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Ahmed T. Zainabi

"You can not fight desertification if you don't stop the population from migrating to Morocco's big cities or Europe."

Ahmed Zainabi was born in Zagora in 1962. Since Zagora had no high school, he was forced to leave his beloved birth place at age 17 to go to Ouarzazate to register in the "Lycee". He had to wait from 17 until age 35 to be able to "come back home", after a long detour which took him first to Rabat Mohamed V Univesity where he obtained a "Licence en Geographie" in 1984 and to the French city of Poitiers where he finished a Doctorate in geography in 1989.

As soon as he returned to Morocco, he was hired in 1990 by the Ministry of Agriculture's ORMVA (l'Office Régional de Mise en Valeur Agricole) but he had to work in the Beni Mellal province. Only in 1997 did his dream come true and he was appointed Director of the Project to Fight Desertification (PROLUDRA).

However, a year earlier, he started with 13 other highly-educated professionals like himself, who found rewarding jobs everywhere but in Zagora, an association whose objective was to stop the region's brain-drain: "You can not fight desertification if you don't stop the population from migrating to Morocco's big cities or Europe."

In less than 5 years, the association they called the ADEDRA "created 90 jobs of which 36 are permanent positions, among them 2 engineers, 8 technicians, 2 secretaries and 6 car-drivers," explains Zainabi. The bulk of the jobs created concerns mostly teachers, educators and group dynamics experts who teach the members how to "transform conflicts into opportunities for reflection and action planning." (Les Conflits au Service du Developpement au Maroc. A working paper for the training of trainers, ADEDRA - Zagora, Oued Sebou - Khenifra, PROLUDRA - Zagora and Agadir, November 2002. page 70)

The province of Zagora which covers an area of 23.000 square kilometers has a very scattered population (its 300.000 inhabitants live in 500 douars (villages). Since it lies in the desert fringes of southern Morocco, constant water shortage forced its people to adopt the "Jema'a", a traditional pragmatic self-help, engineered around solidarity and group commitment. (see: Les Merveilles de la Valléee du Draa: Guide pour touriste intelligent". The manuscript of a collective book written by the Zagora assocation members to help promote their cultural heritage. The book is the result of one of the"Synergie Civique" Writing workshops which was coordinated by Ahmed Zainabi. Due for publication end 2003. page 6)

This explains two striking features: The first is the mushrooming of NGOs in Berber areas with strong "Jemaa" tradition such as Zagora: As soon as the government began to encourage civic initiative, "no less than 425 associations were created there, 84% of them were born since 1996 only." (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, page 2) The second is the impressive number of academics and experts from that part of Morocco who have a strong tradition of solidarity, who manage, in spite of their professional successes in the big cities, to invest hundreds of hours in the civic initiative to help their valley fight desertification and stop migration.

Fatema Mernissi, June 2003

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Ahmed T. Zainabi

Related Links:

Association de Développement de la Vallée du Dra

Writing Workshops (Synergie Civique): Wonders of the Dra Valley
Saving Local Heritage