The last 13 years have been rich with change in the North African Kingdom of Morocco. With the coming of a new king, the beloved Mohammed VI, many things in the country have reformed, and most agree that they have changed for the better. One of the biggest changes, however, has been less talked about. Since the new millennium, Morocco has gone from having 0.3% of its population online to 50%, meaning there now are over 15 million people in the country who have used the Internet at least once (Internet World Stats ). In just 13 years Morocco became connected and is now Africa’s leading nation in Internet penetration.
"Of course we have Facebook!" one of my students exclaimed, amazed that I would ever think otherwise, "Can we add you?" I was teaching at a small center for underprivileged children in Sale, Morocco, and my students were more than happy to answer my questions about the Internet. Aged 10 to 16 years old, these were self-proclaimed experts in social media in Morocco, and I took their word for it. Twitter is much less common, one boy explained, although he uses it from time to time to practice reading in English and follow along with his favourite American stars. I discovered using social media to practice new languages isn't uncommon. Another girl in the class proudly revealed that she changed her Facebook language from Arabic to English to help practice the language in a more social setting than school.
With social media proving quite popular among these youths, I wondered what other uses Moroccans had for the Internet. Ecommerce, which is said to have grown in Morocco in the last two years, inspired immense confusion among my class. "Shopping on computer? We shop in the souqs." Souqs, or markets, can be found in every Moroccan city, filled to the brim with vendors of every type, and are where many Moroccans do the bulk of their shopping. Although these are all technically small businesses, it would be extremely improbable to find one with an online presence.
When asked how they access the Internet most often, nearly everyone preferred mobile phone as their method of choice. In fact, a recent study funded by Maroc Numérique 2013 found that at least 84% of Internet subscribers in larger cities get online using 3G.
"We do not have computer at home," Youssra, an avid Internet user in the class, explained. "There is no Internet in the Medina houses." The Medina is the oldest part of any Moroccan city, where much of the population still lives. Although not unheard of, Internet access is extremely rare in these old cities, and is mainly limited to expensive cyber cafés. Instead, Youssra and her friends take advantage of the limited free-wifi zones around the city on their mobile phones, and resort to paying for 3G when necessary. Still, while these students show extreme passion and enthusiasm for the Internet, finding access is not always easy. In many parts of the country running water is still a luxury, and a comfortable lifestyle simply does not include regular time online. With these challenges in mind, Morocco’s younger generation still exudes excitement when it comes to the Internet, and my students do everything they can to get online.
Considering the great foundation of enthusiasm among the younger generation, I wanted to know what their parents thought of the Internet.
Abdulmajid is an educated middle-aged man from Rabat, the capital of Morocco, with whom I lived for two weeks in his small house in the oldest part of the city. "Here is the Internet," he told me on my first night in his house as he was showing me around my room, pointing to some outlets. It took me a moment to realize that he did not mean Internet at all, but rather electricity. While this misunderstanding could be attributed to a slight language barrier, it is better explained by a complete disinterest in the Internet among Morocco's older generations. Studies by Maroc Numérique show that people aged 40 years and older are much less likely to frequent the Internet, while my experience reinforced this and demonstrated a drastic disinterest and even fear of the Internet among the older generation.
With half of Morocco’s population still offline, disinterest among the older generations only explains a small portion of those unable to frequent the Internet. Rural areas, once labeled “useless Morocco” by French colonists, see far less infrastructure than the larger cities, and have a much harder time getting online. Many villages are located miles from the closest potable water, and the nearest cyber café could be hours away by car, or a day’s journey by donkey, a common form of travel in most mountain villages. With such limited access, villagers are rarely aware of the benefits the Internet could bring them.
Fortunately, Morocco isn’t satisfied just being Africa’s leading country in Internet usage. Maroc Numérique recognizes the power of the Internet, noting how living standards can soar when populations embrace the Internet, and has a plan to get more Moroccans online in the coming years. Villages all over the country are becoming more and more connected, allowing basic needs and human rights violations to be properly communicated and dealt with in a timely, efficient manner. With the nearly 40% of the population under 15 years old (Morocco Census), interest in the Internet in coming years looks encouraging, and with the government’s help, Morocco has a bright future when it comes to life online.