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COVID-19 sparks innovation, drive changes in Maghreb region

COVID-19 sparks innovation, drive changes in Maghreb region

Tribune News Network
Doha
The Maghreb, which principally comprises Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia, has been hard hit by the coronavirus, but the pandemic has also sparked innovation and driven changes in the region that many hope will outlast COVID-19, Oxford Business Group (OBG) has said in its latest report.
In mid-March Morocco became one of the first countries in the region to implement strict lockdown measures , a move that earned praise from the EU, as did proposal for a continental initiative to pool knowledge and resources.
Tunisia likewise managed to limit cases and began to lift lockdowns in June.
In Algeria lockdowns were also lifted in June, but this gave rise to an upward trend in cases throughout July.
Meanwhile, despite recent macroeconomic stability, Mauritania is one of the more vulnerable economies in the Maghreb, and indeed the broader MENA region.
Although Covid-19 is resulting in serious economic and social consequences, one positive side effect in the region has been a rapid and broad-based adoption of digital solutions, ranging from contactless payments, to innovative approaches to remote learning and working.
In Morocco, for example, everything from local government bureaucracy to customs procedures shifted online. One important innovation in this regard was the provision of economic support to the most vulnerable members of society.
More than 2.4 million Moroccans work in the informal sector. Soon after lockdown began, a digital database was set up to enable people without a social security number to register for economic support.
After entering their name and ID card number, they received a text message authorising them to withdraw a lump sum, calculated according to the size of their household, at one of 10,000 banks and ATMs across the country. Going forwards, this could be leveraged to incorporate more informal workers into the formal economy.
More broadly, there has been widespread growth in the use of apps and digital platforms.
In Algeria, the Yassir VTC Company expanded its Yassir Food app to include all types of products, while Imadrassa, the first digital educational platform in the country, has seen a massive upsurge in engagement since the beginning of lockdown measures.
The public’s newfound familiarity with such approaches will be something that companies and government agencies alike will seek to leverage once the pandemic has waned.
“Today the momentum has been unleashed, but there is still work to be done to avoid the risk of going back to old habits in the aftermath of the pandemic. Therefore it is crucial to pursue digital transformation and hedge against a potential slowdown, all the while supporting partners in order to instil a digital culture in Morocco and enhance value added,” Mohamed Faïcal Nebri, head of strategy, development, cooperation and communication at Morocco’s Digital Development Agency, told OBG.
Echoing this sentiment, Mohamed Fadhel Kraiem, Tunisia’s minister of communication technologies and digital transformation, took to Twitter in June to announce that the post-Covid-19 period would be “marked by the acceleration of digitalisation in the country”.
Across the region, different companies adjusted their operations to offset disruptions to international supply chains, particularly when it came to medical supplies.
Thanks to a robust and diversified industrial base, Tunisia was already well positioned to satisfy its needs for manufactured goods, particularly those destined for the health care sector.
“A number of companies, including foreign businesses, are already fully engaged in the fight against Covid-19,” Abdelbasset Ghanmi, general manager of the Foreign Investment Promotion Agency, told OBG.
“Such initiatives clearly demonstrate the strong potential of Tunisia’s industrial base and, more broadly, its drive to unite the public sector, private sector and civil society in addressing the crisis,” Ghanmi said.
One aspect of this is the deployment of cutting-edge technology. While the scale of some operations has been limited, many results were encouraging.

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