Filmmaker: Khalid Zairi
Morocco’s key natural resources include phosphates, zinc, manganese and iron ore. The mining industry is important to the national economy and its products highly sought abroad.
Moroccan truck drivers Ibrahim Tabii and Abdelkabir Ainan risk their lives on dangerous roads and through disputed terrain to bring mineral material from Agadir to Dakar, a 3,000-kilometre journey that can take around two weeks.
This is not like truck driving across the United States where long distances are common and hours are controlled by the federal law. It’s not like driving in Europe with its tight regulation and vehicle monitoring systems measuring driver-time at the wheel.
This is driving in Saharan Africa. There are no motorway service stations, no 24-hour SOS vehicle recovery and no spare parts at the end of a mobile phone. Driving hours are not obviously regulated and there are hardly any rest areas.
The two drivers also have to pass through an area known as the Western Sahara. It has been a disputed territory between Morocco and what’s called the Polisario Front since 1975. The UN has maintained a peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, a territory about the size of New Zealand, for 27 years.
UN efforts have repeatedly failed to broker a settlement over the disputed territory, which the Sahrawi people, led by the PF says belongs to them. The Polisario Front, a formerly armed nationalist group signed a cease-fire with Morocco in 1991; but since the conflict has made this leg of the journey risky.
When the two drivers reach the border with Mauritania, they’re heavily delayed and by customs and immigration formalities and have no alternative but to wait in a makeshift bedroom until vehicle checks and done and visas issued.
In the US, a driver can be at the wheel for up to 11 hours out of 14. In Europe, the rules are tighter, the daily maximum is normally nine hours but breaks have to be taken every four-and-a-half hours. Daily rest should be eleven hours.
But this is the Moroccan Sahara. Laws setting out the working hours and conditions for freight drivers are hard to identify at the present time, although the Moroccan government does recognise the importance of road safety and is currently devising a national road safety strategy.
“I’m sleepy because we haven’t rested. We’re always under pressure from phone calls,” says Ibrahim. “Even though we’re entitled to rest for an hour after a four-hour drive, the manager doesn’t allow it. We’re forced to drive day and night. If you get the chance to sleep, it’s for a maximum of two hours.”
Unlike travelling in other regions of the world with better infrastructure, road conditions in Mauritania are generally poor, making travel difficult. Roadside assistance is non-existent and the country’s size (larger than Texas and New Mexico combined) and harsh climate make road maintenance and repair especially problematic.
Mauritania has only about 2,070 km (1,286 miles) of surfaced roads, 710 km (441 miles) of unsurfaced roads, and 5,140 km (3,194 miles) of unimproved tracks, according to countryreports.org.
Drivers are advised to check the tide times, travel in convoy if possible and ensure adequate supplies of water and fuel are available. Local drivers tend to drive without regard to traffic signs or rules.
“Roadway obstructions and hazards caused by drifting sand, animals, and poor roads often plague motorists”, according to Nasser Weddady, a Middle East and North Africa consultant based in Boston, Massachusetts.
The two drivers also get seriously delayed at the border into Senegal, waiting for papers, getting information from their shipping agent, talking to their boss back in Agadir, and waiting for their passports. All the while, they’re missing their families.
Finally, after 3,000 kilometers and over two weeks on the road, the men reach Dakar and unload their trucks. But the return journey with a load of fresh mangoes also has its problems and Ibrahim has to travel back to Morocco empty because of the refrigeration on his vehicle isn’t working.
Meanwhile, Ibrahim’s reconsidering his career options: “The only thing I’ve been thinking about is going home and returning the truck to its owner and quitting. You can’t turn down a job in Africa when you’re unemployed. I have to provide for my family so I try to put up with it but it’s difficult. I’d rather go home, rest and find another job.”
As for Abdelkabir, a “steady salary is better than a big occasional one.”
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