aimed at halving defence expenses: out of the MAD 34.62 Bn budget devolved to defence, there’s a great deal of waste going on. Scrapping unused and obsolete equipment, as well as investment in standardized arsenal should meet a target objective of 2-3% defence expenditure on GDP, i.e. reaching the level of 2000 (2.3%)