He is the son of an oil magnate, husband of a successful businesswoman and a close friend of King Mohamed VI. The 60-year-old Aziz Akhannouch can now also call himself Prime Minister of Morocco. After his election win on Wednesday, he was ordered by the king on Friday to form a new government.
During a press conference, Akhannouch said that his party wants to regain the confidence of the citizens and that he will do everything he can to improve the lives of Moroccan citizens.
Akhannouch is no stranger to Moroccan politics. He became Minister of Agriculture in 2007. In 2013, he was added to the Ministry of Finance, at the direction of the king.
He was clearly visible during the elections. He went into the country with a ‘100 Cities in 100 Days’ campaign, in which he presented himself as an accessible man who casual dressed in conversation with the ‘ordinary’ Moroccan. He also spent thousands of euros on slick television commercials, in which the average citizen was central. No ties and expensive suits.
His generosity also received attention during the corona crisis. The Moroccan king set up a fund to fight the virus and Akhannouch donated millions.
Oil and gas industry
Aziz Akhannouch’s father, Ahmed, started selling oil by the liter behind a stall in Casablanca in 1932 and it proved a success as his business quickly blossomed into a profitable multinational. When Aziz was born in Tafraout – the south of Morocco – the family business Akwa Group, until 2002 called Afriquia, was established. It became a name that belongs to the streets of Morocco. Almost all gas stations belong to Afriquia. In addition to oil and gas, the Akwa Group also owns telecom companies and catering companies, such as the hotel chain Ibis.
Like many rich kids, Akhannouch studied at a university in Canada, where he received his master’s degree in business administration. Back in Morocco, he worked his way up to the top of the Akwa Group. He has since taken over his father’s billion-dollar conglomerate as CEO. In 2020, he was named by the American business magazine Forbes estimated at the twelfth place on the list of the richest men in Africa.
The new prime minister was a member of the RNI party for many years, until he suddenly left it in 2012. The reason for his departure was never clear. He returned to the party at the end of 2016, immediately becoming its new chairman. Traditionally, the ties between the RNI and the Moroccan royal family have been close. RNI founder Ahmed Osman was married to the sister of the late King Hassan II.
In 2018, several companies owned by wealthy Moroccans, including Akhannouch, were boycotted after a Facebook appeal that life in Morocco was becoming too expensive. The reason was an increase in the price of basic products, such as milk and water. The Afriquia gas stations also suffered. The boycott was mainly a protest against inequality in the country. “The wealthy businessmen earn their money off the backs of the citizens,” the protesters said.
A year later, Akhannouch came under fire again after he made a derogatory remark about his compatriots. At a party rally in Milan, he said Moroccans need “re-education” beyond the authority of the judiciary. This led to anger among the population, with calls for a boycott.
If it’s up to the businessman, the Moroccan economy will get a boost. His slogan during the election was “you deserve better”. He wants to raise teachers’ salaries, create a million jobs, improve the health care system and provide pensions to all the elderly. What all these plans will cost and where the money should come from was not in his party program. And to actually carry out these points, he needs the king’s blessing.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad of 13 September 2021
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of September 13, 2021