23 March 2001

Top Story

No place is ever perfect but Morocco offers an interesting model for how the internet and telecoms can be developed if a strategic plan is in place. It is seeking to use the internet to compete more effectively in the global economy, grow employment opportunities and to slow down the drain of skilled workers to Europe. Najat Rochdi describes how the country has approached the task.

In Morocco ICT was initially viewed in 1995 as an enabling mechanism to liberalise the economy and thereby enable Morocco to participate more effectively in the global economy. It was hoped to slow the emigration of skilled workers, especially to Europe, as well as to create employment opportunities.

By 1996 there were already 20 ISPs, some 50 cybercafés, an estimated 10,000 internet subscribers, some 50 websites, 1.4 million fixed telephone lines and an estimated 100,000 mobile phones. The average cost of an internet subscription was US$50 /month. But there was no vision for the development of IT, no action plan, no liberalisation process and no regulatory process. In March 1998 the responsibility for implementation of ICT in the country was placed in the Office of the Prime Minister. With the highest political support as well as the collaboration of selected business leaders and representatives of civil society a national action plan was formulated in December 1998 and finalized in May 1999.

The Telecommunication law (Law 24/96) was passed in 1997 and the national regulation agency (ANRT) was created in March 1998 and it has played a very important role in guaranteeing transparency and a fair competition in the sector. ANRT already issued licenses for GSM, GMPCS and VSAT. ANRT is an autonomous and independent body.

The Government focused on five key themes that are important for facilitating the role of knowledge in development and for the effective use of information and communication technologies (ICTs): Education, Governance, Private sector development, E-commerce and Access. These themes, formed the basis for national strategy for IT development and was called e-Maroc plan to insert Morocco in the knowledge and Information Society.

The implementation approach adopted went through joint participation of the public, private, and non-governmental sectors and members of civil society. Through its broad range of members, the Secretary of State in charge of IT development strategy endeavours to combine the efforts of all development shareholders to promote the active use of knowledge for development and to take advantage of ICTs to facilitate information sharing, communication, new applications of technology and to foster democracy and moralisation of public life using ICT as a central tool to eradicate corruption.

The Government of Morocco is seeking innovative solutions and private public partnership to put in place the pilot projects in the different priority themes.

The National Action Plan e-Maroc sets out an overall framework and strategic priorities over the next decade. It identifies and articulates practical and measurable activities around which all the actors involved can carry out their mission.

The Action Plan is based on a set of development issues that is linked to the strategic priorities themes. The program is based on the potential of ICTs to create new opportunities to position Morocco in the global economy as well as new tools for economic and social development. In addition, the importance of the private sector’s role is increasingly recognised, in order to encourage more equitable access to, and use of, ICTs. This is especially the case where it comes to investment to ensure universal access and services to population in rural area.

The Action Plan is designed in full recognition that strategic planning and implementation to confront the challenges of the Information Age must reflect both national and local needs. It is acknowledged every societal actor has a critical role to play in this process and that the Action Plan should provide a framework for creative partnerships designed to maximise the inclusion of all societal actors: public administration, private sector, local authorities and citizen.

The e-Maroc program covers the following actions:

o Increase the volume and accessibility of content, information and knowledge flows in local languages

o Develop national and local portals to encourage information and activity sharing, local content and use it as a channel for public administration services delivery.

o Create enabling legal and regulatory environments for ICTs applications development and use (digital signature, privacy, copyrights, USO,..)

o Set up innovative financing: Venture capital funds for start up; clearing house of ICTs ideas for investment; initiatives to develop ICT capacity; advocacy to private sector of opportunities; Open access fund, to networks and enterprises; venture capital funds for local innovators, technopark,Š.

o Create Education-to-employment strategies: Assess skill needs in the ICT area

o Develop Educational strategy to close gaps

o Improve the educational system’s ability to develop valuable ICT-related skills among the population

o Improve knowledge-based education systems with the integration of ICTs at all levels: primary, secondary and universities as well as reconversion of employments

o Work with Ministries of Education to reform education to integrate ICTs to enable teachers & students to create knowledge; technical training for teachers;

o Improve the teachers and students ability to process information and development understanding to create knowledge; capacity building and professional skill development.

o Put in place e-government projects ;

o Create mechanisms for evaluation, feedback and monitoring of governance practices.

o Provide training and education in governance for civil servants and citizen

o Sensitise decision makers and politicians to Œgood’ governance and strengthening civil society.

o Increase accountability and transparency in governments; Focus on public participation process,

o Collection, production and dissemination of local knowledge through the use of ICT’s.

o Support women entrepreneurs in rural area either in ICT businesses or using ICTs, with online mentoring and financing; build links between women-owned businesses and corporations for business-to-business markets.

o Improve the ability of women entrepreneurs to successfully build their businesses. This is done through a project called "e-coopératives" where the Government is sponsoring, in partnership with private companies, an e-commerce platform to commercialize women product in agriculture and handcraft.

Therefore, features of the plan included improving the productivity of Moroccan industry; to modernize the public sector administration, making it more efficient and responsive and gaining greater trust by rendering it more transparent; and to reinforce the governments programmes aimed at eradicating poverty. In the latter regard information technology was to be directed a raising levels of literacy; improving the delivery of government services, especially health, education and training; and to give isolated rural communities a sense of solidarity and identification with national development goals.

An implementation strategy for the action plan was devised with emphasis on preparing the necessary legal environment; building consensus for change among the private and public sectors as well as civil society based on partnerships and common benefits that would result from the introduction of ICT; and a well planned and steady promotion campaign aimed at many levels from parliamentarians to town meetings and for special interest groups such as the media.

An analysis of the impact of the ICT campaign on the national economy is awaited, but there is broad agreement it has contributed to stability and a growing sense of confidence that Morocco can compete in the global economy. Some tangible results are a positive impact on the important tourism industry [a new proposal is to develop one portal for all tourist information]; the development of ISPs and cybercafés have provided employment opportunities, especially for young people, and provided an entrepreneurial spirit; and the curricula in engineering schools have been revised to give emphasis to the IT sector. An academic and research network has been set up and already connects through 16 nodes countrywide all the universities and engineering schools. The impact of this network has profoundly impacted on the interaction amongst teaching staff as well as students both within the country and overseas.

Today with population of 28 million, of which over 50% are under the age of 24 years, Morocco has 1924 ISPs and cybercafés and a reasonable communications infrastructure of 1.6 million fixed and 4,000,000 mobile telephones. The number of websites passed 4,000 during 2001 and most significantly the cost of a monthly Internet subscription dropped to about US$6 per month. Priority development targets are to accelerate the development of national content; to extend access to rural areas; and to complete liberalisation of the telecommunications sector by the end of the year 2002.

Education will be the central priority for the next coming five years. We believe that Human Capital is a critical criteria to succeed in positioning Morocco among emergent markets by 2005. Men and Women are the factor of success for development, if they are well skilled and involved they will pull the Country toward development. If they are missed in the policy, the country will miss development.

Najat Rochdi is Director Secretary of State in charge of Post, Telecommunications & Information Technology, Kingdom of Morocco