By Halima Ouamouch
By Halima Ouamouch
Casablanca – Sub-Saharan Africa as a geographical term refers to the area of the African continent which lies south of the Sahara.
A political definition of Sub-Saharan Africa, instead, covers all African countries which are fully or partially located south of the Sahara. It contrasts with North Africa, which is considered a part of the Arab world. The Sub-Saharan region is also known as Black Africa, in reference to its many black populations. However, the terminology Black Africa and Sub-Sahara Africa is considered by some as a pejorative term and a vestige of colonialism, which divided Africa into European terms of homogeneity.
Morocco and the sub-Sahara
For most of the last two centuries Morocco has considered itself an African exception, the most European of African countries, having more in common with the continent that it can easily see on clear days, just nineteen kilometers away across the strait of Gibraltar, than with the vast expanse of southern countries sharing the same landmass.
While Morocco has many transitory migrants from southern Africa – people who are waiting until they can sneak into Europe on a boat or by foot into the Spanish territory on the continent of Africa, Ceuta and Mellila – it also has students and economic migrants who want to work in the country because there is more opportunity or because the situation is more stable than the one in their own country.
Why is Morocco a favorite destination for sub-Saharan students?
Whether students, refugees, or workers, they are thousands of sub-Saharans to settle in Morocco to look for a better life. Most of them wish to make it their home country despite some cultural difficulties. In investigating the reasons that urged these students to choose Morocco as a destination to their higher studies, the answers centered around four main reasons. First, the variety of choices of majors in the Moroccan schools, in fact, Sub-Saharan students are present in all branches and specializations; however, the majority favors scientific and technical studies. Economic and social sciences studies come second preferable subject by Sub-Saharans, followed by medical studies, then the institutes of vocational training and rehabilitation work. Second, the quality of the formation in Morocco thanks to the adequacy of materials, human resources, and the infrastructure. Third, the free education in Morocco’s universities and colleges unlike other countries. Fourth, the difficulties of going abroad such as the limits of getting the visa and the high standards of living…etc
It is interesting to note that the majority, after their graduation, hope to make their living in Morocco if they manage to find a job. They are aware that it is hard to get a visa to Europe; moreover, in Tunisia life expenses are very high while in Algeria there is the problem of insecurity. Morocco is, however, an ideal place because it enjoys more political stability and a larger African community compared to other North African countries.
Sub-Saharan students: statistics
According to the UNESCO Institute for statistics, higher education students from Sub-Saharan Africa are “the most mobile in the world, with one out of 16 – or 5.6 percent- studying abroad […] At the other end of the scale, only one out of every 250 North American students (0.4 percent) studies overseas, making this group the least mobile” (UNESCO 2006). UNESCO also classified the destinations of Sub-Saharan students, and Western Europe, mainly France, represent the top destination. Continentally, Morocco has the leading role in hosting about 12000 Sub-Saharan Students and trainees from different countries. We have to add another 3000 students registered in private institutions. Every year at least 1000 students join Moroccan universities in different cities. Accordingly, Morocco also plays an instrumental role between the countries known as North and South and between those of South- South.
In order to improve the cooperation, Morocco signed agreements, conventions, and treaties that can be divided into two categories: the general conventions, and the sectorial conventions. The first ones are to establish bonds of friendships and fraternity that unite the Moroccan and African people. The second category is related to the exchanges occurring at the level of the economic, cultural, and social sectors. Morocco has also founded two institutions: the direction of cultural and scientific cooperation (DCCS: la Direction de Coopération culturelle et scientifique), and the Moroccan agency of international cooperation (A.M.C.I: l’Agence Marocaine de Coopération international) both of them are founded under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Moroccan agency of international cooperation (A.M.C.I) not only takes care of the education of the Sub-Saharan students; it also continues to supervise them by providing certain services that allow them to study under better conditions. In addition to the 750 dhs per month for 12 months scholarship, the agency provides the following services: lodgings, as the agency owns a campus especially for foreign students in Rabat with a capacity to host about 800 students from both genders and from 50 different nationalities. The agency is also cooperating with the department of higher education of the Ministry of education to supply them with as many lodgings as possible throughout the kingdom. The students also benefit from free medical care like any other Moroccan students. In addition to that, the agency coordinates an orientation program at the arrival of these students to help them obtain their official papers. Besides, the agency sponsors a variety of extracurricular activities, sportive and cultural, with the Sub-Saharan Student Association brought into being 20 years ago.
The Moroccan government spends around 55 to 60 million dirhams per year as a budget for the Moroccan Agency of International Cooperation to finance the scholarships, the medication, the activities, the transportation, and the humanitarian assistance of the sub-Saharan students. This shows that the Moroccan-African cooperation costs are expensive, especially that the Moroccan government provides almost all the fees and charges for being the host country. Nevertheless, this has been seen as beneficial to Morocco as it is to other Sub-Saharan African countries.
The Moroccan-African cooperation in the domain of higher education promotes an effective training of cadres and professionals who, when they return to their countries, they take in higher positions in their governments. According to Mr. Abd El Kader Alanssari, the director of the Moroccan Agency of International Cooperation, “many African ministers and a significant number of society elites were former students in Morocco’s universities”. The majority of them are grateful towards the country that hosted them all the period of their studies long and helped them build their future. Therefore, they become in a way “pro-Morocco”, and supportive of the Moroccan international policies in such issues as that of the Western Sahara.
Economically, the cooperation guarantees long-term investments. Morocco’s exchanges with Sub-Saharan Africa represent 2% of its total exchanges and through the cooperation, Morocco is seeking to increase its economic trade with the countries of the region. Former Sub-Saharan students majoring in economics, when starting their businesses will tend to orient their work to establish collaborations with Morocco. For instance, Morocco and Congo signed on the 9th, May, 2007 a partnership stressing the importance of this bilateral Morocco-Congolese relationship in forming cadres in the fields of mine and energy, tourism, health, environment, water, agriculture, and management training. This co-operation also promotes new aspects of trade between both countries that will enhance their economies and their co-development (Jeune Afrique). Other investments included the exploitation of the gold mines in a number of African countries: Gabon, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, and Burkina-Faso by the group of L’ONA (TelQuel).
The cooperation has some cultural benefits as well. It allows Morocco to build bridges of friendship that will increase the understanding between Morocco and Sub-Saharan countries and be open to other people and civilizations. Moreover, the presence of international students enriches the Moroccan campuses and universities, which create an international atmosphere that increases the awareness of the Moroccan students and helps in their intellectual development. In addition, the activities performed by the Sub-Saharan students in campuses during the national days of their home countries are welcomed by the Moroccan students, which enhance their sense of tolerance and acceptance of others, which will without a doubt strengthen the cultural ties between Morocco and other African countries.
According to Ram Reddy: “In a developing society aspiring for structural changes through democratic means, a university has a crucial role to play as an agent of change. It has to prepare a cadre of leaders equipped to initiate the process of change” (qtd. in Neave and Vught 14). It seems like the Moroccan government has realized the truth in this statement, therefore, it started valuing the sector of higher education and giving it an international frame. Morocco is taking the leading role in the continent in the domain of higher education. Through its cooperation with other African countries, Morocco seeks to settle political issues (its territorial unity), improves its economic investments, and promotes a multi-cultural atmosphere that would enrich its society.
Halima Ouamouch is Professor of English studies at the University Hassan II, Casablanca.
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