Rock the Casbah
May 29, 2023
We sailed into Morocco on Thursday, the 26th of May, for our last day on the African continent. Overall we found the people living in Africa to be extraordinarily friendly and welcoming. They constantly waved hello and seemed eager to tell us about their countries. But the contrast in material wealth between Africa and Europe (just around the corner) is just staggering.
Upon seeing this, the temptation is to blame it all on colonialism. It is a temptation often shared both by Westerners and people who live in what is now called the Global South—formerly called the third world or the developing world.
But I’m not so sure that colonialism is all there is to it. Surely Europe wreaked plenty of havoc wherever and whenever they set up their colonies. For one thing, they created artificial countries rather than true nation-states. As the colonial era drew to a close and former colonies gained independence, the borders that remained often reflected great power politics that ignored local conditions. Tribal and ethnic histories were all but ignored. The same can be said about the Middle East, South America and parts of Asia.
There are other factors that bear consideration as well, including culture and political economy. The departing European powers had often attempted to suppress local culture and languages. By and large these efforts were largely unsuccessful. It is reasonable to suppose that this engendered African distrust of Western institutions. It is also reasonable to assume that is one (among many) variables that explains why so many former African colonies adopted socialist-authoritarian models upon achieving independence. That didn’t really end until the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. But the wreckage of that experiment is still visible. Something to think about.
On a brighter note, Mary Anne and I went on a brief tour of Agadir, Morocco. From what we observed, the country is in far better shape than most of the other African countries we visited. We went to a fantasia, which involved a show of dancers in native costume, acrobats and a horse riding show that featured synchronized movements and simulated charges for battle.
Then we went to a souk—a real souk that was maybe a square mile in size. It looked like whatever you wanted, you could buy. Basically a quasi outdoor shopping mall. Everything from household furniture, freshly squeezed juices, souvenirs and clothing were on sale.
After the souk we went to a Casbah, which essentially refers to a castle. But Casbahs are not isolated; generally they were built inside cities that were walled-off for protection against would be invaders. Casbahs tend to be on hilltops for the same reason. This Casbah (largely reconstructed) had cannons facing out to the Atlantic Ocean to protect against invading navies.
There were plenty of tourists and merchants in the walled city. In fact, the Casbah seamed to be mostly for tourists. In some ways it looked like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie. Among other attractions there were donkeys, camels and goats meandering around while under the watchful eyes of their owners. A number of tourists went for the camel rides on offer. Not us.
After leaving the Casbah we headed back to the ship. It was our last day in Africa, and it really leaves you thinking. Next, we to set sail for Spain.