Tag Archives Urban October

Belonging to and longing for the village: how the earthquake in Morocco reveals the importance of the homeland in shaping diaspora identity

What happens when a country gets hit by an unexpected, highly damaging earthquake? How does the aid this country receives afterwards look like when it has a diaspora community of more than one million people? And how does a tragic event such as an earthquake affect those million people and their diaspora identity? While diaspora identity is often defined by referring to the country of origin, in this article Malika Ouacha discusses how the earthquake in Morocco affected her and led her to foster a deeper understanding of her identity as member of the Moroccan diaspora.

Image by freepik

As I was preparing myself for another day of Family Constellation theory, I heard my husband scream from the living room: “What? An earthquake last night in Marrakech on the scale of 6.8 Richter?!” I didn’t really understand what he meant. “An earthquake? This heavy? But that has never happened before in our region,” I was thinking. At the same time, I remembered that there had been one in 1960 in Agadir, a city some 250 kilometres to the south of Marrakech.

The longer Nicolaas, my husband, continued to read the news article out loud, the more I understood that the news was real, that it really had happened. And that I had to start searching for my phone and call as many people as possible to find out whether they were safe. After trying several times and not being able to reach them, we decided to wait a bit longer. In the following hours, friends and relatives confirmed their safety, but they had a hard time describing what had happened. It was scary, unreal, and immensely tragic. Lives were lost, but initially, no-one knew how many. Thoughts started mulling through my head, and I found myself asking: How do you grieve such an event when you have just recovered from a pandemic which your country [Morocco in my case] barely survived?

Although I feel like I found my home in both two countries, I was fascinated by the instant feeling I experienced right after the news reached us. I live my life miles away, and so do many other diasporans, yet I felt that the affected people’s need for shelter and protection was my own need for a second or two.

Does this mean that one of the two countries is more important? Or that I am emotionally more attached to one compared to the other? I don’t think so, but I wouldn’t want to experience a natural disaster to find out. Therefore, I continued trying to go about life as usual that day, and in the days that followed, while also trying to process what had happened and what this could mean for the future. All the while, I kept having a feeling deep down that nothing would be the same after an earthquake like this one. Because although I was born and raised in Europe and only lived in Marrakech and the High Atlas Mountains for a few years, the annual return of my family and myself to the village we hail from each summer during my childhood and early adulthood resulted in a feeling of everlasting belonging to this specific region.

It made sense to me to respect my parents’ rules to speak only Tachelhiyt, the South-Moroccan language, in our household, even though we lived in the Netherlands, so we could return to the village safely every summer, knowing that my siblings and I spoke the language of the village. I could independently have conversations with my grandparents and cousins, walk to my uncle Mohamed alone, and talk to people on the streets.

My parents were assured of my safety in the village because I could ask a stranger on the street to assist me if I needed help. I could do this in the Netherlands, too, but I always sensed that my parents felt that my siblings and I were safer in the village in the Atlas Mountains, more protected. It seemed as if, even fifty years after having moved, the Netherlands kept feeling like a temporary place of residence to them. They never called it home like I did, although the two places both always felt like home to me.


Diaspora identity: how far is too close?

This lack of a sense of belonging in the Netherlands and the corresponding sense of still belonging in Morocco, which is how many diasporans still feel, is the reason why the earthquake affected more than just properties, workplaces, and human lives that were lost — it also affected diaspora identity despite the distance between those countries we were born and raised in and those countries we originate from. The earthquake made me ask whether we, as Moroccan diaspora, still belong there and whether our roots affect our lives here in Europe.

This left me to question whether our understanding of diaspora identity has really hit the core of both the phenomenon and the theoretical concept. Or if we still hover above its official definitions in academic and political debates. Is it truly just ethnicity and cultural norms and values? Or is it the combination of these three concepts, and our sentiments, our individual emotional household, and the way we view and experience the homeland? I tend to lean towards the latter conclusion given my reflections and analysis of the recent earthquake in Morocco and Turkey earlier this year.


Do we need saving from a permanent saviour?

I’m still reading one after the other request for donations from people who ask for money, food supplies, tents, and other things needed to survive. Yet, a long-term plan from the authorities remained absent until September 14th, when King Mohamed VI, Morocco’s current ruler, according to MAP donated USD 100 million to implement a long-term resettlement plan to rebuild the homes and lives of the victims of the earthquake. Where victims will be relocated to remains unclear, but affected friends and relatives spoke of the king’s act as a “a ray of sunshine during a heavy thunderstorm”.

In a country where the king has the last word in every decision needing to be made, this gesture signifies the presence of the government in a way that the region has never seen, as South Morocco has been and continues to be one of the least developed regions in its entire kingdom. I sensed an unexpected feeling of relief, although I saw many volunteers and philanthropists devote their time and means to the victims much earlier than the king did.

So perhaps the king’s ruling superseded the efforts of international NGOs and other non-profit organizations who were helping the affected people with their best intentions but within their own terms. And perhaps he therefore embodies a permanent saviour, as the king remains the king whose moral responsibility it is to look out after its own citizens. Maybe a permanent saviour saves this part of my identity, too, and therefore that of a diaspora as a collective, as the country is left in better hands now that a long-term plan has been demonstrated. Or maybe he saves, the least to say, only the memory of a country we once knew and still hold on to. Even if it is just in our nostalgic minds.

This could mean that the place my parents call home is left in better hands, and therefore a part of me, too, as it is a place close to my heart where I spent fruitful years in my early twenties and studied anthropology, volunteered at an orphanage, and did my first real ethnographic fieldwork after my graduation. A place where my late parents, grandparents, and ancestors were finally laid to rest, where close friends and relatives have their homes, where they enjoy their workplaces in the (finally post-pandemic) popular touristic medina and the ancient kasbah, and where we continue to meet several times a year. A place where I showed my Dutch husband the forever solid foundation of my Moroccan values and norms, which no lifetime outside of South Morocco could ever suppress.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Malika Ouacha is a Lecturer & Researcher at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, the Netherlands.

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Urban October | The complex present and future of urban centres

As urbanisation continues to surge, especially in the Global South, it is essential to address the myriad issues that contemporary cities face. The recent EADI/CEsA Lisbon Conference provided a platform to consider urban challenges and possible solutions. Tazviona Richman Gambe and Betty Adoch attended three panels, each with thought-provoking discussions on different urban issues.

Image: Baron Reznik under a creative commons licence on Flickr

City growth processes and outcomes

African cities are struggling with political and governance challenges emanating from the scale and nature of urbanisation they are experiencing. Urbanisation in most cities has been rapid and unproductive.  The local municipalities are not able to provide adequate municipal services. On the other hand, the urban poor cannot afford the municipal services. In their desperate efforts to generate livelihoods and become self-reliant, the urban poor adopt solutions that mostly violate the rules and regulations governing cities. This has resulted in widespread contestations for accessing and using urban services, resources and spaces. The emergence and growth of unplanned settlements have become a common feature of African cities. The access to and use of residential or commercial spaces has become a negotiated and fraught process involving various state and non-state actors. An attempt to enforce order in unplanned settlements or business places is met with protests and political battles involving the informal settlers/traders, their unions and state authorities. Owing to this, militaristic policing has become one of the common modes of governance adopted in cities to deal with urban poverty, migration and crime. The ‘attack and retreat’ form of policing adopted to enforce order and harmony in cities has become the normal rhythm of city life and everyday contestations that residents must endure.

The migration-urbanisation-conflict nexus

Political and economic crises are increasing, especially in countries in the Global South. The massive displacements of people caused by these phenomena have mainly shaped the scale of urbanisation unfolding in some cities. Conflicts usually occur between the displaced people and the residents of the receiving urban centres as the two groups fight for access to and use of urban land and other services. For example, armed conflicts are associated with massive displacements of civilians from their villages into urban centres, triggering rapid urbanisation driven by the establishment of numerous internally displaced camps. The displacements, coupled with the influx of international migrants, intensify land ownership disputes in various cities. Besides land disputes, the battle for the control of economic resources is also widespread in cities receiving many migrants. Residents usually dominate their cities’ economic, social and political life but feel threatened when migrants become equally involved. This results in competition for economic resources and opportunities that, in most cases, cause resentment among residents. In some cities, the competition for economic opportunities and resources has led to xenophobic violence, with the residents targeting mainly foreigners. This created divisions based on nationality, undermining the spirit of unity in diversity.

Climate change & urban resilience

Another salient theme focused on how climate change increasingly threatens cities in both the Global North and South, with a rising incidence of heat waves whetting the need for urban resilience and improved responses from citizens, governments and the private sector. Discussions stressed the need to seek interventions for reducing the adverse effects of heat waves, especially among vulnerable urban populations like the elderly, sick and refugees. Although there is still little preparation for extremely hot events in some cities, vulnerable urban groups benefit from bottom-up integrated approaches to improve the understanding of heat waves and adaptation strategies. Some strategies adopted include public cooling centres, green roofing and sunscreen use, although not everyone can access these due to cost or institutional barriers. Experiences have shown that real and speculative possibilities should inform urban resilience strategies. This enables various actors, including citizens, governments, and private sectors, to better prepare for future extreme heat waves. The spatial distribution of cooling centres and accessibility to transport and mobility are vital determinants of citizens’ resilience to excessive heat. However, inequalities (income, race and age) must be addressed to improve citizens’ adaptive capacities.

Urban futures: can cities offer solutions to global challenges?

The future of cities is a complex and evolving landscape shaped by numerous factors, including technological advancements, demographic shifts, environmental concerns, and social changes. To thrive in the coming decades, cities must address many challenges by improving service provision, enabling resource sharing, and improving local infrastructures. For example, cities will need to prioritise green spaces, urban forests, and sustainable transportation systems to mitigate the effects of climate change and improve air quality. Transitioning to renewable energy sources and improving energy efficiency will be crucial for reducing carbon emissions and, ultimately, the cities’ environmental footprint. The Internet of Things will enable cities to optimise traffic management, reduce energy consumption, and enhance public services through real-time data and connectivity. High-speed, reliable connectivity will be essential for smart city initiatives, enabling autonomous vehicles, telemedicine, and improved communication. Apart from that, advanced energy distribution systems will enhance grid reliability and support the integration of renewable energy sources. Addressing housing affordability through policies and innovative construction techniques is necessary to ensure diverse populations thrive in cities. Equally important are entrepreneurship and innovation hubs that can attract talent and drive economic growth, especially in the Global South. Cities need to plan for resilience against natural disasters through investing in flood protection, early warning systems, and disaster recovery plans. However, all these initiatives will not be easily achieved. There is a need for careful planning and improvement of urban governance through an approach that integrates diverse urban stakeholders to achieve liveable, resilient and sustainable cities.

This article was first published by EADI Debating Development Blog.

ImageBaron Reznik under a creative commons licence on Flickr

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:

Tazviona Richman Gambe is a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Development Support in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at the University of the Free State, South Africa. He is an emerging researcher working under the NRF Chair on City-Region Economies. His research interests include Africa’s urbanisation trajectories, regional economic resilience and urban planning and development.

Betty Adoch is a doctoral student at the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES), Department of Geography, Geoinformatics and Climatic Sciences (DGGCS), Makerere University, Uganda. She is an Assistant Lecturer at the Faculty of Education and Humanities, Department of Geography, Gulu University. She is also a researcher at the Urban Action Lab-Kampala Makerere University. Her research interest include Conflicts, Migration, Urbanisation trajectories, Natural resource management and Climate change in the global South.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.