The road to Morocco

Morocco's IT association aims to attract foreign investors from the UAE, based on its reputation as an innovator - and its ability to act as a gateway to the larger African market.

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By  Imthishan Giado Published  February 3, 2008

Morocco's IT association aims to attract foreign investors from the UAE, based on its reputation as an innovator - and its ability to act as a gateway to the larger African market.

To investment companies searching for the next Dubai, Africa represents the brass ring: a vast untapped market with legions of firms eager to grab a slice of the region's IT industry pie.

Making a business out of IT services – it's not just about the technologies. Everybody’s got the technologies. It's more a kind of cultural thing.

However, Africa also represents the unknown: a continent overshadowed by unrest, separated by a number of languages, and with precious few means of entering the market without falling prey to systemic corruption.

In recent years, many African nations have worked to overcome this negative impression.

Egypt in particular has been in the limelight with the explosive growth of its telecommunications sector. Now Morocco has also emerged as a potential rival; the country's government and IT sector have been methodically and silently building up a joint business plan to attract foreign investment, particularly from the UAE.

These initiatives were showcased at a recent conference in Dubai, held in collaboration with analyst firm IDC.

At the conference, Morocco sought to differentiate itself from other African markets by presenting itself as a source of innovation in IT.

Conference organisers APEBI - the Moroccan Federation of Information Technologies, Telecommunication and Off Shoring - also believe that Morocco's geographical position and trilingual workforce make a prime destination for companies looking to outsource their operations.

Jamal Benhamou, APEBI's CEO explains why Morocco is only now emerging as an IT destination.

"Our objective at first was to consolidate our positioning as a regional hub for the north and west African region. Many Chinese, European and US companies have come to Morocco because they know that they can benefit from the main free trade agreements we have signed with the United States, South America, Europe and North Africa.

"Secondly, we built up a strategy-based operation action plan which is a public-private voluntary policy to support development. It's not totally operational, but when we built it with the prime minister, we tried to first know how the foreign partners can benefit from it," he says.

Jyoti Lalchandani, IDC's vice president and managing director for IDC Middle East and Africa, provides another reason why the country has decided to throw its hat in the IT ring.

"The government in Morocco has finally understood that any growth or development in the IT environment will have a substantially direct impact on the local economy, be that with employment opportunities, GDP impact or, obviously, with increased trade and foreign investment," he says.

He believes that both Morocco and the UAE can act as gateways to their respective regions.

"There's opportunities for Moroccan companies to enter the wider Middle East region through the UAE and vice versa - so there also opportunities for UAE and the wider Middle East companies to enter Morocco, French-speaking Africa, France and perhaps the EU," he adds.

Through APEBI, Morocco has been present at Dubai's GITEX for the last five years. According to Benhamou, APEBI participated so that it could study the unique business culture of the UAE and tailor its offerings to suit it.

"Making a business out of IT services - it's not just about the technologies. Everybody's got the technologies. It's more a kind of cultural thing, how we work and how you work. What about our capabilities? Are we sure that by working together, we can make an original offering?" he asks.

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