Morocco and Africa


Morocco and Africa


By Olu Oguibe


Most of our nations and continents are named by Europeans. In antiquity, Europeans used the name Africa for the immediate region bordering the south of the Mediterranean, after a small ancient Tunisian city state, Ifriqiya. The rest of the continent they referred to as Ethiopia or land of the Ethiopes, which is Greek for people with dark skin “like kiln-burnt pottery”.


By that history of naming, all of us from the continent who have dark skin are Ethiopians. We only became Africans very recently, as a matter of fact only a few hundred years ago, and that, still, was only to Europeans and not to ourselves.


In other words, to the ancient Europeans who invented the word Africa, if you were Mediterranean or what we now call North African (but not Egyptian), you were African. If you came from south of that region or what we now refer to as sub-Saharan, you were not African. You were Ethiopian.


My grandfather Oguibe who died in 1956 did not regard himself as African because the notion was alien and unknown to him. He was simply Igbo. My father who was school-educated did regard himself as African, although until his recent death, he curiously preferred the word negro, which means exactly the same as Ethiopian or Black. It’s almost as though he sought to distinguish between Black and African, and rightly so, but he did regard himself as African. My grandparents, on both sides, who were born in the 19th Century and did not receive European education, did not identify as African. The name or term or notion meant absolutely nothing at all to them.


Over many years, I’ve written and published quite a bit about Africa and Africanness although I do not consider the matter important enough to want to write a whole book on it. Suffice it to say that these are terms and identities which have evolved and changed and meant different things at different times. They’ve also included or excluded different peoples and cultures over time. By origin they are European inventions, but they’ve been adopted or inherited and adapted to different purposes by people on the continent. They’re neither sacred nor cast in stone.


Human identity is a very complex construct. Sometimes it matters more how we identify ourselves, but we’re seldom able to entirely escape how others identify us. National and regional identifies are very much the same. We’ve seen recently how the British have struggled with their European identity. Many of them can’t seem to be able to make up their minds whether or not they’re European, or even what that means. At the same time, to outsiders the matter isn’t even debatable: to the rest of the world unless the Briton isn’t white, they’re automatically European. Britain is, after all, part of the European continent.


There are Arab Africans just as there are Igbo and Sotho Africans. There are Arab Africans who identify as both Arab and African, as they should, but there are Arab Africans who choose not to identify as African. Are they any less African because they choose not to identify as African? That’s debatable.


With specific reference to Morocco, named for the Moors by Europeans, there are several different groups of Moroccans. In Morocco there are Arabs, there are Jews, there are people of European descent, there are First Nations who’re quite different from the Arabs (Arabs are an occupying ethnicity in Morocco), and there are people of Black West African descent whose ancestors were abducted by the Arabs and enslaved in Morocco. These are all Moroccans.


Some identify as African, some do not, but Morocco is in Africa, and, in our time a nation in Africa, a nation which is not in Arabia but merely happens to have an Arab population among several other populations, cannot be anything else but African. As a nation.


True, the issue matters, because how certain groups in North Africa perceive themselves has always defined how they not only relate to but also treat the rest of the people on the continent, especially those with a darker skin. Whether it’s post-Qaddafi Libyans mistreating and even murdering West Africans who’re trying to get to Europe, or Moroccans occupying Sahrawi land and driving the Sahrawi out of their native country and into exile in refugee camps in Algeria, or even northern Sudanese brutally and violently repressing southern Sudanese, how people identify themselves matters because it defines their loyalties.


It’s ironic that football should throw up the matter because people who, just the other day, sought to dismiss my longstanding position on Morocco because they were ecstatic about Moroccans’ success at the World Cup, now find themselves conflicted because the Moroccans dedicated their victories to Arabs and Moslems, but not to the African continent. Suddenly, people find themselves equivocating and coming up with excuses because, deep inside, they feel betrayed and disappointed.


A dedication at the World Cup will not determine whether or not Moroccans are African, because Morocco is in Africa, and there are many different Moroccans. A Moroccan football player or coach does not speak for all them.


The matter of Africanness in Morocco is a conflict even Moroccans themselves must contend with. Surely, there are Moroccans who by sentiment and actions are clearly anti-African. However, there are many other Moroccans who’re solidly African by same sentiment and actions, to speak less of history.


They, too, matter.


Olu Oguibe first published this piece on Facebook.

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