UCLG Africa at the 4th Maghreb Book Fair

The 4th Maghreb Book Fair took place in Oujda (Morocco) from April 17 to 21, 2024, under the High Patronage of HM King Mohammed VI. The fair “Letters from the Maghreb” was inaugurated by Ms. Samira Lemlizi, Secretary General of the Ministry’s Culture Department and representative of H.E. Mr. Mohamed Mehdi Bensaid, Minister of Culture, Mr. Mouaad Jamai, Wali of the Oriental region and Governor of the Oujda-Angad prefecture, Mr. Mustapha Benhamza, President of the regional Council of Oriental Ulemas, Mr. Mohammed Mbarki, President of the Fair and Director-General of the Oriental Region Development Agency, Mr. Salah Elaaboudi, Vice-President of the Oriental Regional Council, Mr. Mohamed Azzaoui, Mayor of Oujda, and Mr. Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General of UCLG Africa.  

 The inauguration was followed by a visit to the booths of various publishers, institutes and institutions, including the UCLG Africa booth, which was manned throughout the Maghreb Book Fair.  

The theme chosen for this 2024 edition was “Writing and time”, because “culture shapes our relationship with time” and writing preserves memory, asserted H.E. the Minister of Culture, Mr. Mohamed Mehdi Bensaid, in his opening speech read by Ms. Samira Lemlizi, adding that the city of Oujda and the Oriental region contribute to Morocco’s cultural dynamic, hosting a number of major events and eminent intellectuals on the occasion of the Maghreb Book Fair. For his part, the Wali of the Oriental region, Mr. Mouaad Jamai, expressed the pride and honor for the city of Oujda and the region to organize this edition of “Letters from the Maghreb”.   

The opening of the Maghreb Book Fair was marked by a performance of the Gharnati orchestra and a celebration of youth through the award ceremony for the Arabic, French and English reading aloud competition at the Mohammed VI Theatre.  

On April 18, 2024, a round table discussion on the theme “Africa, the future of the world?” brought together Mr. Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General of UCLG Africa, Mr. Bado Ndoye, professor of philosophy, Mr. Elvis Ntambua, author, and the moderator of the round table, Mr. Omar Saghi, doctor in political science. 

Mr. Bado Ndoye highlighted the changing discourse of the international press on Africa, often and long portrayed as a hopeless continent, but which has been presenting a better face through a different narrative for over a decade despite the challenges the continent continues to face. Examples cited to support this new discourse include Africa’s world-leading growth rate and remarkable resilience during the Covid-19 pandemic, not to mention its abundant natural resources and demographic dynamism. Mr. Ndoye also stressed the need to rethink the current model of commodification of nature, asserting that issues of democratic governance are inextricably linked to those of environmental preservation. 

Mr. Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, for his part, stressed the need for Africa to question so-called universal values, models of social organization based on precarization, as well as models of agriculture and water management adopted through external influence, and the relationship that the African man currently has with the environment, when the continent has already demonstrated in the past that it is possible to maintain a balance between human activity and nature, and that populations know how to adapt to the constraints of their growth. These nature-friendly concepts and methods, which meet the needs of human societies, are now being rediscovered and sold as new concepts. Recalling that the way the world works today is essentially the result of the balance of power that emerged from the Second World War (1939-1945), the Secretary General of UCLG Africa asserted that the first step in positioning the continent as the future is first to question the world in which it exists, and then to redefine the world that Africa wishes to be part of. 

Mr. Elvis Ntambua described Africa as a continent with the world’s youngest and most dynamic population, a wealth that represents the future of each country and its international influence. He also recalled Africa’s great cultural diversity as a strength, and described art as an engine for development, asserting that the post-Covid period has seen the emergence of an African art that illustrates the continent’s resilience in the face of the pandemic. Fertile and overflowing with natural resources, Africa can aspire to build its economic independence and self-sufficiency, according to the author. 

April 18 was also marked by a vibrant tribute to the late Abdelkader Retnani, a leading figure in the Moroccan book world who founded the publishing house “La Croisée des Chemins”. This posthumous tribute to his memory took place at the Oujda Regional Library, in a room that now bears the name of the famous publisher. Several personalities came to honor the memory and contribution of Abdelkader Retnani to the influence of culture and literature in Morocco and Africa, including Mr. Mouaad Jamai, wali of the Oriental region and governor of the Oujda-Angad prefecture, Mr. Mohammed Mbarki, Director-General of the Oriental Region Development Agency and president of the Maghreb Book Fair, Mr. Jalil Bennani, Fair Commissioner, Mr. Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General of UCLG Africa, Mr. Driss El Yazami, President of the Euro-Mediterranean Foundation of Support to Human Rights Defenders, Mrs. Amina Alaoui Hachimi, widow of the late Abdelkader Retnani, and Mr. Yacine Retnani, son of the late director of “La Croisée des Chemins” publishing house. The efforts made by the late Abdelkader Retnani to create the Maghreb Book Fair with an international dimension were recalled. 

The country of honor at the 4th Maghreb Book Fair was Mali. Distinguished by the participation of African, Arab and European writers and intellectuals, the ambition behind this edition was to “bring reflection to the international stage”, explained the Fair Commissioner, Mr. Jalil Bennani. According to the organizers, more than 30 publishers, 20 institutions producing publications and official reports, and 200 participants from 18 countries attended the event, which featured 19 round tables, book signings, tributes, exhibitions, workshops and off-site activities.  

The 4th edition of “Letters from the Maghreb” attracted more than 50,000 visitors, including 6,000 children, a record number that positions this fair as a major event in the cultural life of the Oriental capital.