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Morocco as Gateway to Africa

Morocco was one of the few Arab countries not seriously affected by the Arab Spring. Constitutional reforms in 2012 led to more stability, and the Kingdom used this advantage to reinforce its position as a bridge between Africa and Europe.

Many researchers and world institutions predict that Africa is the continent of tomorrow. The rush toward Africa is huge, and Morocco with its plans to develop the economy and address youth unemployment is encouraging Moroccan companies to join this new market while others are still hesitating or unwilling to enter.

One excellent case in point is BMCE Bank of Africa, which sees its competitive edge in the penetration of the African continent. Addressing students from the Bachelor’s International Management program at the ZHAW School of Management and Law during a study trip to Morocco in February, the bank explained that through its network in China, Africa, and Europe, it supports lucrative businesses with very competitive conditions. The services offered by the bank cover a gap created by the explosion of the trade between Africa and China, which requires financial support from big-name international banks – typically based in Europe but missing in Africa.

In a state-of-the-art auditorium, Royal Air Maroc explained the considerable advantage of being based in Morocco and serving 37 destinations in Africa. This has opened the door to develop Casablanca as a hub serving African businesses at lower prices than traditional European carriers.

Students also had the opportunity to meet the Head of Business Development at Bühler. He explained the advantages of having a regional office for services and business development in Casablanca. From this location, Bühler technicians can reach most call-outs in under 24 hours, reducing downtime at mills or other production units.

Other companies like ABB, Novartis, SwissPort, and SGS explained similar benefits.

Qualified labor in Morocco – despite a shortage linked to low wages – has opened the door for all these companies to excel in their businesses, producing output of a quality similar to their parent companies but at much lower cost. This, in turn, has allowed these companies to have an African base while remaining close to Europe. Some companies such as Elephant Vert are even venturing into the development of innovative, organic, agricultural products.

So, have all the problems in Morocco be resolved?
Certainly not! An opinion shared by the Center for Regional Economic Promotion. In a short but intensive presentation, they explained that bureaucracy, corruption, shortage of skills, and the impact of climate and weather are all factors reducing the impact of government-sponsored development. The fight against forms of extremism and exclusion - which may be counterproductive to any form of international economic openness - was also explained by two scholars in a presentation about the country’s religious structure. Religion is very important to Moroccans, but a religion with values of tolerance and inclusion.

Another factor supporting the idea of Morocco as a gateway to Africa is the integration of the Moroccan economy into the international economic network. This aspect was discussed during a visit to ISCAE University, where Morocco’s engagement with the international organizations was explained: These include the World Bank, IMF, European Bank for Development, the Marrakesh Agreement with other Arab countries, as well as the African Bank for Development.

Despite a busy program, this bridge to Africa didn’t just cover business matters. Our students were also able to enjoy the food, the architecture, the mixture of languages, and the racial diversity of Moroccan society. In addition to the medicinal herbs and argan oil, it was more than sufficient for the students to picture Morocco as the bridge between Europe and Africa!

The one-week study trip to Morocco aimed to give participants a valuable insight into our host country’s way of doing business, its cultural differences, and important aspects of local economic environment. Khaldoun Dia-Eddine as program lecturer, accompanied by Michael Kendzia as Head of the International Management program, guided the 33 students through Casablanca and Rabat on a trip organized and supported by Swiss Global Enterprise from 5-10 February 2018.