The Moorish Wanderer

Unfair Rankings? Morocco’s Persecutory Delusion

The latest press statement from the Government’s Spokesperson does not deviate from an established line of argument whenever a global ranking does not square with the official claim of Moroccan progress. The latest of such event was the 2014 Freedom House ranking: Morocco ranked 147 out of 197, in the 75 lower percentile for Freedom of the Press. Without prejudice to Freedom House’s methodology, is there any way to verify the claim Morocco’s progress was understated in this ranking? And if so, where would we be?

Morocco's good regional ranking belies a small decline in its pre-Arab Spring score.

Morocco’s good regional ranking belies a small decline in its pre-Arab Spring score.

A preliminary comparison does not put us in such a bad place after all, in view of the Arab Spring aftermath: Morocco ranks well among MENA countries, although this comes hardly as a good indicator, given the dramatic positive changes in Tunisia and Libya since 2010, and on the other side of the spectrum, Bahrain and UAE did worse.

Morocco however did not improve its ranking thanks to government policies, as the communique alleges, in fact, there has been a slight degradation with respect to its pre-2010 score, but not enough to affect its ranking. As the saying goes: in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed is king.

Taken to the global level, things are not as straightforward: on the one hand,  the decline in Morocco’s score is not large enough to label it a regression in press freedom, on the other hand, global trends around 2010-2011 provide a good estimate for what should have been the trend score and ranking. In any case, Morocco did not do well enough, and probably does not deserve the improvement in its ranking.

The communique states:

Force est de signaler que certains pays qui ont connu des arrestations de  journalistes, saisies de journaux et fermetures de portails web, ainsi que  d’autres qui sont instables, ont toutefois occupé des places meilleures que  celle du Royaume, qui n’a pas enregistré de telles décisions, a relevé M. Khalfi.

Of the 14 countries labelled ‘Not Free’ better ranked than Morocco, some did for some register arrests and/or censorship, but the fact of the matter is that Morocco’s weakness comes from its relatively low political sub-score: the final score is summed over three categories (Legal, Political and Economic) and the determining factor had been the sub-ranking on Political Freedom, where Morocco does comparatively worse. Per Freedom House’s methodology, the various initiatives heralded in Morocco do not meet the standard set by, among others, the Universal Declaration of Rights, and so do not register in favour of Morocco’s political sub-score. In short, the post-2011 reforms were not enough to overtake other countries, on par or slightly better ranked.

All of this does not absolve the Moroccan authorities: at the national level, the trend should have been improving since the mid-1990, which is not the case, and at the sample level, comparative benchmark point to a substantial improvement which did not materialize.

The growing gulf since 2011 is an indication of Morocco's failure to live up to its expectations.

The growing gulf since 2011 is an indication of Morocco’s failure to live up to its expectations.

The graph on the right plots Morocco’s actual versus hypothetical scores between 1993 and 2013. A downward trend means an improvement in freedom status, and that was not the case for Morocco: the hypothetical trend is derived from the average performance of countries with comparable scores in 1993, and those have improved dramatically their score throughout,  even as Morocco recorded a reversal as early as 2001 with no improvement ever since.

The increasing gap between Morocco’s actual and best-case scenario scores describes its failure to push through with the structural reforms carried out during the mid-to-to late 1990s; it also provides a stark reminder the ‘New Era’ of political liberalization started well before 1999, meaning all announcements made since have not translated into reforms strong enough to register as actual improvement in Morocco’s score and rankings.

Score break-down analysis allows to pinpoint the roots of this lacklustre performance, and provide pointers to the Moroccan authorities and the civil society in terms of reform priorities.

Recall overall score is computed on three components, and countries labelled ‘Free’ tend to exhibit a significant effect from the Economic Rights category: Free and Partially Free Countries experience a 24% lower Economic Rights score compared to the rest of the world. This relates directly to the main argument behind Morocco’s, particularly so in light of the established criteria:

 1.  To what extent are media owned or controlled by the government and does this influence their diversity of views? (0–6 points)
2.  Is media ownership transparent, thus allowing consumers to judge the impartiality of the news? (0–3 points)
3.  Is media ownership highly concentrated and does this influence diversity of content? (0–3 points)
4.  Are there restrictions on the means of news production and distribution? (0–4 points)
5.  Are there high costs associated with the establishment and operation of media outlets? (0–4 points)
6.  Do the state or other actors try to control the media through allocation of advertising or subsidies? (0–3 points)
7.  Do journalists, bloggers, or media outlets receive payment from private or public sources whose design is to influence their journalistic content? (0–3 points)
8.  Does the overall economic situation negatively impact media outlets’ financial sustainability? (0–4 points)

These questions only show why the score is comparatively low for freedom of the press from an economic perspective, and those provide a good starting point for genuine reform if the Moroccan authorities were serious about the initiatives they mentioned in the communique.


Oops, They Have Done It. Again.

I believe there are such things as gifted amateurs. But at the Maghreb Arabe Presse, just as well as in the Foreign Ministry, the people in charge are professionals. When they are about to commit some cock-up, they proud themselves to do it wholesomely, and they never forget to reiterate it, to make sure it is done properly. Indeed, just like a year before, Morocco refused the Human Development Index (HDI) findings and argues for a better index reflecting the huge efforts Morocco consented during the last decade (actually, it just focused the criticism on its shortcomings).

The Foreign Ministry published a communique, following which it criticizes the HDI findings, essentially, as they put it, because it “failed to capture the quantitative and qualitative progress Morocco achieved during the last decade”. The communique also casts great doubts about an index “based on 2004 data, a year before the INDH was launched, and therefore could not integrate it in its computations”.  Well, our officials seem to be sore losers; Besides, the UN are not going to change a whole index just so that our country, particularly just because our ranking fell to a pathetic 130th rank. It is no good to criticize an indicator that puts the light on how pathetic all the development strategy went wrong.”طاحت الصومعة، علقو الحجام” as they say. And it is not like the HDI failed utterly to capture any hint of progress: They do recognize, in good faith, that Morocco: “Between 1980 and 2007 Morocco’s HDI rose by 1.20% annually from 0.473 to 0.654 today”. So it is not like we scored that bad. It’s just that other countries are actually doing much better than us in terms of poverty eradication and the like, as the graph below shows:

I would like to briefly discuss the HDI’s intrinsic methodology. According to the methodology paper they put on, the index “is a summary of  human development. It measures the average chievements in a country in three basic dimensions of human development“. These are listed as follow:

* Life expectancy at birth

* Adult Literacy and Gross enrolment ratio (number of pupils actually at school compared to the overall children at age to go to school)

* GDP per Capita.

The index then takes into account other parameters as well, making it increasingly comprehensive as the variables grow more complex. It can there fore be safe to dismiss the criticism of the HDI as being “carelessly carried out” as a feeble and baseless one (For those with doubts still left, there is a more technical paper here that should be convincing enough). The computations used to get an overall result are crystal clear.

The results are a bit "back-of-the-envelope" of the kind, but the result are definitely robust

What seems to be the criticism here (and I have to say, the Foreign Ministry produced quite a feeble argument) is on the criteria. Of all the three, Morocco has a lot to do, and on others, Morocco failed utterly. You can download here all the data the UNDP used to calculate our index (and therefore, our ranking).  Just a few figures to look at (all the figures are circa 2007):

* Adult (15 years old and above) Literacy rate: 55%

* GDP per Capita (PPP US $): $ 4108

* Population living below $2 a day (2000-2007): 14%

* Female estimated earned income (PPP US$): $1,603

* Male estimated earned income (PPP US$): $6,694

As I mentioned before, there is an exhaustive list to look at, but the figures are, truth be told, a blunt evidence of failure. I am not saying the various missed out totally inequality, or did not address at all child poverty and the like. But these policies failed to deliver, or meet the deadlines and the requirement. Let us look now to what other countries did in terms of Human development compared to Morocco. I’ve taken the liberty to prepare a graph with a group of countries, with data available here for a broader comparison.

HDI Comparison Table. Morocco is outperformed by other countries over a long period of time, so it is more a matter of structural weakness, rather than just delayed policy effect

What about the INDH then? The communique’s cornerstone argument was that the HDI did not fully take the INDH effect into account, which could lead to a negative bias on our efforts and commitment for a development strategy. Let us then have a look at the INDH figures too. According to the plan, some 10 billion MAD were channelled to development projects over the 2006-2010 period. These spendings aim at, as they put it, reducing the levels of poverty and social exclusion. It strikes me as odd that, at any time, test requirements were prepared. I mean, the money is spent, there is an audit, everything is checked, that’s fine. I was actually amazed at the level of detail the INDH got to. Very good indeed, and it is right it should be so.

But at no time there is a battery of commitments, something that might go like: the INDH is commited to reduce child poverty by a% over the period, or find a suitable shelter for b thousands homeless third-age people. 10 billion is a formidable sum of money to spend, and I am sure the cooperatives and/or charities that get the money would carry out their job just fine, but at the end of the day, isn’t the task of the goverment to plan, anticipate, forecast for that kind of policy? Isn’t it a basic scientific approach for one to set some failure test with respect to targets? Otherwise, it looks as though it’s all propaganda, and on the top of it, international organizations cannot get proper accounts of it.There remains the possibility I might have overlooked this data, so if there is someone kind enough to provide me with the data, I would be very thankful.

Recently, Oxford University produced a very exhaustive poverty index. The evidence is compelling, Morocco is doing worse, compared to countries like Tadjikistan, Syria, Jordan or Turkey. The index is gaining credibility fast, and is about to be added to the UN’s index nomenclature. Would the Foreign Ministry issue a statement on the matter as well?

Our officials should look for a simplier explanation why our rankings stagnate or worsen: the policies they carry out, while delivering good results -and even that is a matter of debate- are not that good. The results, when compared to other countries, are mediocre, or below the expectations. It is no good to critcize an indicator just because it shows you failed, or did worse compared to other countries.