Bundu-bashing in the Moroccan South

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In the midst of the siege at the Sorbonne as a result of students protesting against a new proposed contract by the Government of Dominique de Villepin for youths entering the labour market for the first time, I left for a four-day holiday in the south of Morocco. I didn’t do any background reading on the region I was about to visit, since I wanted to be surprised by what was awaiting me and my travelling party of about twenty-five French tourists aged 27 to 43. The build-up to the trip was nothing unusual apart from the fact that as a Namibian, I had to request a visa and this is possibly due to our position vis-ÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚ -vis the burning question of the Western Sahara. I learnt later that Gilbert, an Ivorian, didn’t need a visa and that country’s position on that question is contrary to ours. Even though I submitted my application for a visa three weeks in advance, my visa was only processed (thanks to the efficiency of the Moroccan Consulate) on the day when I went to collect it. Our first stop in search of the bundus was Marrakech where we took possession of eight Sports Utility Vehicles which were to be our instruments to conquer the Moroccan South. First as a Namibian, a trip like that was important not only to compare notes with how far Morocco has gone in terms of economic development since tourism contributes about 25% to their gross domestic product. Mind you, apart from the work-related trips during my stint at the Office of the Prime Minister, I have never done any serious tourism on the continent apart from the usual local Christmas trips to Swakopmund, Etosha, and the dÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚©jÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚  vu Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. Secondly as an African, the trip would also permit me to see Africa from the point of view of a tourist. Obviously, being part of a European travelling party would allow me to do things European tourists do and also capture their perceptions about the country in question. Our intended destination from Marrakech was the town of Ouazarzate which would be our base during our conquest of the South. Since bundu-bashing was on the menu, we opted to trek through the gravel road in the mountains instead of the much more safe and secure tarred road to Ouazarzate. In contrast to my European party who had fun during our three-hour trek, I found nothing funny about it since the mountains were pretty high and the risk all the more elevated. The risk was all the more compounded by the fact that I was travelling in the first car behind the lead car driven by a Moroccan tour guide who probably has been doing that road for years. And Gilles, who told us that he drives a Peugeot coupe, didn’t assure me since the closest he has come to unsafe roads, is speed on the French auto-routes or the Deutsche autobahn. Luckily, the nerve-wracking trip went without incidence. What was striking is the fact that electricity has been extended to these villages as a means of assisting the passing bundu-bashing SUV’s since it was only a few street lamps that would light up at sunset. Perhaps, despite a well-intended rural electrification programme, the villagers simply can’t afford electricity. As we trekked, one couldn’t ignore the high levels of poverty and Berber village kids who would run to the cars during our intervals to ask for a few dirhams or pens. As part of our limited social responsibility, we gave away our pens (and anything we could give) and we were left with many regrets since we didn’t anticipate such demand for pens. Nicolas, who works for an IT company, would later tell (as part of our collective regret) that he should have carried a box of pens from his office to distribute to the village kids. The following day, once again we traversed Berber villages at relatively high speed to my liking and we would cover these villages in dust and of course the kids would run to the passing cars to wave in anticipation of gifts or possibly as part of Berber courtesy. Yves would later complain about our inhumanity and our lack of respect for the tiny villages that we were covering in dust as if there were no signs of human existence. In the far South we spent the night in a tent after that famous ride on a camel with some members complaining about the treatment of the camels by their Berber handlers in the Moroccan Sahara. Again, I regretted not having brought along a few pairs of shoes to donate to those barefoot Berbers. With regard to food, we were served with nothing but Moroccan meals and it was evident in the taste of the meat that it didn’t have to pass through a Meatco type of intermediary before it is served in a five-star hotel or the local restaurant. Also, the fruits were clearly from the area as part of a clear strategy of boosting the local economy. Our dinners would be accompanied by local Berber musicians performing for three to five hours. Again, it appeared inhuman to eat for three hours whilst they were performing Berber song and dance. To console my guilt, I thought of my visit as a means of providing a livelihood for those musicians and those barefoot camel handlers. As part of localising the economy, the hotel, (including the tents in the desert) and the restaurants we frequented are owned by a local businessman by the name of Aziz. I also learned that certain tourism agents in France donate a portion of their fees to the development of local communities in the South of Morocco. Closer to home, such a trip made me reflect on the role my Toyota and Isuzu driving brothers play in the sustenance of village economies every time they make those famous trips to Omaueu-ozonyanda when there’s a funeral of a remote cousin or a wedding of a primary school friend. Without those visits, many of our village economies would have been non-existent. However, the challenge for our tourism authorities remains how to transform these rural areas into attractive poles for mainstream cultural tourism. In the final analysis, the moral of the story is that tourism is an essential driver of economic growth, but it must become human-centred and innovative for the benefit of rural Namibia. Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari Paris, France