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BOYCOTT | Power of the purse

By Nicholas Norbrook
Posted on Tuesday, 8 January 2019 10:25

Morocco’s regime bent but did not break during the North African uprisings, but that does not mean that people are not angry – regular mass protests in the impoverished Rif region are testament to that. But in April, something new spread across the country: internet-driven consumer boycotts of water (Sidi Ali), dairy products (Danone) and petrol stations (Afriquia) over eye-watering prices and the companies’ connections to the ruling elite took political and business leaders by surprise.

After a few stumbles from the government in its handling of the situation, the protesters sharply reminded officials that their actual job is to improve the life of all Moroccans. The boycott neatly targeted the overlap of private and public spheres of influence. French firm Danone dropped its prices as a result of the protests and reported a 40% drop in sales in the second quarter of 2018, followed by a 35% drop in the third quarter.

Also in 2018, in Mali and Senegal consumers got together to boycott Orange, complaining the French telecoms operator was abusing its strong market position to deliver poor service and high costs. Orange controls more than 50% of the Senegalese market. While in Mali the movement fizzled out, in Senegal cheaper deals were seen almost immediately.

Kenya, too, has seen commercial boycotts that strike at the heart of politics. In November 2017, supporters of presidential candidate Raila Odinga called on Kenyans to boycott companies linked to the regime of President Uhuru Kenyatta after a disputed election. Dairy company Brookside, owned by presidential brother Muhoho Kenyatta, was targeted, as was Safaricom, which is owned by the government and has a partnership with Kenyatta-owned bank CBA. The Kenya boycott fizzled out and Odinga buried the hatchet with Kenyatta, but a new round of tax hikes is already stirring up anger as consumers make their power known.

This article first appeared in December-January 2019 print edition of The Africa Report

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