"If we don't act immediately and help the population to master the new technologies in its fight against desertification, in ten years it will be too late."
Lekbir Ouhajou, a founding member of the ADEDRA and a perfect example of this army of intellectuals who return to their native rural villages, to support civic initiatives once they have achieved success in large cities. Ouhajou was born in 1954 in the neighboring city of Ouarzazate (200 km north of Zagora). He studied in Rabat before going to France's Montpellier University where he focused his doctoral dissertation on "Hydraulic Space and Society in Morocco". As soon as he returned to Morocco, he was hired in 1986 as a Professor of Geography in Agadir's Ibn Zohr University. In 2002 he was appointed by the United Nations as the regional coordinator for their "Agenda 21" project.
If you ask him, as I did, why he feels so compelled to keep driving thousands of kilometers, in spite of his heavy professional career, to contribute to Zagora's association training sessions, his answer is short: "If we don't act immediately and help the population to master the new technologies in its fight against desertification, in ten years it will be too late."
For Ouhajou, the solution is clear: "Traditional communities must be empowered by technicians whose task is not only to provide training but also to insure that information circulates constantly in two directions simultaneously: from State to citizens and vice-versa." (Lekbir Ouhajou: Espace Hydraulique et Société au Maroc: Cas des systèmes d'irrigation dans la vallée du Dra". Publication de la Faculté de Lettres de l'Université Ibn Zohr d'Agadir,1996) Access to information and tadbir (from dabara: to step backward in order to imagine the results of your action before you actually take it), that is planning for many generations ahead, is the only way to allow humans to keep surviving in the desert.
This is why the Zagora associations coordinated have decided in the last three years not only to construct 10 primary schools and open 20 centers of "informal training", but also to equip 34 primary schools with what I thought was expensive solar-energy kits. "It is expensive for you, Fatema, because you live in the city of Rabat and you are connected to an electricity infrastructure which was built by the State," explains Prof. Ouhajou when I asked him. "The State never built any infrastructure for the Zagora peasant, paying for his connection to the centralized electricity centers will cost a lot of money. So, the price of the solar energy as compared to an electricity-connection is different. Second, by installing the solar energy kit in that school, we think that the kid will grow to integrate the kit in his familiar daily environment. To have a new generation of Zagora kids who think of the sun as their major source of energy will solve two problems: stop relying on the kinds of energies we have to buy and import, and concentrate on imagining solutions to capture the sun's light." (Les Acteurs Invisibles du Developpement Solidaire: ONG de la Vallée du Draa Moyen/ Sud Est Marocain. Ahmed Zainabi et Lekbir Ouhajou, unpublished manuscript. April 2003)
Fatema Mernissi, June 2003