Sub-Saharan Africans suffer discrimination in Morocco

Immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa face racism, name-calling and worse in Morocco but also find a “complicated coexistence.”

al-monitor Serge, a 28-year-old migrant from Cameroon, holds baby Kader, as they stand with other African migrants at a clandestine campsite in northern Morocco near Spain's north African enclave Melilla, Nov. 28, 2013.  Photo by REUTERS/Juan Medina.

Topics covered

sub-saharan africa, racism, north africa, morocco, media, africa

Feb 18, 2015

Sometimes racism kills. This was the case in September 2014, when Charles Ndour, a 25-year-old Senegalese man, died in the outskirts of Tangiers at the hands of several Moroccans. But these extreme cases aside, racism is everywhere and happens every day. It manifests itself in ads featuring maids that are “sub-Saharan” or by insults thrown on the fly in the street. “When I go to the market, some people taunted me by calling me Ebola,” Karim told us. He is a Senegalese man who has been living in Morocco for six years.

A racism that is relayed by elites

“Often, they also call us Mamadou [a common name in West Africa],” said Eric, a man from Cameroon who has been living in Morocco since 2010. According to him, “the racist remarks are related to events making the headlines.” Thus, citizens of sub-Saharan countries are sometimes called “Ebola or AIDS.”

Eric added: “Now, since a French [citizen named Amedy Coulibaly whose parents were] originally from Mali was responsible for an attack in France, they link it to all sub-Saharans. The other day, on the Internet, young people called me ‘Coulibaly.’ ... And some enjoy imitating monkeys when a black person passes.”

“In the popular media, street children make fun of everything that is different, and that includes foreigners,” explained Mehdi Alioua, a sociologist and president of the anti-racist group Support and Defense of Immigrants (Gadem). He regretted that parents allow these taunts to happen. But for him, “It is the behavior of the press and of the authorities that is stigmatizing these populations.” Alioua asserted that there is a correlation between a certain public discourse and the rise of racist behavior.

In other words, when politicians point fingers to a certain community, insults aimed at that community become more frequent. He mentions, for example, the management of the Ebola epidemic in the country and in particular the action taken in January at the Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca. Travelers from infected countries felt they were being singled out and stigmatized. He noted that the authorities favor the image of foreigners as potentially dangerous.

Discriminatory behavior

In addition to words, we also see discriminatory behavior. Aisha Deme, a young Senegalese woman, wrote a story on the website Le Monde Afrique on Jan. 6, saying, “Yes, racism is out there. It is at the entrance of the train, where they called me to tell me that I was about to board a first-class carriage. I already knew that. I chose to ride first class in order to travel and work comfortably. During the trip, another person told me that I was in first class.”

Foreigners also accuse taxi drivers of sometimes refusing to take black passengers. “Some taxi drivers refuse to serve me, a young black woman, and they stop in front of the lady five meters away from me. Not wanting to be paranoid, I waited. An hour and a dozen empty taxis passed by, but none stopped.” So she gave up.

Karim said, “I had just landed and a driver told me, ‘I don’t take you because you’re black,’ but that was just a jerk who crossed my path,” admitting of often reacting and not letting it go.

Eric confirmed that this also happened to him. He said, “If there are two women in a cab, [the driver] will not take you, that’s clear.” But Alioua explains that some situations are the result of immigrants misunderstanding Moroccan customs. He gave the example of [talking to others with familiarity], “Immigrants don’t like [being talked to with familiarity], but it is a habit here, Moroccans often [talk with familiarity] to a white person whom they don’t know.”

An increasingly racist society?

Discriminatory thought can also benefit [certain] foreigners when finding jobs is involved. There’s a racist notion that black women are very good in the kitchen. “Some people think that Africans work better than Arabs,” said Karim, who, as an entrepreneur, decided to hire only Moroccans to “avoid jealousies.” He told us that “being a black CEO is hard. One has to make his own place.”

Racism may be difficult to quantify, but some foreigners residing in Morocco for several years have the impression that racist remarks have increased lately. “From the beginning, I felt racism against black people. But now with the regularization campaign [toward illegal immigrants], it has become worse because the media are talking a lot about their integration,” Eric said. Conversely, Karim sees an improvement and believes that “how black people are viewed has changed.” But Alioua argues that the situation is static, saying, “There is a complicated coexistence but a coexistence nevertheless. It is accepted as a matter of fact, but tinged with disdain from both sides.”

Are Moroccans more racist than others?

Racism is of course not an exclusively Moroccan problem. “Morocco is no more racist than other [countries] and may be less racist than Western societies, which have turned racism into an ideology in order to legitimize colonialism,” said Alioua. The sociologist noted that the peculiarity of the kingdom is its relationship with the rest of the continent. “The construction of an ‘otherness’ is old and related to the fact that a large majority of Moroccans do not feel African.”

However, unlike other countries, there is no law against racist behavior in Morocco. So racism goes unpunished. A bill was submitted in 2013, but the issue has been stuck in place since.

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