According to data collected by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), social movements in Morocco have risen and remained elevated since 2011.
From Hirak in the Rif, to teacher demonstrations in the capital, Palestinian solidarity marches in Casablanca, and the Jerada mining protests in the northeast, examples of post-2011 social movements abound. If the Arab Spring taught us anything, however, it is that social movements do not always occur on the streets. Such is the case of ongoing boycott campaign, “Let it Spoil,” launched by unknown sources on Facebook on April 20 to protest exorbitant consumer prices of three companies. A deeper examination of the recent events, however, suggests that the boycott is about more than high consumer prices. Like many of the other movements going on simultaneously in the country, for the Moroccan public, Let It Spoil, is about the unequal distribution of resources between the Morocco elite and nonelite and crony capitalism.
The boycott targets three companies – Sidi Ali mineral water, owned by Eaux Minerales d’Oulmes; Afriquia petrol stations, owned by Akwa Group, and Centrale Laitière milk, owned by Centrale Danone. The movement’s stated demands are that products from these companies are beyond the purchasing power of ordinary Moroccans and that the companies have gradually raised their prices for the further enrichment of their directors. For example, Sidi Ali sells 1.5 liter of water for 6 MAD compared to 4 to 5 MAD charged by competing brands. Similarly, Central Danone milk usually sells for 7 MAD per liter, which the boycott participants deem should not exceed 5 MAD per liter. Furthermore, they claim the milk is too expensive relative to its cost of production. Similarly, Afriquia gasoline and diesel prices have reached record highs in the last few months. Meanwhile, the government has retorted that the boycotts accusations are unfounded. Government spokesman, Mustapha Khalfi stated that the campaign was based on false information and added that prices of the three boycotted products have not been raised in years despite growing production costs.
However, beyond pricing, each of the companies and their leadership represents the perceived unjust concentration of wealth among Morocco’s ruling elite. All three of the companies are either controlled by powerful Makhzan families – Makhzan denotes Morocco’s political, economic, and social elite who are close to the monarchy. Afriquia is part of the Akwa Group, a multibillion-dollar conglomerate with interests in petroleum, gas and chemicals through. The group is headed by Aziz Akhannouch, who is also Minister of Agriculture and President of the political party, National Rally of Independents (RNI). With a personal net worth of USD 2.2 billion as of March 2018, Forbes named him the richest man in Morocco.
Miriem Bensalah Chaqroun is the director of the Holmarcom Group, one of the five largest industrial, commercial, and financial groups in Morocco, which owns both the mineral water Oulmès and Sidi Ali. Her brother, Mohammed Bensalah, succeeded her late father, Abdelkader Bensalah, as CEO of the group in 1993. Ms. Bensalah also serves on the board of Bank Al Maghrib, the National Central and Reserve Bank of Morocco, and is Chairperson of the Euro-Mediterranean Center of Mediation and Arbitration as well as leader of the employers’ confederation (CGEM). In 2013, she was named one of the 25 most influential business women in Africa and the same year was part of the jury of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards.
Finally, the targeting of French-owned company Centrale Danone, a Moroccan subsidiary of the French multinational Danone, likely represents both a critique of French economic interests in Morocco and the influence of the makhzan. The current CEO is French national Didier Lamblin, who has worked for the company in various roles worldwide since 1980. The company’s Purchasing Director is Adil Benkirane, the nephew of Nabila Benkirane, who is the wife of former PJD Prime Minister Abdellah Benkirane. Adil received heavy public criticism when he accused boycott participants of “treason” for refusing products produced by 40,000 Moroccan farmers and another 460,000 dairy sector workers indirectly.
Another indication that the boycott is about more than pricing is that it was not triggered by a particular event, such as an increase in prices, are by a specific group or individual. Early in the movement, a taxi driver was temporarily detailed for publishing a video via WhatsApp promoting the boycott but apart from this “incident” it is not clear at all who manages this campaign. Some opponents of the boycott claim that it is a front for the political manipulations of Al-Kataib Electroniya, the electronic army close to Abdelilah Benkirane. It is alleged that Benkirane, the former head of government and former Secretary General of the Justice and Development Party (PJD), holds a grudge against the establishment for getting booted out of government last March and is attempting to stir up political chaos. The accusations have led to an interrogation in parliament.
Furthermore, the boycott has grown at a rapid pace, despite the public not having much information about the source of the movement. The campaign has even received the backing of a number of Moroccan celebrities including actor Rachid el-Ouali, who called for a “civilized” boycott campaign as a “wake-up call” to authorities in response to rising prices of basic products in the lead up to the holy month of Ramadan.
However, perhaps, one of the biggest indications that the boycott represents more than high prices is that substitutable products exist. Economic theory tells us that the market will correct for high prices by driving consumers to purchase cheaper substitutable goods. Lower demand for the product in question will then force down prices until the price of the good equals that of its substitutes. A boycott would, therefore, not be necessary.
The bigger question is why have Moroccans continued to purchase these products until recently when cheaper substitutes exist? Perhaps Moroccans have a strong emotional attachment to these brands. Entrepreneur magazine defines emotional branding as “The marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.” This practice would suggest that the emotional attachment of Moroccans to these companies is the reason they have maintained brand loyalty over the years. It also suggests that the companies may lower their prices in the short-run to appease consumers, but that when the boycott ends, the situation will likely return to the status quo.