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Monday, 16 September, 2002, 08:40 GMT 09:40 UK
Morocco's bid to win back its people
A pavement cafe in Morocco
Euro-Moroccans are pushing for change

Mohammed Khatiri looks every inch a Euro-Moroccan yuppie as he sits in a stylish Casablanca café.


There are enormous opportunities in this country, because so many things need to be done

Mohammed Khatiri
Five months ago he returned to the country he left as a child in 1970, to run a local building renovation business he had acquired with his brother.

He has had to get used to more red tape than he was accustomed to in France: "I spent two months going from office to office, registering the company's change of ownership," he says.

He found face-to-face relationships mattered in dealings with government departments: "You have to know whose door to knock on."

Mohammed Khatiri
Khatiri's views are shared by other emigrants

And he says doubts about the ability of the courts to solve disputes in the last instance translate into a cautious business environment.

Moroccan banks are only slowly coming to understand the needs of medium-sized businesses, according to Khatiri and other would-be investors. With inflation low, interest-rates on loans seem high.

A different generation

Khatiri was only three when he emigrated to France, where his father found work in clothes manufacturing.

Like other emigrants, he thinks a gust of fresh air is needed in business practices in the old country, with a new management style and greater meritocracy.

A bank hoarding at the port of Tangiers
Banks advertise for emigrants' deposits

But he adds: "There are enormous opportunities in this country, because so many things need to be done."

Some of his gripes echo those of investors surveyed by the American Chamber of Commerce in Casablanca earlier this year, and also complaints voiced during a discussion at a recent trade fair here for emigrant investors.

"We are not like our parents' generation," said one discussion participant.

"They hadn't studied and didn't know their rights. They would write out cheques to send money home and that was it."

Welcome home

In pushing for change, the emigrants appear to have Morocco's top decision-makers on their side.

The administration wants to oversee "a radical change not just in procedures but also in the whole ethos" of official dealings with business, says Abdesslam El Ftouh, of the government-funded Hassan II Foundation for Moroccans Resident Abroad.


Until now, the ethos has been, 'I'm making money'

Jamal Belahrach

The flagship for this drive to streamline procedures is a 'one-stop' bureau inaugurated this month in Casablanca, where paperwork for start-ups can be completed in one go.

Crucially, its director has a private-sector background.

The Euro-Moroccan community of some 2.5 million people lives mainly in France, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Germany - in that order.

Each summer about a million are in the media spotlight as they trek down through Europe to spend the holidays in Morocco.

Official television slots tell them: "You are at home. Welcome to your country."

And government-funded reception centres near the main ports ease their journeys.

Catalyst for change

The effort to make the emigrants feel wanted is not surprising.

Funds sent home by Moroccans working abroad are the country's main source of foreign currency, outstripping earnings from tourism and phosphates.

Portrait of King Mohamed VI greets migrants at a staging post in Tangiers
The government might have to try harder to lure emigrants home

Last year, ahead of the introduction of the euro, the amount sent home surged more than 50% to $3.5bn (£2.3bn; 36.1 billion dirham).

Local banks vie for deposits and offer special terms on home loans. About 80% of remittances still go towards buying residential property.

Jamal Belahrach, who returned to Casablanca from Europe five years ago to direct the North African operations of recruitment agency Manpower, believes Euro-Moroccans will be a catalyst for change.


A timeless rural way of life suddenly has a starting-point for modernisation

Abdesslam El Ftouh

They are making common cause with younger Moroccan business people who are already abandoning the low-risk mentality that held sway for decades, says Belahrach, whose father moved to France to become a building worker.

And there is a greater understanding that growth requires more spending power, and improved health and education, for the wider population, he says.

"Until now, the ethos has been, 'I'm making money'", he says.

"This needs to change to an ethos of 'I'm creating wealth' - in which case one needs to learn to distribute wealth among clients, shareholders, employees, the environment even."

Timeless way of life

Meanwhile in far-flung Moroccan villages the modest savings accumulated by most migrant workers already give a spontaneous kick-start to local economies, says El Ftouh.

Even home improvements have a significant knock-on effect, through the demand created for plumbers and bathroom furniture suppliers, for example.

"A timeless rural way of life suddenly has a starting-point for modernisation," he says.

But the government might have to work harder to prevent migrants staying in Europe rather than returning home with their money.

Moroccan elections are being held at the end of September and many emigrants are unhappy that do not have the right to vote in the country that says it is so keen to welcome them home.

See also:

14 Sep 02 | Africa
18 Mar 02 | Business
03 Aug 01 | Business
03 Oct 00 | Business
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