• If Kenya is today known as the cradle of mankind, Morocco, was the gateway by which man exited Africa through the Straits of Gibraltar to go and populate the world.
• If Richard Leakey initiated the construction of an extra-ordinarily magnificent museum in Turkana, Kenya, Tangier, Morocco, would have a monument, showcasing the path and the skiff used to cross the seas into the Iberian Peninsula and into Europe.
Morocco is a beautiful country. It is enchanting. Her people are friendly, welcoming and hospitable.
Perhaps it is because the name Morocco itself is derived from the name Marrakech, which means “Land of God.”
A hitherto sundrenched country in the Sahara Desert, this is a land where a visitor is easily entranced by the gentle kisses of the breeze from the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.
Famed for the Atlas Mountain ranges and the Rif Mountains, Morocco is both magical and mystical. It is not only the home of the travelogue writer Ibn Batutta; it is the country that writers George Orwell and Mark Twain could not resist visiting.
Morocco is hot most of the year and cold between December and February. It receives little rain, it has fewer arable land compared to Kenya, yet it has become a bread basket on the continent, producing enough food for its people and exporting vegetables, fruits, cereals, plant oil, textile, to Europe. Morocco produces the mineral rich argan oil and the spiritually nourishing olive oil.
How has a desert country been able to deal with the whole question of food security? Ahoy!
I left Kenya at the end of January for a three-week working tour of the Kingdom of Morocco. The flight from Nairobi took us to Doha, Qatar, where we had a two-hour layover before hopping to a connecting flight to Casablanca, Morocco.
It was a whirlwind trip to the Middle East, to Europe and back to Africa. This trip could have been shorter had we had direct flights from Nairobi to any of the major cities in the Kingdom of Morocco, say from Nairobi to Rabat, the capital city where the Royal Palace, the official residence of King Mohammed VI, is domiciled.
We could have taken the route from Nairobi to Marrakech, the red city, an apt description of the city because its architecture depicts its red soil. This is one of the marvels of the Kingdom of Morocco; cities are distinct in colour and architecture that blends local culture with civilisation. It is a mark of deliberate urban planning that leaves a visitor to the Kingdom with a ubiquitous taste.
The cities are ornate, organised and orderly. Public transport is not as terrifying. The massive transport infrastructure is what explains Morocco’s 15 international airports, gasoline and electric trains, and pristine roads.
We could have travelLed directly from Nairobi to Casablanca, the commercial city, which at the height of Africa’s independence struggle, the OAU found succour. It is here that the organisation’s seeds were planted under the aegis of the Casablanca Group, thanks to the visionary King Mohammed V, the King’s grandfather, and such foresighted Pan-Africanistssuch as Dr Kwame Nkrumah and Modibo Keita.
Little wonder that in Morocco, the Pan-African fervour is present in both formal and informal conversations. Since ascending the throne in 1999, King Mohammed VI has made it his priority agenda to re-establish and strengthen the brotherhood and friendship ties that bound the continent’s founding fathers together. He is keen on intensifying and cementing the South-South co-operation, and especially, fostering solid and pragmatic collaborations and partnerships among African states.
A picture biography, Mohammed VI: The African, by Moroccan photojournalist Mohamed Maradji is a testament to this vision. Right from the heady days of the independence struggle by his grandfather, King Mohammed V, to the days of the Green March and the transformative years of his father King Hassan II, Morocco has hosted several African leaders.
King Mohammed VI himself has continued in this tradition. He has welcomed many African heads of state and visited numerous African countries. At the 1961 African Conference in Casablanca, Morocco’s diplomacy prioritised the Congo Crisis, the Algerian Situation (clarion for independence), and by so doing, pushing to the back-banner its own land dispute with Mauritania. Maradji writes that “This diplomatic elegance perfectly defined the nobility of politics.”
It is this solid Pan-African foundation springing from his progenitors, that King Mohammed VI, is re-constructing those historic bonds, not only to build a strong African alliance, but as Ghanaian International Relations scholar Prof Boni Yao Gebe says, “King Mohammed VI has added the economic dimension as the golden bridge to branching out and promoting South-South cooperation, particularly in the socio-economic, cultural and religious fronts.”
Africa boasts of vast reservoirs of natural resources and human capital. It needs to unpack and harness these resources, which will ultimately create jobs, lift many from poverty, and stem social unrest. Africa needs to look inside first for African solutions before seeking help elsewhere. Morocco has demonstrated that it is doable.
Roads, bridges, stadiums, et al, are constructed by Moroccan engineers and architects. The country does not of necessity import such human capital. It relies on its own, and only invites expatriates as auxiliaries.
Today, there is a massive 1,055km road project known as the Tiznit-Dakhla Expressway, which cuts across vast countryside through the city of Laayoune to link the cities of Tiznit and Dakhla. This road does not only connect the different parts of the country, it is the gateway into sub-Saharan Africa.
In the 24 years of his reign, King Mohammed VI has presided over a steady socio-economic transformation. A deepening of Africa-Africa trade, cultural exchange, mutual collaborations, knowledge and skills transfer is what is going to secure Africa’s future.
Whereas I constantly heard Moroccans say they would love to learn from Kenya about geothermal, Kenya can learn how Morocco is able to reclaim desert land and turn it into vast agricultural farmland. Of course Morocco sits on vast phosphate deposits, making it one of the world’s leading fertiliser manufacturers.
Morocco has mastered, with a traditional flavour, the science and methods of harvesting water, a technique that Kenya can borrow. It gets its water from the sea, snow, and rain. Since the 1960s, it has constructed close to 200 dams, which are used to tap and preserve water that is then treated for domestic, agricultural, and industrial use.
Morocco attracts 12 million tourists every year, compared to Kenya’s two million, and yet Kenya has a lot to showcase.
My visit coincided with the 2022 FIFA Club World Cup, which Morocco was hosting. This was the third time the Kingdom was playing host to this tournament.
I had the rare privilege of watching Real Madrid, the world’s most successful football team, play in this tournament and lift the trophy! Morocco’s sterling performance at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar was not accidental. The country has invested heavily in sporting infrastructure.
It has world class sporting facilities on the continent which have assured the country its place in attracting international games. We visited six magnificent stadia in six different cities across the country all built to FIFA standards with 45,000-plus sitting capacity. If Morocco should host CAF in 2025 and FIFA World Cup in 2030, it is because it is well ahead and ready.
From Casablanca, we went to Rabat, Tangier, Marrakech, Agadir, and Fez, the old spiritual city. Here you have the grand medina, centuries old perimeter walls, and home to al-Qarawiyyin University, one of the world’s oldest universities, which was built by a woman called Fatima.
But it is the flourishing textile industry in Fez, again with traditional flavour, and my visit to the workshop of Mohammed Bougueddach, a fourth generation proud weaver and seeing him work on the loom that was touching. Then we visited the snow-decked city of Ifrane, home to Ifrane National Park where you have some of the world’s rare and endangered species, such as the Barbary macaques.
The visit to Tangier was the Kenyan connection I was looking for. Why? If Kenya is today known as the cradle of mankind — thanks to the groundbreaking archeological and paleontological works of Dr Louis Leakey, and his son Dr Richard Leakey — Morocco, and the coastal city of Tangier, was the gateway by which man exited Africa through the Straits of Gibraltar to go and populate the rest of the world. This, according to the great Egyptologist and the most influential 20th century scholar from the continent Cheikh Anta Diop.
If Richard Leakey initiated the construction of an extra-ordinarily magnificent museum in Turkana, Kenya, as a tribute, where all mankind would be welcome to pay their pilgrimage, Tangier, Morocco, would have a monument, showcasing the path and the skiff used to cross the seas into the Iberian Peninsula and into Europe.
Khainga O’Okwemba is the Presenter and Producer of The Books Café on KBC English Service; He is a writer, poet, columnist and an award-winning broadcast and print journalist.