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Morocco introduces Berber in its public administrations

Amazigh language begins to be used in institutions a decade after its officialisation
Aziz Akhannouch

PHOTO/ARCHIVO  -   Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch during a press conference

A decade after the Amazigh (Berber) language was made official in its constitution, Morocco has begun to introduce it into institutions such as parliament and public administrations that have direct contact with citizens, and to require new civil servants to speak it.

Berber, which has its own alphabet, 'Tifinagh', is a language spoken by millions of people from North Africa and the Sahel and, according to official estimates, is the mother tongue of a third of the Moroccan population.

In an interview with Efe, the adviser to the President of the Government for Amazigh affairs, Amina Ben Cheij, indicates that the delay in the application of this constitutional measure is due to the fact that Islamists who were not in favour of the officialisation of Berber have governed for the last ten years.

The new government headed by the liberal magnate Aziz Akhannouch, who is also Berber, has taken several steps since his inauguration last October in favour of making Berber official.

According to Ben Cheij, the Ministry of Digital Transition and Administrative Reform urged all government departments and public companies to use Amazigh in all their communications in a circular on 15 April.

The document requires these institutions to immediately establish a set of protocols for communication and guidance in the Berber language, alongside Arabic, and to hire staff who are fluent in this language.

These administrations are also obliged to integrate the Amazigh language in their telephone hotlines, as well as on plaques, posters, signs on facades, web portals, applications and press releases, and in all their awareness-raising campaigns.

In the same vein, on 25 January, the Ministry of Justice signed a cooperation agreement with the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture (IRCAM) for the different departments of the ministry to hire Berber-speaking officials to assist and guide users.

The agreement will allow the ministry to translate its administrative and legal documents and texts, pending the adoption of other measures such as the use of Amazigh in trials and judicial investigations.

Last January, the ministry launched a competition for social workers and interpreters with a command of Arabic and Berber in its administrations and courts, and announced that 60 percent of the new staff recruited will have to know this language, Ben Cheij said.

Parlamento de Marruecos
PHOTO/ARCHIVO  -   Picture of the Moroccan Parliament during a session

On 11 April, the House of Representatives (the lower house of parliament) began, for the first time in its history, to broadcast its sessions live in the three variants of Berber in Morocco, which are 'Tasusit' (spoken in the south), 'Tachelhit' (centre) and 'Tarifit' (north).

For practical reasons, explains Ben Cheij, this parliamentary institution uses the three most important variants of this language, while waiting for the teaching of Amazigh in schools to standardise it into a single language.

These steps follow the adoption by parliament in June 2019 of a law establishing the stages for the implementation of Berber in different fields (education, communication, justice and legislation), for which an allocation of 200 million dirhams (19 million euros) has been earmarked in the 2022 general budget.

The Maghreb country gradually began teaching Amazigh in public schools in 2003, and there are now more than 600,000 Moroccan children studying Amazigh in primary schools.

There are currently just over a thousand Berber teachers and this figure is expected to rise to 5,000 by 2030 if the problem of human resources shortages can be overcome, according to information provided by the Moroccan Ministry of Education.

Ben Cheij explained that this year the Moroccan government has hired 400 teachers to teach Amazigh, which is double the number of teachers hired in previous years, between 100 and 180.

Although Morocco opened a public television station in 2010 that broadcasts all its programming in Berber, all other state audiovisual institutions are obliged to broadcast part of their programmes in this language.

After centuries of almost total marginalisation, King Mohammed VI declared in a speech in 2001 that Amazigh is "an essential component of the national culture and a rich cultural heritage, and that it marks all the features of Moroccan history and civilisation".

This speech, delivered by the monarch two years after his accession to the throne, was considered by most advocates of Berber as a historic declaration, which was followed by the creation of IRCAM.