Eye on North Africa: December 2010

The month of December was generally quiet in North Africa until the third week, when delivery protests turned to riots in Tunisia and Algeria. From a business perspective not much happened, and some window-dressing in the markets generated a December rally.

Politics and economics

In Tunisia an unemployed graduate set himself on fire in a spectacular act of protest on 19 December. Another young man followed his example and ensuing riots resulted in one shooting death and scores of arrests.

Unlike during a previous episode in 2008, factions usually loyal to the ruling RCD participated in the protests: the UGTT, the country’s trade union federation, reportedly organised a rally which was broken up by police and 300 lawyers marched in Tunis.

President Ben Ali announced an emergency employment and income-sources creation programme aimed at unemployed graduates and reshuffled his cabinet in response to the riots.

Starting on Monday 27 December similar scenes were seen in Algiers. Hundreds of families living in substandard housing and having been promised better quarters by government took to the streets to protest their conditions, resulting in some arson and injuries.

Business and markets

Tunisia’s stock market was affected by the political disturbances: on Monday 27 December the Tunindex dropped 0.5% and the next day 1.07%. The index rallied in the last trading days of the year and at closing on 31 December the index showed a performance over the full year of 19.1%.

In Algeria, the biggest business news was a promise by Minister of Energy and Mines Youcef Yousfi to crack down on scandals at Sonatrach, Algeria’s parastatal oil and gas firm and the biggest company in Africa by turnover. The year was marked by a number of suspect pricing scandals and the minister could not put a figure to the amount of money missing.

Important Moroccan market news included announcements by the kingdom’s two most expansive multinationals of further acquisitions in West Africa. Maroc Telecom (itself a subsidiary of Vivendi) bought 51% of Gabon Telecom for EUR61 million while Attijariwafa Bank bought 80% of BNP Paribas Mauritania in a 67/33 joint venture with fellow Moroccan bank Banque Populaire. Attijariwafa’s stock price had a phenomenal start to December, gaining 25% in a week. Over the full year the stock gained 51%. Morocco‘s all-share MASI index went up 21.3% over the full year.

Francois Conradie is the founder of Cape Town-based Meniscus Consulting. Meniscus Consulting is dedicated to facilitating flows of knowledge and understanding through Africa by bridging divides between English, French and Arabic speakers. The company provides political, economic and sector research, business-specific translations and contacts between investors and brokers with a focus on French-speaking North Africa. He can be contacted at [email protected]