It probably comes as no surprise that France was the most visited country in the world in 2019. From the romantic image of the Eiffel Tower and the aesthetic streets of Paris to the glamorous French Riviera in the south, France is a destination that appeals to the masses. However, what we tend to forget when thinking about France is the damage caused during the colonisation of African nations. This post aims to unveil some of the long-term consequences of French imperialism, in particular, it will focus on Morocco. and discuss how mass tourism helps to keep the French imperialist legacy alive.
Although many people know about the British Empire, less is known about France's role in colonialism. France was present in the African continent for over two centuries, before losing its colonies one by one. Colonisation is a sensitive topic, especially when discussed with the people affected by it since the after-effects are still very prevalent in the modern societies of ex-colonies such as Algeria, Tunisia and Niger to name a few.
How French Idealism Affects Moroccan People
France established strong political relationships with these countries post-independence, to the point that French imperialism and culture still affects Morocco today. An obvious example of this would be the use of the French language, which is spoken by nearly half the population in Morocco. Even though it is not the native language, French is often used in business or diplomacy and anyone who speaks French is considered of high social status. Furthermore, the French legacy is promoted through French elitist private schools and in Moroccan pop culture shows.
Today the French influence is still so noticeable when visiting old French colonies. It has evolved as a spin-off of the American Dream, many people living in what was a French Protectorate wish for a better life on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea. Moroccans represent over 1.5 million of the total population of France. The first wave of Moroccan immigration started in 1956, after the Independence of Morocco.
The Elitist French Education System
One of the main questions is why do so many Moroccans still want to live in France? The first answer would probably be because of the French influence that is still deeply rooted in Moroccan society. Education in a French private school provides many advantages, this diploma is highly valued in Morocco and it can be used in France. But of course, acquiring such a diploma comes at a substantial cost for locals at thousands of euros, it is cheaper if you are French which is disconcerting. Being French or speaking the French language is a highly valuable asset in Morocco that offers more career opportunities, both in France and Morocco. People who can’t speak French can hardly ever climb the career ladder as a consequence.
This educational gap encourages people to leave Morocco for France and get a better job after they graduate, thus causing a shortage of potential qualified employees in Morocco. Consequently, the economic situation (also known as 'brain drain') occurs in various nations across the global south.
Dreaming Of A 'Better' Life
What seems to have attracted young Moroccans for decades now is a more accessible job market and easier access to education, which are lacking in their country, since more than half of the population lives below the poverty line and unemployment is still a major issue. Encouraged by the media and the stories of migrants or their families living abroad, Moroccans are implicitly encouraged to dream of a life in the West. The country's socio-economic, political, social and cultural situation motivates the migration of young Moroccans. France's involvement in the current e situation is often overlooked.
The Nuances Between Being Moroccan & French Moroccan
Moroccans living abroad have a role as well: many of them spend between 1 to 3 months in Morocco to visit their families every summer, bringing with them gifts and a taste of Europe. Although they have pure intentions, it also displays the idea that by living in Europe there is more money, more opportunity and more materialistic lifestyle.
The Role That Tourism Plays In the Colonial Legacy
But above all else, what makes it hard to move past French imperialism is the never-ending wave of mass tourism. Because of the rise of tourism, Morocco has had to adapt itself by catering to Western tourists and building large hotels, night clubs and restaurants chains. Unsurprisingly Western tourists often seek familiar experiences such as nightclubs, bars and nightlife experiences. These types of establishments are not traditional in Moroccan culture. Morocco has had to change itself to the lifestyles and needs of tourists at great consequence to its own culture. The tourism industry in ex-colonial countries (Morocco, Tunisia or Egypt to name a few) can also be seen as a political strategy which allows easy access to the African continent.
Morocco has been sold as an 'exotic' location which needs to be explored. This colonial mindset can still be found in the tourism industry today. Tourists crave and often fetishise Morocco, its culture and people.
An Increase In Foreign Corporations
Over the past decades, Morocco has witnessed a growth in tourism. In 2019 around 13 million tourists visited Morocco, around 2 million of them were French. That year, tourism generated more than 78 billion dirhams (7 billion euros) in revenue. Theoretically, these numbers are good for a country where the economy relies heavily on tourism. But what does that mean for the people and culture? It means that, for a country to cater to tourists and to attract more of them, it needs to adapt itself to their needs. This has paved the way for large luxury international hotel chains to open in abundance at the expense of local communities and land.
Furthermore, mass tourism encourages global companies (such as McDonald’s and Inditex) to settle in Morocco. In the last three years, the city of Tangier, in the North of Morocco, opened not one, not two, but three shopping malls, thus hosting brands like Zara or Carrefour - a French supermarket brand. These Western commercialised brands can be harmful to local companies. Mass tourism can lead to the destruction of the economic model that encourages buying from small local businesses and artisans which are already especially cheap.
Morocco is still a country rich in culture, there many different experiences to immerse yourself in from meandering through original souks to admiring the pre-colonial architecture. Staying in an international 5-star hotel may sound appealing but it also takes away a major part of the Moroccan experience. It creates a gap between tourists and the local people, which is unfortunate because you will find that Moroccans are known for their hospitality, which can be experienced when staying in hostels or guesthouses. And while numerous high-end hotels offer tours, it's an opportunity to share moments with the local guides that will show you more authentic places!
Post written by Imane who is 2nd generation French-Moroccan.