Morocco embraces digital transformation, but pace is slow

Government’s Maroc Digital 2020 seeks to reinforce Morocco’s position as regional digital hub, enhance its digital skills and governance, but several obstacles are still hindering its acceleration.

CASABLANCA - Morocco has set out an ambitious national strategy “Maroc Digital 2020” (Morocco Digital 2020) in a bid to boost the development of the digital economy sector, but several obstacles are still hindering its acceleration.

The government’s Maroc Digital 2020, which is the continuity of the impetus created by the previous national strategy "Maroc Numeric 2013", seeks to reinforce the North African country’s position as a regional digital hub and enhance its digital skills and governance.

The digital transformation in Morocco is gradually taking place in various sectors of activity but its pace remains slow compared to countries of the Gulf Corporation Countries (GCC).

Morocco is among the top three countries in North Africa and the Middle East (outside the GCC) and Africa, in the e.GOV ranking in terms of services provided to the citizens and to the enterprises, Infrastructure DATACOM and Doing IT, according to UNESCO.

The Moroccan government has invested in setting up e-government platforms in order to facilitate state institutions’ interaction with businesses and citizens.

The digital has become a major asset in Morocco’s economy and key player in luring investors to the country.

There are several e-businesses operating in Morocco such as the world's largest community driven hospitality company AirBnb and ride-sharing service Careem.

However, global ride-hailing giant Uber’s pullout from Morocco a year ago due to regulatory uncertainty that did not allow the US firm to provide a safe and reliable experience for neither their customers nor their drivers, has exacerbated a negative sentiment among potential foreign investors in the digital economy.

After three difficult years in Morocco, Uber suspended its activities in Morocco despite calling for real reforms in the transportation sector.

Rachid Aourraz, economist and researcher at the Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis, blamed Uber’s departure on the annuity economy that is hampering the improvement of the transportation sector.

“There remains a huge challenge for ride-sharing services activities in Morocco as long as there is no radical reform of the transportation sector,” warned Aourraz.

The analyst told Middle East Online that several factors need to be improved in order to help boost the digital economy in Morocco.

“Facilitation of access to digital banking and financial services, improvement of telecommunications networks and digital coverage and raising awareness of the digital technology among citizens across the country, massive investments in IT infrastructure and real economic reforms are required to improve the digital economy in the country,” he said.

An estimated 13 million Moroccans do not have access to financial services, revealed Bank Al Maghrib and the World Bank in a joint report released two years ago.

Morocco’s Central Bank seeks to accelerate the process of generalising financial technology through the FinTech programme launched by the World Bank and the IMF, which aims to compete with traditional financial methods in the delivery of financial services.

“In emerging and developing countries, with the penetration of the internet and mobile telecommunications, FinTech offers tremendous opportunities to strengthen financial inclusion and economic and social development," said Bnak Al Maghrib governor Abdellatif Jouahri during opening of the regional conference for Africa and the Middle East earlier this month.

Some 39.32 % of Moroccans reportedly lived in rural areas in 2016, according to the World Bank. Many of them live in remote villages where access to brick-and-mortar banks is virtually nonexistent, but can greatly benefit from the expansion of mobile banking services.

Morocco’s leading telecommunication company “Maroc Telecom” said it would offer mobile money transfers, deposits and payment services.

“Large operators are exerting pressure on transforming the digital infrastructure to facilitate the growth of e-commerce in Morocco,” Fahd Bennani, managing director at T-Man Group’s distribution centre, told the Oxford Business Group.

“Though Law No. 103-12 was much better known for its introduction of Islamic banking, it transformed FinTech in Morocco, as the concept of mobile payments was introduced,” Bennani added.

Aourraz said that the digital technology was major boon for customers because it lowers costs and facilitates access to products and services. Moroccan companies need to embrace the digital transformation in order to be more competitive.

But Reda Taleb, CEO of Officium told Le Maroc Diplomatique that the digital transformation comes with a cost.

“Digital transformation also has a cost. The other challenge that companies face is funding their digital switchover. It's an investment. And we need to mobilise resources to succeed in this challenge,” said Taleb.

Saad Guerraoui, Ph.D, is the Deputy Editor-in-chief of Middle East Online