Morocco: Feeding the Soil, While Rallying the South for Greatness!

Casablanca-Morocco. [PHOTO CREDIT: hnoversa/Fotolia/Encyclopedia Britannica.]
Casablanca-Morocco. [PHOTO CREDIT: hnoversa/Fotolia/Encyclopedia Britannica.]

As one of the great icons of Morocco’s multi-layered identity – a mélange of the deeply traditional, historical and contemporary, braided into a polymorphous whole that speaks of a unique heritage – the Al-Boraq is an indicative emblem of the multiple modernities, and possibly ‘hypermodernity’, of this nation on the northern fringe of the Maghreb.

Al-Boraq, a modern incarnation of that mythic creature which bore the Holy Prophet of Islam from Mecca to Jerusalem and to the heavens as chronicled in lore, and a no distant cousin of the Greco-Roman Pegasus, intimates of the experience of 21st Century Morocco.

Established as a 323-kilometre high-speed train running between the capital, Casablanca, and Tanger in the northwest, it is a first of its kind service in Africa, inaugurated in November 2018 after 10 years of conception and execution.

Despite an awareness of high-speed rail service in parts of Europe and the Asian continent, the novelty of experiencing this on the African continent was not lost on our group as we boarded the Al-Boraq on that upbeat Thursday morning from the Agdal station in Rabat, headed to the coastal city of Tanger.

More than a contemporary embodiment of myth, the Al-Boraq is certainly testimony to the possibilities of an open outlook on reality – particularly by an Islamic state, alongside a can-do spirit and progressive leadership that cares enough about its people being partakers in all that defines a globalised modernity. And more so, a smart enough insight on how to create an experience assured of the continued tourist dirham!

While lounging in the First-Class cabin, we witness the Al-Boraq amble from the station through the peripheries of town, and the suburbs, before breaking into that run, drawing one into a rapport with its essence – the reality of all that had been foretold, and intensely anticipated.

The OCP Group’s huge concern about our collective vulnerability in the face of unbridled population rises, a deteriorating climate and depleting natural resources, sees the urgency of restoring and feeding the soil – through its cache of inventive fertiliser products – so that the soil can feed and sustain us in return.

Gradually, we were ushered into the realm of the hyper-rail, as the Al-Boraq accelerated to an exhilarating 330 kilometres per hour, shrinking a passage that could have taken the better part of three hours by normal transportation into slightly over an hour. And, it is claimed to have taken that much time only due to a decree of the King against the mechanical din of high-speed travel within metropolitan areas, hence the Al-Boraq meandered for close to a third of the total travel time, before reaching the outward boundaries of Rabat, from where it then revved up, to answer the call of its being.

Close to incredibility, the Al-Boraq was remarkably stable at the pinnacle of its motion, with the passenger experience not only being one of comfort and delight, but made all the more pleasant on the exploration of the cafeteria within the high-speed train, which was a culinary wonderland on its own, at over 300 kilometres an hour!

Slightly over an hour after, we saunter into Tanger in North Morocco, with its unforgettable resort town feel, and one of the most astonishingly picturesque sceneries of verdant landscapes, as we journey towards the Tanger Med port.

II.

Our expedition progresses through an undulating topography of rolling hills and deep cliffs, dotted by gorgeous ravines and giant windmills, intimating of the alternative composition of Morocco’s energy mix. Also, the intermittent sightings of beaches, and the strait between the Mediterranean and Atlantic water bodies, made more interesting by the repeated glimpse of Tarifa in southern Spain – just across the Strait of Gibraltar, appearing so seductively close, yet echoing the cruel tale of precarious human enterprise, seeking to make that desperate crossing from the Moroccan rim of Africa into Europe, through treacherous miles of electricity-charged, turbulent and guarded waters.

Finally, this particular journey leads up to the port of Tanger Med, the largest in Africa and one of the marvels of the modern economic world, expanding across thousands of hectares in the Strait of Gibraltar. Few spaces could be more metaphoric of the identity of Morocco, with its multiple traces, straddling the Atlantic and Mediterranean, Africa and Europe (which is a mere 14 kilometres away), and the Arab and Maghreb; essentially entailing diverse levels of tradition and modernity woven together.

The Al-Bouraq

As Morocco’s leading port complex, the Tanger Med is a growing trans-shipment hub for some of the world’s largest liners, and a focal point of huge logistics flows across major maritime routes (the East-West and North-South), accounting for about 20 per cent of global trade. Equally hosting an industrial platform, Tanger Med witnesses a humongous yearly traffic of over 100,000 ships, 700,000 trucks, some 7 million passengers, and the handling of about 9 million cargo containers. More so, while serving as industrial hub to over 800 companies, it is also the point from which one million cars are manufactured for export into the European and African markets.

Certainly, the port of Tanger Med, in its very strategic location and a corporate vision that keeps expanding its capacity, is positioned as a key node in Morocco’s economic evolution. This apparent determination was brought into greater perspective with the awe of observing a totally automated section of the port complex, relying essentially on artificial intelligence and robotics in its cargo handling and operations, devoid of any physical human intervention.

If there was ever the notion of an African dream of ascension to the commanding heights of the global economic order, Morocco appears primed as a noteworthy player within this ranks, with the continued flourish of its economy – even when still considered at this point as the fifth largest on the continent, at least by the size of its GDP – growing at a year-on-year average of about 4 per cent.

With the extractive industry, involving the mining of phosphates as led by the OCP conglomerate, constituting the highest foreign exchange earner for the country, and a quarter of the GDP, the services sector accounts for more than half of the Moroccan GDP, followed by the telecoms and information industry sectors. Tourism as the second highest foreign exchange earner for the country, signposts an area of renewed investments in the amplification of national infrastructure, including road and rail networks, as indicated by its economic potentials.

III.

Coming from Nigeria, where the fiscal mantra is essentially about enabling the private sector as the primary – if not sole – driver of economic growth and development, with a strong de-emphasis of any meaningful role for the public sector and its institutions beyond issues of regulatory mediation, the evidence offered by Morocco, and a number of other nations in the Arab world, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), points to the lie in this essentialist view of development.

For a fact, there are deep-rooted concerns in Nigeria, such as the endemic corruption, which is largely symptomatic of the lack of a cohesive nation that its different people feel a sense of ownership of. Hence, the nation is nothing but a contraption strung together by violence, and good only for looting by those who ought to be its stakeholders.

Yet, these fault-lines seem to be what gives wings to the orthodoxy of Bretton Woods institutions on the private sector and its messianic capacities to deliver Nigeria, and countries like it, from themselves, and the wholesale adoption of this as the mainstream canon of belief in Nigeria.

When Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman played their unforgettable romantic roles against the 1942 backdrop of the Second World War, what they bequeathed to generations of cinephiles in “Casablanca”…was nothing short of a sweltering desire and aspiration for the Arabian exotica. Yet, what I met, first-hand, felt like an update of the celluloid grandeur…

While there can be no single essentialist or essentialising truth on the route to the development of the wealth of nations – as the Asian model projects a testimony of, on the African continent, the example of Morocco punctures that bubble, that creed of economic dogma, that doctrine that has spun what is construed as the statist economic model into a fundamental sin, even when some flank of public opinion still considers it not as perfect as it should be. And, despite the fact that the state, as in a number of these instances, runs its corporations as special enterprise vehicles in the purported spirit and efficiency of the private sector.

Whatever may be said of it, it is evident to the wayfarer that the administration of King Mohammed VI in Morocco is doing something principally right in coordinating an economic model that leads the public sector as the centre of innovation, wealth-creation and the delivery of services to their people. The very symbolic example is how the Moroccan state’s mining corporation, the OCP Group – an equivalent of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) – has evolved.

IV.

As we set off on that early morning Royal Air Maroc flight on November 3, many in our team of the first class of OCP Africa’s ambassadors of experience-sharing were still battling to rollback the last vestiges of sleep that was broken at 4 a.m. in order to catch the 6 a.m. flight.

The slightly above four-hour flight between Lagos and Casablanca would have been largely routine and uneventful, if not for that peculiar geography we were traversing, which evoked both historic and more recent recalls of the trans-Saharan trade routes of past centuries, crucial to the relations among Africa’s vast empires of yore, and no doubt a purveyor of the dark trade in the human chattel, and the modern incarnation in the no less disturbing human trafficking routes between Africa and Europe.

As it was a day trip, my colleague in that class, Sarah Wakil Effin of Channels Television, kept pointing at her amazement with the massive and varied sand dune formations straddling greater parts of the Sahara Desert, from the parabolic to the star, the linear and colossal sand seas, as our flight passed through. She kept musing over the obvious fact of not a tree being in sight across several hundreds of miles, and hence the rare possibility of the availability of water: how do they do it – those caravans and bands of our countrymen and other Africans desperately braving the Saharan passage to make the Mediterranean crossing, to get to Europe alive?! Contemplating this was certainly disconcerting.

The Phosphoric Acid Platform at the Jorf Lasfar Complex

Casablanca was all that we could ever have hoped it to be and the OCP Group, the host and pathfinder per excellence. Taking in the whole expanse of this renowned Moroccan city from the 26th floor of the Kenza Towers in the downtown – where we were lodged – was a sight to behold in all its Arabian and Mediterranean splendour, with the port of Casablanca unfolding a panoramic spread in the horizon.

When Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman played their unforgettable romantic roles against the 1942 backdrop of the Second World War, what they bequeathed to generations of cinephiles in Casablanca – in which I am – was nothing short of a sweltering desire and aspiration for the Arabian exotica. Yet, what I met, first-hand, felt like an update of the celluloid grandeur, even as it preserves that remarkably uniqueness and a striking showcase of its diverse identities.

V.

A group of media colleagues and I were the first set in the class of an inaugural programme of South-South exchange between Nigeria and Morocco by the agricultural champion and farming inputs conglomerate, OCP Africa, whose footprints have grown steadily and very large within the continent.

OCP started as a business with the operation of the Boujniba mine in the Khouribga area of Morocco in 1920, from were phosphate rocks were extracted for export all over the world through the Port of Casablanca, after which other mines were subsequently opened, to presently comprise four in Khouribga (Sidi Daoui, Merah El Ahrach, Sidi Chennane and Béni Amir); three in Gantour (Benguérir, Bouchane and M’Zinda); and one in Boucraâ-Laayoune.

In addition to these are the plants for the processing of phosphate into phosphoric acid and for the making of phosphate fertilisers in Jorf Lasfar and Saf, as OCP’s core products grew along the phosphate value chain, to include derivatives such as phosphoric acid and enriched micronutrient fertilisers.

A global leader in its sector, whose mines hold about 71 per cent of the world’s reserves of phosphate and which recorded a turnover in excess of $6 billion in 2018, through the years OCP evolved into a Group that has sought to create an ecosystem around agricultural provisioning. From this emerged the founding of the continent-focused subsidiary, OCP Africa.

Part of the OCP premise for the building of an agricultural ecosystem sets off from a realisation of the huge leaps in the world’s population – and particularly that of Africa – requiring the need to swiftly increase agricultural productions by almost 80 per cent of its current output to meet rising food needs. And also the necessity of evolving a more sustainable way of utilising the earth’s resources, whose rapid depletion would soon exacerbate in a two-fold manner, due to the factors of demographic and economic growth.

With the need for food security would also be that of securing livelihoods for this growing demography through jobs, which would enable human security in the more comprehensive sense. As such, not only do current crop yields have to triple over the next decades, more so the potential of agriculture as the more sustainable provider of jobs need to be harnessed.

For those of us visiting from a country whose fortunes are strongly tied to the trajectory of its extractive industry, Jorf Lasfar offered invaluable evidence of how the clarity of vision and innovative management can be game-changers in growing the wealth of nations.

Compounding the challenge of agriculture is the issue of climate change, alongside the depletion of natural resources such as water and fertile soils, which require the optimisation of natural resources. The reality of having to massively step up food production in the face of a changing climate and the worsening diminution of natural resources has led to the OCP’s adoption of the circular economy approach, while tasking itself to become the circular economy champion in the fertiliser industry. This has resolved in the articulation of a four-pronged programme, whose components comprise resource preservation, sustainable production, mindful consumption and the creation of value by means of transformation and recycling.

As such, the OCP Group has been a producer of green power through sources including windmills and solar technologies, leading to its generation of about 25 per cent of the national green energy, whilst accounting for some 14 per cent of the annual Moroccan power consumption. More so, OCP utilises only desalinated or purified wastewater water – and not a drop of conventional water – in its productions, in addition to rehabilitating its mines for the benefit of the host communities, and creating 60,000 seasonal and 2,000 permanent jobs in the agricultural sector.

READ ALSO: EXCLUSIVE: Inside China’s $6.5 billion loans to Nigeria since 2002

Further aspects of this programme include maximising the value of low content phosphate; recycling the recoverable elements of the rocks; controlling emissions (specifically of sulfur dioxide, S02) and wastewater management through available technologies; implementing smart agriculture by means of smart fertiliser production; and creating innovative solutions to support farmers.

The OCP Group’s huge concern about our collective vulnerability in the face of unbridled population rises, a deteriorating climate and depleting natural resources, sees the urgency of restoring and feeding the soil – through its cache of inventive fertiliser products – so that the soil can feed and sustain us in return.

Through OCP Africa, the Group has expanded its mandate as being more than just a fertiliser company but an agricultural solutions provider on the continent, invested in heralding a new approach to sustainable growth on the African continent. This involves advocating an inclusive methodology with other agricultural stakeholders to exchanging experiences and building a roadmap together; helping countries to customise their agricultural needs; working with smallholder farmers to tackle the challenges of infrastructure and finance; and supporting with knowledge to enable farming practices.

The OCP Group’s identification of new knowledge, research and development as being crucial to innovation around African agriculture and, ultimately, the triggering of the continent’s renaissance, was the stimulus for the investment in founding the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P) in what is positioned as the future Green City of Benguérir. As a metropolis dedicated to research and innovation, Benguérir is also host to the OCP-inspired Green Energy and Smart Buildings Park, devoted to the incubation of start-ups that would be arrowheads of the continent’s prospective sustainable cities, being created through the integration of renewable energies and digitisation.

This is also location of the Research Institute for Solar Energy and New Energies (IRESEN), which is driving the transition to a green energy future, and has been at the centre (alongside UM6P) of organising the Solar Decathlon Africa competition in the Benguérir Solar Village. This contest drawing participation from across the African continent and beyond is designed as an innovative platform for coming up with the best of research and production in the fields of green buildings, energy efficiency and smart grids.

Beyond OCP’s knowledge-based investments, whether in terms of promoting agricultural research and development, evident in the various programmes of UM6P or serving as motivation for the setting up of a think-tank, the Center for the New South, which is aiming for the frontiers of scholarship on the global South and its future, the Group and its subsidiary, OCP Africa, are also engaged in social enterprise, besides the strictly profit making divisions.

This is manifest in its work in supporting the transformation of the lot of farmers from subsistence to commercially viable farming in many countries from Benin to Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Senegal, etc. Furthermore, the social enterprise purpose is apparent in the programmes and activities with agriculture-based groups across Nigerian states, like Ogun, Kaduna, Sokoto, and others. And equally the support OCP gives in empowering communities through its different philanthropic arms, such as the Phosboucraa Foundation; or even in enabling South-South cooperation, as done by the Adaptation of African Agriculture (AAA) Foundation, which the Group funds.

The issues are painfully similar in much of the global South – and so could the solutions be, as OCP Africa recognises and is primed to take on, with agricultural practice facing analogous problems of reducing yields in the face of persistent traditional smallholder farming, deteriorating soil quality and climate change, alongside surging demographics, which all make the need for experience-sharing, mutual assistance and solutions provision pertinent.

This was raison d’être for a meeting of African Agriculture ministers, international organisations and related stakeholders, convoked within the framework of the Adaptation of African Agriculture (AAA) Initiative of the AAA Foundation at the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University between November 4 and 5, 2019, with the backing of the OCP Group.

Through a Declaration on the urgency for the mitigation of challenges confronting agricultural practices on the continent, the conference was a rally of African countries – including Nigeria, Egypt, Rwanda, Cote d’Ivoire, Lesotho, Tanzania, Togo, Gambia, Eswatini, Niger, DRC Congo, etc. – towards increased advocacy for greater funding of the adaptation of African agriculture to climate change by countries of the global North, whose activities are largely responsible for the warming of the atmosphere in the first instance.

The grandeur, opulence and exceptionality of Marrakech hits one in an memorable manner, as a city that’s like no other anywhere. Its unique visual language and typology of design marks it out, alongside broad promenades strutting Western-style horse carriages and profusion of hotels and villas – as an booming real estate and tourist corridor, give it that unforgettable feel of the quintessential African resort city.

VI.

We set out by road for Jorf Lasfar early on that quasi-cold November morning, navigating Casablanca’s vehicular traffic that was tediously building up at that hour, as it has become of the urban condition afflicting most major metropolises. Travelling in the company of some other half-dozen journalists from Nigeria’s major media organisations, as a first set in OCP Africa’s South-South experience-sharing programme, we journeyed through one of the most scenic agrarian countrysides undergoing a post-harvest browning and dotted by straggling free-ranging livestock, with a brief stop in OCP’s training centre, to reach the world’s largest fertiliser complex, about three hours later.

For a group coming from Nigeria, one of the most striking features of the Moroccan country was the high and impressive level of rural development evident, from the sturdily built and well-maintained road networks to the pockets of development strewn along proudly, exhibiting their Arabic and French influences, and then the very modern port of Jorf Lasfar. It was interesting to encounter folks working in the large chemical plants and industries in this axis who actually prefer the ‘rural’ charm and living deep in the country, far away from the ‘madness’ of the big cities.

OCP’s Jorf Lasfar complex spreads out over a hundred acres and in about six JFC units, each hosting sub-complexes that are either presently functional or would soon be. Having a total labour force of over 20,000 workers, one of the units is dedicated entirely as an African Fertiliser Complex for exclusive supply to the continent, with a fertiliser production capacity of 1 million metric tons per year, alongside a phosphoric acid unit producing 450,000 metric tons per year, and a sulphuric acid section generating 1.4 million tons a year. The complex equally has a storage infrastructure with a 200,000 metric tons capacity, and a 62 MW thermoelectric power plant.

The huge production output of this unit, in addition to those of the other units in the Jorf Lasfar complex – JFC2, JFC3 and JFC4, make OCP the largest fertiliser exporter in the world, with a combined production capacity in excess of 12 million metric tons of fertiliser per year. More so, the entire complex is totally energy sufficient, with its excess being fed into a sea water desalination station that is targeted as producing 75 million m3 of desalinated water per year by 2025, not only supplying the whole of Jorf Lasfar’s water needs but providing the nearby city of El Jadida with 15 million m3 of water per year.

Anchoring the notion of sustainability in the operations of the OCP Group has been the innovative deployment of the 187-kilometre slurry pipeline linking mining sites in the Khouribga region with the Jorf Lasfar processing complex. This has not only revolutionised the manner and speed in which phosphate is being transported between the mines and processing site, in has also significantly engendered two levels of efficiency, comprising the optimisation of the costs of logistics associated with the rail transportation of materials, and spawning more environmental friendly conditions of lowering the CO2 emissions involved in, alongside the rate of water utilisation in the conventional haulage process.

For those of us visiting from a country whose fortunes are strongly tied to the trajectory of its extractive industry, Jorf Lasfar offered invaluable evidence of how the clarity of vision and innovative management can be game-changers in growing the wealth of nations.

The Pergola at the King Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, Benguérir

Next for me, following the return to Casablanca, was a request to observe the conference of African ministers of Agriculture and other stakeholders on the platform of the Adaptation of African Agriculture (AAA) Initiative at the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P) on Tuesday, November 5.

Benguérir in the Rehamna province of central Morocco exudes a fairly quaint sedateness of its own, from its main streets and driveways, to the major structures, evolving as the Mohammed VI Green City dedicated to research and innovation. The city oozes the air of creative thinking, possibly most defined by the architectural feats of the Polytechnic University (UM6P), a Ricardo Bofill Taller design masterpiece sitting on about 55,000 hectares of land.

UM6P is an extended work of art obviously inspired by the rich traditions of Moroccan architecture and ksour, evident in the five research centres and the learning centre, the library, sports pavilion, Student Centre, Medical Centre, the residential clusters, and main university auditorium. A major atrium, the Pergola, leading to the other buildings as an area of convergence of the academic and research community for recreation and leisure, boldly indicates the futuristic purpose of UM6P, both in the character of its design, strategic location, and utility as a solar energy platform.

After tugging at the knots of the climate deliberations and the serial advocacies for its mitigation by a growing South-South conclave, residence for me for the night was in Marrakech, some 50 miles away. And at first sight, I was immediately drawn into the experience of one of the most stunning cities ever.

Certainly the most striking feature of Marrakech is its earthy redness, earning it the sobriquet of “The Red City”, with large sections of its walls and buildings made out of the red sandstone, reputed to have commenced during the 12th Century era of Ali Ibn Yusuf. The grandeur, opulence and exceptionality of Marrakech hits one in an memorable manner, as a city that’s like no other anywhere. Its unique visual language and typology of design marks it out, alongside broad promenades with strutting Western-style horse carriages and a profusion of hotels and villas, as a apparently booming real estate and tourist corridor, which all give that unforgettable feel of the quintessential African resort city.

Quite unfortunately, mine was a day’s brisk dash-through, and the desire to have witnessed the highly reputed Jemaa el-Fnaa, the busiest square in Africa; the Marrakech Medina, which is a UNESCO World heritage; the city’s traditional market or Souk, renown as the largest in Morocco; and sites like the Koutoubia Mosque and Gardens, and the Bahia and El Badi Palaces, remain to be fulfilled on another visit, hopefully soon.

After the encounter, even in its brevity, I became inclined to agree with a friend, a continuous visitor, who once said: “If you die without seeing Marrakech, God would likely reject your soul!”

…equally noteworthy for our group was the fact of being conducted round the historic Mosque by a guide who was not only of a cosmopolitan sensibility – as many in his line of work are wont to be – but was also catholic in his knowledge of history and geography, being well acquainted of Nigeria history and personages, including greats like Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka.

VII.

Rabat, 16 years later, for me, was like a feast of return, after that summer of chasing rhythms to one of the first editions of the Mawazine music festival, in company of Kunle Tejuoso’s Faaji Agba ensemble. And there have been huge remarkable changes since then; with the intervention of the Royal Air Maroc, now making travel to Morocco from the continent more direct and a lot saner, unlike that circular journey of earlier years, first taking one to Paris, before the connection to Rabat could be made.

It was a capital that must have gone through waves of urban gentrification that I met; a whole lot prettier, and as endearing and assured as any first world metropolis, whether in its infrastructure or general feel. Yet, the trip made to Rabat by our group necessarily took the exploratory land route from Benguérir through Casablanca.

As the landscape unfolded before us to observe the peri-urban to urban growth of Morocco, of distinct note was the raft of mass housing schemes of the government to resolve the dwelling needs of the people, which are said to be private sector driven. And quite remarkable was the experience of the mandatory stops of commercial vehicle drivers, emplaced to allow commuters deal with the tedium and associated health-risks of travel after every few hours of driving. Moreover, could we equally have been fortunate wayfarers in the company of President Trump’s younger daughter, Tiffany, said to be on our route on the way to some high-level social event, about the time we travelled?

Beautiful, very modern and extremely clean, even if not as thronged as Casablanca, Rabat held its delight for our group, which was made a lot more pleasant and purposeful with the visit to the OCP-inspired Policy Center for the New South, located in one of the city’s older swanky downtowns.

At the Policy Center, which is positioned as a frontline think-tank offering policy directions for harnessing the energies of the global South towards collaboration for solutions provision, we were hosted to a dialogue session with some of their leading researchers and experts. It was essentially a conversation around issues constituting a shared burden among countries in the South, particularly Africa, from concerns around migration, tax systems to women’s equality, labour markets, and energy efficiency, etc.

VIII.

If as the aphorism has it that curiosity once killed the cat, then the logical dénouement of satisfaction bringing the cat back to life is apt in describing the condition of those of us who – nudged by a needling curiosity – missioned after what is considered as one of the wonders of the modern world, which is also in the league of the greatest monuments ever built – the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca.

This made the quest for Bd Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah on the eve of our return to Nigeria a non-negotiable enterprise; and what unfolded before us on encounter educed nothing short of raptures of astonishment.

Without doubt, the Hassan II Mosque is an aesthetic marvel, sitting on an incline that is partly land, and yet tapering into the Atlantic Ocean, over about 10 hectares of space that confirms its ranking as the largest Mosque in Africa, and the tenth largest of such in the world. At full occupation, the mosque is said to conveniently take over a hundred thousand worshippers, with twenty five thousand of them fitting into the precincts of the immense prayer hall, and over eighty thousand spread across the extensive grounds, on occasions such as the Eid prayers. More so, the Mosque’s minaret is noted as being the tallest religious object in the world.

With its grounds hosting a museum, library, madrasas, and fountains, the exquisite design of the Hassan II Mosque is a blend of Islamic architecture, alongside Moroccan and Moorish influences, to form a composite described as “modernized ancestral art” and “the exploration of new aesthetic possibilities.” More so, its matchless interiors reveal some of the most gracefully designed mosaics, magnificent marble flooring and grand columns, while the ceiling from which hangs superlatively tasteful chandeliers, is embellished by intricate and yet consummate woodwork patterns, with impeccable finishing. The Mosque, originally conceived as a monument to the memory of King Mohammed V, the father of the succeeding King Hassan II, was built over a seven-year period by thousands of artisans.

Still, equally noteworthy for our group was the fact of being conducted round the historic Mosque by a guide who was not only of a cosmopolitan sensibility – as many in his line of work are wont to be – but was also catholic in his knowledge of history and geography, being well acquainted of Nigeria history and personages, including greats like Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka. It was a light bulb moment in that great continuum of human and cultural interactions through different, even if not wholly dissimilar, geographies – the possibilities around which unquestionably require deepening – in a seven-day dialogue aimed at fostering a more productive relationship between two notable countries of the global south.

IX.

After a weeklong feast of the sensorium across the northern rim of the Maghreb, how does one return home to relate tales of the astonishing to a wife who had already given indication that experiencing the Moroccan exotica alone – even in the obvious fellowship of a class of professional colleagues – is nothing short of a conceited and bad-mannered masculine conduct? Yet, with the mind on her displeasure, I am persuaded to keep the traveling shoes in sight, particularly being mindful of my friend’s entreaty that: “If you die without seeing Marrakech, God would likely reject your soul!”

Top picture credit: hnoversa/Fotolia/Encyclopedia Britannica.


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