Morocco boycott revives debate over business, politics links

Afriquia is one of three well-known brands being boycotted following criticisms over links between the country's business and political elite. (Shutterstock)
Updated 27 May 2018
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Morocco boycott revives debate over business, politics links

RABAT: More than a month after its launch, an unprecedented boycott campaign in Morocco against three well-known brands has revived criticism against links between the country’s business and political elite.

Spreading like wildfire across social media, the campaign is targeting Afriquia service stations, Sidi Ali water and Danone milk — leaders in their sectors — and calling for a drop in prices.

Despite brand communication efforts to curb the campaign, AFP saw its popularity in cafes, shops and deserted Afriquia petrol stations in several Moroccan cities.

Some 57 percent of Moroccans are actively engaged in the boycott, according to a survey of 3,575 mostly middle class Moroccans published this week in the country’s L’Economiste newspaper.

The Afriquia group belongs to billionaire Aziz Akhannouch, the richest man in Morocco, minister of agriculture since 2007 and head of the National Rally of Independents (NRI) technocrat political party.

The boycott carries “a symbolic message from the middle class” against the marriage between political power and big business, political analyst Aziz Chahir told AFP.

Ahmed Bouz, another political analyst, said the campaign shows “awareness of the need to separate politics from business.”

The Moroccan press frequently covered conflict of interest throughout the 2000s, placing a sharp focus on the royal family and the National Investment Company — since transformed into a holding company and renamed Al Mada.
The enrichment of the country’s ruling elite resurfaced in 2011 as the popular revolts of the Arab Spring swept across the region.

Consitutional reform that year fueled hopes for change, but the current government — formed in 2017 by the Islamist PJD party — brought in more technocrats and businessmen, along with accusations of conflict of interest.

Moroccan media and activists accuse Trade Minister Moulay Hafid Elalamy — who heads one of the country’s largest conglomerates — of helping to pass a favorable tax provision for the transfer of his Saham insurance company to South African giant Sanlam.

Elalamy says he has complied with the law and asked for an inquiry into the transaction to prove his innocence.

“Nothing in the law prohibits businessmen from holding government positions,” Abdelali Benamour, head of Morocco’s Competition Council, told AFP.

Fouad Abdelmoumen of Transparency Moroc said: “The state has not put in place mechanisms that define conflicts of interest and that contain excesses.”

Excessive profits in big business — especially fuel distributors like Afriquia — has also stoked anger among Moroccans.

A mid-May parliamentary report on the evolution of fuel prices since their liberalization in 2015 caused an uproar.

The final version of the report — its most glaring figures redacted — put the sector’s profit margins above $1.5 billion ((€1.3 billion).

The alliance between business and politics appeared again in headlines Tuesday, when Salaheddine Mezouar — former finance minister, trade minister and head of the NRI — was elected head of Morocco’s private business sector.


Meet the Dubai ad men who pay you to sit in traffic

Updated 20 August 2018
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Meet the Dubai ad men who pay you to sit in traffic

  • Blockchain technology challenges traditional outdoor media
  • Adverts connect to driver mobile phone

LONDON: A new startup founded by UAE-based entrepreneurs is in the process of test-running a blockchain-based technology that could help people turn their cars into mobile advertising vehicles.
It could challenge the use of traditional advertising methods such as outdoor billboards, the founders of The Elo Network claim.
The platform — which has been set up by Mohammed Khammas and Mohammed Bafaqih and incorporated in the Cayman Islands — will enable people to be paid for displaying adverts on the side or back of their vehicles while they go about their daily routines of driving to work, the mall or doing the school run.
The adverts will feature low-frequency bluetooth ‘beacons’ that connect to the drivers' mobile phone which will be able to monitor when the driver is in the car and where the car is being driven.
There is a minimum threshold for the number of miles being driven a day, but the main prerequisite is that the driver is in the car. Drivers will still be paid even if stuck in a traffic jam.
Advertising clients will be able to put out requests that drivers head to a particular area — for instance to be close to a new brand launch — with drivers being paid up to 4 or 5 times more than their standard rate if they accept.
While the concept of paying people to use their cars for advertising is not new, it is the use of blockchain technology that will make The Elo Network particularly grounding-breaking in the advertising world, its founders said.
“Billboards are very expensive and static and don’t give you the KPIs and insightful information that brands want these days. You solve that by getting them that data,” Bafaqih said.
The Elo Network collates detailed data by tracking the movements of the drivers and their day-to-day activities. Data points such as a particular area’s population density can been collected.
The information will be encrypted ensuring that the brand will never know the identity of the driver, said Bafaqih.
“It creates data sets that didn’t exist before. You don’t have to worry about privacy but at the same time the brand can know about your patterns. They can know where you go in mornings, where you drive, what normal patterns are created in certain areas and countries,” he said.
This level of detail is increasingly important for brands looking to run targeted campaigns, and it is something that traditional billboards are unable to offer.
The technology will also be used to overcome the payment problems that other similar car advertising schemes have faced.
“Historically what happens, where there is a authority that is issuing payments, it causes a lot of problems. There can be disputes on how much they (the drivers) are owed or how many miles were driven or what campaign someone has done,” he said.
Under the Elo Network program, the blockchain technology allows you to create so-called “Smart Contracts” — which is a software protocol that enforces and verifies the performance of a contract.
“It says driver A is going to be paid — for example — a dollar per mile — so as the person drives he starts receives ‘IOUs’. Those IOUs are convertible at any time,” he said.
With no ‘middle man’ involved, the driver is able to redeem their IOUs and get paid as and when they want.
The network is currently at ‘proof of concept’ stage and is test-running the platform with a number of brands. It is anticipated that the network will be rolled out to the public toward the end of this year and early 2019.