The Moorish Wanderer

Tallyho Politics, The Reign of Amateur Policy-makers

The Political apparatus in Morocco is a shambles. I say shoot the old lot, bring the young and let them make mistakes. Sounds radical, doesn’t it?
Joke aside, it’s been a long time since the political parties in Morocco failed to devise policies, and when they do sketch some feeble argument, it is so diluted that if it ever was put into practise, they wouldn’t know where to start first. On the other hand, policy-makers in Morocco lead the charge with formidable support from McKinsey-style consultancy firms. The trouble is, a country like Morocco cannot be run like a corporation. And even if it is so in the minds of the young fellows at the Royal Cabinet (which I expect to join any moment now. There’s always hope, isn’t there?) the corporation is certainly not run in the best interest of its shareholders, only to the board’s benefit.

Policy and social engineering are worked out under the assumption that the objective is to maximize the country’s welfare. There remains a great deal of blur in defining what one might mean by that word: “welfare“. In fiscal matters, it may come to the idea of taxing individuals and companies more than others, while in social policy, it also means helping some social classes more than others. There’s also a great deal of ideology in policy-making, even among the high-brow circles of consultants: under the veneer of technocracy, there’s a political motivation behind strategic thinking like the ‘Plan Maroc Vert‘, ‘Halieutis and the INDH or indeed anything of the sort like the high-speed network.

Perhaps I am over-rating the Palace’s task force. It has been a question I often ask myself: how are decisions taken up there? Whether on economic policy, or on-the-spot decision crisis like the Aminatou Haidar case, or the issue of protest camps in Agdim Izik, how are decisions made up there? Do they meet in a war-room, delineating scenarii then discussing the likelihood of each one until they reach the best decision?  Because we know, we all know it’s not some old-fashioned fool that takes the decisions in Morocco (even global institutions like rating agencies know that) so it must be that the Royal Cabinet has some kind of modus operandi I assume to be ultra-rational (given the high proportion of  engineer and business graduate from the French Grandes Ecoles). And yet, it looks as though only fools and incompetents are in charge. Please allow me to expatiate; and ad absurdo reasoning would be best. Let’s consider the ONA-SNI case: if the firm is really set on pulling the country out of poverty and into prosperity, how come its dividend policy never shows it?

I mentioned before an opinion that has been formed on the economy front: there is, among other things, a consensus that the private business of His Majesty can pull the economy. The idea is that we need the Moroccan equivalent of Chaebol, the Korean conglomerate of Banks and Industries that played significant part in making South Korea what it is today: a first-class country that is now considered to be member of the G20 club, when, 50 years ago, its GDP per capita was lower than Morocco’s, and the best thing they could have ever manufactured at the time was T-shirts. The idea was therefore to imitate, as it were, the Korean experience with companies like SNI-ONA, or indeed Attijari Wafabank and other national heavyweights. The economic model sounds good: at the price of domestic monopoly, Morocco fields a first-class holding able to operate on global markets with the required size to win us some surplus that would be redistributed. In other words, the private monopoly captures the common surplus in order to expand, and then redistribute it through pay rise or investment in intangible assets. This is the semi-official line. The financial statements tell otherwise, though.

ONA Shareholders per share. the only public fund -CDG- has a ridiculous 2.73%

Now, doesn’t it strike you as odd that the fleuron of our largest firms should invest so little and distribute these high levels of dividends to the shareholders? Between 2004 and 2010 -prior to the smoke screen withdrawal of ONA SNI shares- the holding distributed an average of about 3/4 of its benefits (which reached the billion of Dirhams at least);

while the rare investments they undertook where mainly about mergers and real estate speculation. The Chaebols, on the other hand, had a gargantuan appetite for asset acquisition (which also meant that they favoured a rigorous dividend discipline, translated into high levels of savings – something that did not prevent them from using audacious financial structuring) and are, at the end of the day, radically different from our own sketchy, greedy, money-grabbing beloved conglomerate. So much for the economic new era

Even the ‘Grand Workshops’ our 8.00 o’clock news are so keen to laud, the fulsome praises elude the main question of: ‘who benefits from what’. Plan Maroc Vert is a favourite: the official line states that small farmers would benefit from cutting-edge policies like ‘aggregation’. For those who are not familiar with the plan, it has two main implementation strategies: the first one is export-oriented, very monopolistic that favours already existing large domains, industrial-like farms (among which [drum rolls…] the Royal Domains) the other one, which looks like it was hurriedly put together, is designed to help ‘directly’ the small farmers. Cooperatives, micro-credit, etc… just enough to keep their heads above the water. How could Plan Maroc vert be helpful when funding is so biased towards large, wealthy farmers?  Do we need to remind the readers of the figures? Yes we do, it’s always beneficial to  put things in prospective: MAD 80 billion is made available for 961 projects with only 562.000 farmers and 545 projects for 855.000 farmers (Those that should be helped and supported) get no more than MAD 20 billion.  In other terms, and under the provision all farmers benefit from the Plan Maroc Vert, 39% of the farmers (most of whom are quite wealthy) get 80% of the funding.

In economic terms, the policies are not, to say the least, caring about the majority. Unless they take the view that the common welfare is that of a privileged minority, the 10% sort that has 40% of the total national income, the sort of passengers able to pay for the TGV between Tangiers and Casablanca. Perhaps the idea is that already rich people would get richer and richer, till they reach a point of satiety such that they would spend money, to the benefit of the less-off. If that’s the view, this kind of rapacious capitalism is bound engender serious resentment from the excluded. Oh, wait it’s already happening !

(Credits to Al Wandida for circulating the video)

Now that the economic model proved its shortcomings, social and political strategies prove to be at best coy, and in any case dangerously hegemonic. Say the Moudouwana was a great improvement (although one can cast doubts whether it was just a return to the 1957 square) it was a show that was full of symbolism: to the liberal side, it was a clear signal that His Majesty is the one calling the shots, and their liberal agenda prospers as long as His pleasure allows it to. To the conservatives, he proved he could block whenever he wanted the perceived westernalization of Morocco, and  confirmed his role as the sole source of religous legitimacy. On this issue and on may others, His Majesty made his King Louis XIV’s apocryphal quote: ‘l’Etat, C’est Moi‘. And all the policies the little helping hand and the shadow army are not, in the long term, to His, or Morocco’s best interest.

FAEH: The Architect of His Majesty's political project.

The PAM project, on the other hand, is the only old-school trick: the infamous Front de Défense des Institutions Constitutionelles, Rassemblement National des Indépendants, Union Constitutionnelle or Parti Justice et Développement (Among Others) all roved to be temporary rough patches when the opposition was resolute in its stand. the PAM is a patch against the abnormal high abstention rate the 2007 general elections recorded; A motley of activists, a bizarre amalgam of renegade left-wingers, rural and Mafioso-like notables and hungry young opportunists. Does it restore confidence in partisan politics? The PAM designers are in for a shock, I dare say.

Events in Tunisia -to which I must confess my complete astonishment, why, a regime like Ben Ali’s to fold like a house of cards!- proved that an excessive concentration of wealth, power and legitimacy is, on the long run, a disastrous fuite en avant.

In these conditions, why should anyone try and give additional credit to a regime so stubbornly greedy, and how long should it take them to realize that monopolising bright minds -and neutralizing their most valuable assets, i.e. ideas- is not going to help them further, and fuels a resentment that I warn might develop into a incommensurable social conflagration.

The Side Show of A Side Show

Posted in Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Morocco, Read & Heard, The Wanderer, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on October 8, 2010

Three main courses for current Moroccan news: Ould Salma, reportedly released from his Polisario jail, Nichane newspaper that went under and finally Fodail Aberkane, an individual killed in a Police station. Mainstream and Blogoma are all over it, so I thought I could add my voice to the herd too. No harm done.

First, Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud. It is great to get all misty eyes and all fired up over his misfortunes, and in a way, it would be fair game because last year at the same time, Morocco was down the international gutter because of its behaviour towards pro-independence Sahrawi activist Aminatou Haidar. The tide has since then changed slightly to Morocco’s favour, but overall it does not further our claims, nor does it bring about a final settlement to the present unfortunate situation. I don’t know about my fellow bloggers, but when I watch Moroccan television, or read some of the MAP news agency about the “القضية الوطنية”, the National Issue n°1 as it were, I have the uncomfortable feeling the propaganda is targeted towards the domestic audience.

And what bombastic propaganda that was! Following our forensic experts like M. Nini, we are about to go to war with Algeria (or even Spain) and within a week our soldiers would be sipping tea at Tindouf. All of that while the truth is carefully toned down (there was little publicity about the negotiation rounds that took February 2010), Moroccan officials are in direct negotiations with the Polisario, and matters that occasionally arise are used by each side to put pressure on the other and get the maximum concession out of it.

There is nothing in it for the interest of the common Moroccan or the Sahrawi in Tindouf. As for Ould Salma, he gambled on international support, whether he lost or won is still a matter of debate. Bottom line is, let’s not get too excited and heated up for this.

Ould Salma, former Polisario top raking Police officer, jailed after expressing favourable views on Morocco's autonomy plan

This is merely international politics, a sideshow to cover up for politics that matters. Another sideshow is Nichane newspaper that (finally) shuts down (and up in the process). It is always sad to witness another newspaper shutting down in Morocco; This particular case however is not the result of direct oppression, and one can certainly assert that freedom of speech does not shrink further because of that.

A business has been closed down, but the journalists can still write articles. Nichane, just like its French-speaking sister newspaper TelQuel, and the late Le Journal are not what one can describe as all-out opposition newspapers.

Their founders (Ahmed Réda Benchemsi and Aboubakr Jamaï for Le Journal) are not firebrand dissidents. Both come from quite wealthy backgrounds (Ulad Jamaï are a wealthy family that long served at Imperial court and Benchemsi is related to a former Governor), and if their newspapers close down, they are not going to starve or go on the dole.

In fact, the terms of debate are wrongly defined: the central issue here is not the gagging of freedom of press, it is merely the closing down of a business.

Both Le Journal and Nichane were compelled to close down because of the direct cause of financial difficulties: the first had unpaid social securities contributions, and the second for the lack of advertisement support. Both closed down because they were short of money.

Ahmed Réda Benchemsi Aka “ARB” is known for his fired-up editorials against Islamists

One can cast doubts on whether both newspapers were ill-managed but the fact remains that both newspapers were first and foremost businesses that were profitable at a time, but eventually reached an unbearable level of losses and had to withdraw. As journalists, their founders could always open up a collective blog, or set up another newspaper, their freedom of speech is not endangered.

Their freedom was endangered when they published dissident articles, but not this time with Nichane, nor with Le Journal in February 2010.One can reasonably argue that this seems to be the new strategy censors are pursuing to gag dissidents, and they deserve solidarity but only up to a point.

Journalists in Morocco put themselves in a bit of a spot: right from the start -say the early 90’s- independent journalists hammered a dangerous message on their readers; politicians are all alike, corrupt, opportunists and weak. The message was so well conveyed -and confirmed by unfortunate examples– that in a way, journalists became politicians themselves. No one can deny that Rachid Nini, Ahmed Reda Benchemsi or Jamaï senior and many others do not have their own respective agenda, whether as a reactionary, an anti-islamist or a constitutional reformer

Rachid Nini: Die Nachtrichten Führer

. Independent journalists are the new politicians in Morocco. They do however, fit admirably the cruel yet strikingly in Baldwin’s apophthegm: “Power without responsibility, the prerogative of Harlots through out the ages”.

Power because they do have considerable amount of influence (Nini as a Populist, ARB and Jamai as intellengtsia favourite writers ) but they are answerable to nobody. The other behemoth player is the Makhzen, who occasionally play them off each others, or crush them whenever it is necessary to remind them, and the public that they set up the rules and there are things not to be trifled with.

It is all good to worry about freedom of speech, but one has to keep in mind the wider picture speaks better. It is, quite simply, a storm in a weak tea-cup. Now, do we need to worry about Nichane or independent newspapers in Morocco? Frankly, who cares? the days of militant and impoverished -yet high-standards- journalism in Morocco are over (Mohamed Belhassan El ouazzani was not expecting journalism in Morocco to stoop so low in the business race); we are talking business, and in such matters, there are no good guys and bad guys, only big bucks.

I was amazed to the strength of international media coverage (old farts stick together, don’t they?) as though corporatist solidarity allows journalists to pose as victims (and they certainly are, to an extent) but not in a manner such as the ordinary citizens of  Ben Smim for instance.

37 years old Fodail Aberkane. An anonymous victim of Police brutality

The last piece was left so on purpose, because it is much more important; The first one does not affect us directly as citizens, but merely concerns an unnecessary nationalistic pride we can do without.

The second one is just a matter of money and would-be journalists. The last is about how random and hazardous it is to walk in a police station and walk out of it unharmed and more importantly, alive. I needn’t bore you with details because others have spoken quite eloquently about it. It is as though a brutal reminder was sent to all would-be dissidents that the old institutions are still there, and that at any time, one can meet his maker (and Orangina bottle down their bottom in the process) in a nasty dark little room, downstairs one’s very local police station. Suffice it to remember than, in a Morocco so full of new things and so resolute in its democratic process and open-mindedness, the murder of Fodail Aberkane remains a blot that has never been addressed.

One would certainly say: well, it just happened once, and if it was not for a life, it is no big deal. A reasoning ab absurdo would prove it to be otherwise: assuming what happened in Salé police station was merely a security cock-up, why didn’t the interior ministry suspend the policemen and launch an inquiry on the matter? Don’t they realise that what happened is a disgrace to the uniform of Moroccan police; (the satirical Young Retarded Moroccan Society published a very moving piece about it)

On that melodramatic tone, I wish you all a good week end.