Some observations on Morocco

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Until end of December, I’ll be working in Rabat, Morocco for Transparency International’s national chapter Transparency Maroc. The chapter also runs the Observatoire de la Corruption, a project that, in short, monitors national news stories on corruption to identify key areas where the national integrity system fails, and makes recommendations on how corruption in different sectors can be tackled.

It would be interesting to look at how this work can be improved by using social media concepts and during my stay here, I’ll be trying to come up with some ideas.

But let me first give you a couple of initial observations on the environment civil society groups are working in Morocco, especially as we haven’t talked so much about the practical challenges yet.

Generally, of the Kingdom’s about 34 million inhabitants, more than 7.3 million, about 20 percent, have access to internet, a number that has been growing quite strongly over the last couple of years. Morocco is therefore the country with 3rd most internet users on African soil. Surprisingly, penetration with fast DSL connection is quite well, especially in cities. The maybe even more important number however, is the amount of internet cafés, with about 10,000 licenses. Internet cafés constitute places where especially the younger people meet, personally or over the internet to skype and talk via messenger. Facebook is the main social network used. A great place to initiate discussions, even on social or political issues!

Internet café in Rabat, city centre

Internet café in Rabat, city centre

Digital activity is growing. Numbers of Moroccan blogs are estimated to be between 10,000 and 30,000. The non-profit organisation Tanmia.ma has developed a website for Moroccans to share their podcasts and support the use of new technologies by the Moroccan civil society.

But here’s the other side, while internet access is generally considered to be fairly open and unrestricted (see the country analysis by the OpenNet Initiative), there have been a couple of incidents over the last year, such as the two-year prison sentence against Moroccan blogger Mohamed Erraji, accused of having insulted the king, that was eventually overturned by the court of appeals in September (read the background in French and English). Another one was a fake facebook profile of the King’s younger brother developed and published by Fouad Mourtada.

Interestingly, the prior incident made an US internet marketing company, SEO 1 Services, suspend its decision to open an office in Tangers, North-Morocco, showing that there might even be an economic impact of restricting freedom of opinion and expression, as well as freedom of press.

By the way, an interesting overview of digital activism in Morocco (and other countries) can be found at: http://www.digiactive.org/topic/morocco/ gathered by DigiActive, a volunteer organisation dedicated to helping grassroots activists around the world use the Internet and mobile phones to increase their impact. Talking about mobile phones and interesting numbers, 50% of the population have one in Morocco. I’m about to get mine tomorrow.

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