- AHMED TAIBI
The code went into effect October 1st. Karim Ghellab, Morocco’s minister of transportation and the architect of the code, put his nose to the grindstone for two years during which he faced staunch disapproval from Moroccan political institutions that had long been fueled by an irrational guild and tenure outlook; his own colleagues within the government as well as his natural political enemies and transportation unions affiliated with opposition political parties derided his initiative. Since 2007, the Workers’ Union of Morocco and the General Confederation of Enterprises of Morocco staged multiple strikes to soften the code. When it was finally approved in 2009 by the First Chamber of Morocco’s parliament, very few amendments had been introduced. The code remains polemic drawing the ire of most professional drivers and the approbation of the majority of pedestrians and private vehicle owners.
The way I see it, the code has been a long time coming. For years, the staggering statistics of road accidents have put the government in full damage-control mode; with over 4000 deaths a year, thousands of injured, and over 1.37 billion dollars in damages, Moroccan roads are tantamount to an active combat theater where the population ventures, on a daily basis, exposed to constant hazard and grave danger.To put the number of Moroccan road casualties in perspective, in seven years of war in Iraq, the US recorded 4,411 fatalities. In essence, the vehicles barreling down our streets, through our neighborhood where our children, for lack of more adequate places, play, are stray bullets; their drivers are intractably psychotic and harboring an unjustified hatred for their fellow Moroccans.
Finally a taxi accepted to take me. Other people shouted their destinations at the driver, an old wiry man wearing thick glasses, who shook his head in negation. I jumped into the front seat. His use of the horn seemed impulsive. His finger twitched and pressed the horn lever behind the steering wheel. It sounded like the beep-beep of Road Runner in Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner toon. Beep-beep for an old woman waiting to cross the road. Beep-beep for dodging bicycles and scooter fishtailing in traffic. Beep-beep for another car that cut in front of him. Beep-beep for carts pushed against traffic. Beep-beep for… nothing. Around us, the horns are blaring. The air is heavy with smoke spewed by rattling exhaust pipes. The roads are congested.
“which way do you wanna go?” he asked.
“Go up Mohammed VI, Allahykhalik.”
“That road is bursting right now.”
And of course he was right. Mohammed VI, formerly know as “trek Medyouna” (the road to Medyouna), is a nightmare at this time of the day. The taxi jerked with overconfidence from one spot and swerved into an empty spot in a screeching halt oblivious of lanes, priority, proximity or even civility. Beep-beep, jerk, swerve, race, screeching halt. A cycle that the driver repeated with dexterity, rage, and sometimes criminal disregard stopping inches from other vehicles demonstrating superhuman proprioception.
“What do you think about the Moudawana?”
“It’s a “mount anta wana” – you die and I die,” he said. “Look at how the prices of produce spiked because trucks coming from Agadir and other cities can’t carry the tonnage they used to. The “little people” are the ones who’re going to pay.”
The tonnage argument is totally wrong. The new law allows an eight-ton truck to load up to 14 tons of merchandise. This was a convenient excuse producers picked up to increase their profit margin.
“Seven-hundred Dirhams for running a red light,” he continued. “Too much! where’s a poor man gonna get that much money to pay his ticket. Doesn’t he have rent to pay? His kids ‘school to pay? Where’s his family going to eat from? This law won’t be applied on the son of such or such politician or judge. If he runs a red light, the cop who took his license will deliver it back to him at his house and ask him for forgiveness.”
“Nobody should run a red light,” I said.
“I agree with you, but look,” he says pointing at a traffic police officer forlornly standing next to a green metal box. “He has his fingers on the light controls. He’d switch the light from green to red on you so that he can pull you over and take your driver’s license. No pity. It happened to me, I swear.”
We stopped at a red light. On a three lane road, we were five cars at the head of a cortege of thundering jalopies, busses and eighteen wheelers. Horns sounded out insistently even though the light was red. When it turned green, everybody peeled ahead as if we were at the starting line of a Paris-Dakar race. A female driver cut right hard in front of my taxi; the driver slammed on the brakes screaming insults; he dodged another vehicle then passed another one and moved forward.
“See! It’s drivers like this that deserve the Moudawana,” he said. “Most drivers will run out of points in two months,” he opined making reference to the new point system the code introduces.
Mohammed VI looked like an open demolition derby. Pedestrians crossed the road recklessly and throngs of people stood on the road waiting for a white taxi as traffic zoomed by. Assabah newspaper reported that 1200 infractions were recorded in three hours in a busy section of Casablanca. Amid the chaos, disaster looms, but is somehow kept in abeyance. But the drivers are not the only contributing factor to that chaos; our rural and urban roads and sidewalks are neither expensive, nor elaborate. They are cogent evidence of the shameless failure of our leadership for allowing transportation infrastructure to deteriorate.
The implementation of the new code will promote new convictions and best practices. I see it as a hearse for an entrenched superannuated mind-set blinkered by a culture of disregard, pathetic work ethics, and poor social bonds. It will require time and patience as old habits are hard to change, but if Moroccans drive slower or less, respecting the law, not for any other reason than because it is the law, and respecting others sharing the road with them, we are on to a good start.
A. T. B. © 2010