Racism in North Africa

Morrocco is one of the rare countries that has valued its legacies in the Constitution and is proud of its mixed population of Arabs, Berbers, Sub-saharan Africans and Hebrews living together as different colors of a mosaic, said Jack Lang, President of the Arab World Institute in Paris in a recent interview. Although I want to believe that this is true, the recent events in Morocco leave me perplexed.

On the 29th August 2014, a street fight in Boukhalef (Tangiers) between Sub-saharan Africans and Moroccans armed with knives ends up in the brutal murder of 3 of them, one of them was Senegalese. This is only one aspect of the issues facing Sub-saharan African population living in Morocco. Others problems have arisen with the civil society and authorities. What are these issues ? Where do they arise from ? Is this a form of 'racism' ?

A temporary migration turning into a long-term situation

As a matter of fact, since a few decades now, Sub-saharan African migrants travel to Morocco to get to Europe. In Tangiers only, there are more than 1000 of migrants and 800 of them live in Boukhtalef.

They dream of a better life on the other side of the Mediteranean Sea but they have to struggle with the harsh reality of closed borders and end up staying in Morocco. What was supposed to be a short journey for them turns into a permanent and illegal situation. According to official statistics, there are at least 30 000 illegal immigrants in Morocco.

This issue is just a drop in the sea of problems that affect the country. No consistant immigration policy has yet been implemented. The illegal immigrants are rejected by the government and the civil society. The governement offers no solutions to help them and deports them from the country. In the Moroccan society, people are fearful and get defensive against these newcomers who have not gained the right to exist in the public space.

A brewing conflict between communities ?

Beyond the issue of legalisation of immigration, the Sub-saharan African people living in Morocco are rejected because of their identity.

Alcoholism, cohabitation, squatting are only some of the cultural traits associated with these immmigrants. These are the reasons why the population rejects them, especially property developers. This issue does not only concern the Sub-saharan African people. Any given immigrant population living in an islamic country is confronted to this rejection. How is this different then ? Well, maybe the colour of their skin makes it easier to think that they are culturally different too. Though, these accusations sound a lot like the racist speeches towards North African immigrants in Europe. This shows that a slight idelogical shift can bring back to surface the racism condemned elsewhere.

The integration of immigrants in Morocco and in Europe is not exactly the same. Morocco is a developing country and deals with a migration process that was not politically and economically planned and welcomed. North Africans and Sub-saharan Africans share a common identity. Morocco has hosted many festivals and exhibitions to celebrate this identity*. It is somewhat difficult to find a balance between on one hand, rightfully condemning racist acts and on the other hand, systematically stigmatizing a population for no reason. This does not help with the integration of the immigrants and the information that comes to us is not clear enough. That is why we should be very careful and make a difference between identity conflicts and criminal acts.

Racism, a Western issue ?

Some people reject this argument and think that racism just does not exist in their culture because the African identity is not at the heart of the political debate on the integration of immigrants in the Moroccan society. Others think that the debate on racism is just a result of Western ideology. All others issues such as women's rights, modern values, freedom and democracy are stifled by this strong and destructive ideology that crushes all public debate. Although Morocco has a long history of peaceful cohabitation between different religions, these expressions of inhumanity cannot be forgotten.

These recurring confrontations and the reactions they create prove that it is crucial to bring the issue of the integation of the Black community at the heart of the public debate. The legalisation will not be enough. It is important to implement an actual integration policy so that the Sub-saharan African immigrants gain a right to exist in the public space and psyche in North Africa.


Translated by Bushra Kadir