Marrakech is the epitome of oriental flair: Like a fata morgana, lush green palm groves are nestled up against the snow-covered peaks of the Atlas Mountains across the Moroccan city with a population of around one million. Within the city walls, visitors face the hustle and bustle of exotic markets along with snake charmers and fire eaters as well as oases of peace at royal palaces, gardens and patios. And yet, the ”Pearl of the South”, as the city whose cityscape seems to be blanketed in red is also named, also has its flip sides: In particular high unemployment rates, above all among young people, and the emissions caused by the heavy traffic. A project supported by TUI Care Foundation addresses these challenges – with considerable success. It offers jobs, opens up new prospects and contributes to a new approach to support sustainable mobility. In the near future, Marrakech might become Africa’s first cycling metropolis.
The project is run under the name “Pikala“, the colloquial Arabic word for ‘bicycle’ used in Morocco. The initiative was launched in 2016 by Cantal Bakker, a young Dutch woman, and two of her friends. A typical Dutch, Bakker has always been passionate about bikes. Of course, on a holiday to Marrakech, she took her bike along to cycle through the former royal city – and was surprised to see that many locals regarded her as very exotic. “Can I try it?” “Can I buy it?”, she was asked time and again. Bicycles are not among the most common means of transport in Morocco – they tend to be regarded as a symbol of poverty. Why should you use a non-motorised bike when you can afford a moped? The cityscape in Marrakech and other Moroccan cities is characterised by countless motorbikes and scooters, causing high CO2 emissions and traffic-induced air pollution.
This reaction made Cantal Bakker wonder, and she soon came up with an idea. At home in the Netherlands, she already supported a charity project teaching migrants how to ride a bike. Why should she not try to inspire Moroccans to get into cycling? The 26-year-old launched a door-to-door campaign to present this idea to government authorities, NGOs and schools. “Initially, hardly anybody thought this could be a success,” she smiles. However, her bicycle initiative was substantially boosted when the COP22 UN Climate Change Conference was held in Morocco in 2016, resulting in the launch of an independent project. “Pikala” set up an old container in the middle of the city and converted it to a bicycle repair workshop – with long queues forming in front of it.