What you need to know:
- Once I settled in Casablanca, I did regular two-hour trips all week to Abdellah Stadium in Rabat, where I got an opportunity to watch the greatest soccer club in history - Real Madrid. The unique Moroccan culture and the grand Africa’s largest mall 350 stores with nearly all top brands were a stand out.
Owing to my affinity with sports, I have been privileged to travel around the world for global and continental competitions in football, golf, cricket, athletics and more.
Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, Gabon, Egypt, Qatar, England and the US, name it, I have been there, some countries more than once. I have been to the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans. But my recent trip to Morocco was a unique one.
I had previously been to the northern part of Africa twice, in Egypt. As the aircraft begins to descend to Cairo, the reality of a desert hits you.
I first visited Cairo in August 2018 and then 10 months later, for soccer matches, but the ancient and traditional life of a Muslim country is finely manifested.
The closer feeling to home in the Egyptian capital though is the more relaxed water of River Nile, flowing through up to the Mediterranean Sea.
A surprise trip
But Morocco is quite different, thanks to its stand-out blend of European and Islamic cultures, which stems from the country’s history and inevitably, its location.
For the last seven years, I usually plan for my trips. But Morocco was not on my to-do list for 2023.
It all happened quickly when a Kenyan friend in mid-January recommended my work to a European-based consultant from Quick-Witted Management Services, who later extended me an invite to be at the Fifa Club World Cup.
The annual tournament, which brings together the best soccer clubs from each continent, had been postponed from December due to the Fifa World Cup in Qatar and Morocco was now set to host Europe, America, Asia, Oceania and Africa’s best from February 1-11.
I agreed to fly to Morocco. Unlike Egypt where I had to request for a visa twice at the office here, the consultant Zelkifli Rehman Ngoufonja only sent me an invitation letter to present upon arrival in the country.
And on February 2, off I was to Morocco via an early morning flight aboard Turkish Airways from Entebbe to Istanbul. I had been through this airport a year ago when I was on my way to the Netherlands.
Pay for wifi
During my five-and-a-half-hour lay over this time, I was really hungry. I walked towards the food court for a light burger meal and drink and I remember receiving a one 10 Turkish Lira note as change from the $50 note I had offered.
Moments later, I discovered that the wifi at this grand airport was now only free for an hour. I had to fork out another €8 (Shs31,469) with my VISA card to keep online for an extra hour before my next flight to Casablanca.
Five hours later, we had landed in Morocco’s biggest city, slightly past 9pm local time. I was received by a Moroccan soccer official, who quickly got me a visa and stamp from the authorities.
However, it took almost two hours for my luggage to come to the baggage carousel. As I waited, I purchased a SIM card from a Maroc telecom outlet and I loaded 20 GB of data for 200 Morocco Dirhams which is about Shs74,250 ($20).
I had to link up with a group of friends and colleagues who were in another city called Agadir. But by now, I had already switched to speaking both French and English.
In this country, Arabic and standard Moroccan Berber are the common languages, but French is used for official communication. I would luckily meet those who can speak both French and English during my stay.
Writings such as ‘Bienvenue’ and ‘Sortie’ across the Mohammed V Airport, which mean ‘welcome’ and ‘exit’ respectively are not new to me.
I studied French for six years in high school, but because I rarely speak it while here, I had to recall most of the words and battle the accent of the locals.
A driver told me we were immediately headed to Agadir. I asked how long it would take, he said about cinq heures, meaning five hours. He advised I sit at the back and sleep. I agree and my body, 30 minutes later, had equally obliged.
We set off at about midnight. Luckily, the roads are mostly one-way routes and off we were, through winding roads, highway gates and I only woke up at Hyatt Regency hotel gate at about 4:30am.
I was checked into the hotel and I finally rested. By 9am, I was up, with a view of the pool side and a part of the Atlantic Ocean from a distance. Agadir is located near the foot of the Atlas Mountains, just north of the point where River Souss flows into the ocean.
I met my friends from Ghana Saddick Adams and Thierry Nyann as I had breakfast. Fred Kaweesi from New Vision and Nation Media Group Uganda sports editor, Ismail Dhakaba Kigongo, also joined us. I was now feeling at home.
We took pictures with my friends from Accra and in that moment, I finally met Ngoufonja for the first time and got allocated to one of the four buses, which immediately set off for Marrakech.
Moroccan folklore, pastries
After four hours on the road, we checked in at Kenzi Farah Rose Garden and had a quick lunch. We picked plates with Dhakaba. I piled up vegetables like carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, pasta, added rice, Irish potatoes plus some chicken and lamb meat.
I rarely changed these picks during my stay in this beautiful country, after all, there is no matooke. But, due to their climate, the common fruits for salad were always oranges, apples, pears, strawberries.
We then took a short trip to the Marrakech Stadium, one of the venues Morocco intends to front in its bid to host the 2025 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) and the 2030 Fifa World Cup.
Officials from the Royal Morocco Football Federation (RMFF) such as Oumar Khyrai led the 100-man group across the 45,000-seater brown facility, one where the Uganda Cranes have played before.
Its colours are in tandem with the rich history of the city, stadium director Rachid Naifi told us. Marrakech is an ideal tourism city and at dusk, we went to check out the Chez Ali dine-in restaurant.
Groups dressed in Berber attire, singing and dancing to ancestral songs in a showcase of Moroccan folklore entertained us, all the way to round tables under caidal tent, where we toasted to Moroccan dishes and pastries, the lamb meat standing out.
Wydad fans’ show, snow party
We took a short flight the next morning to the capital Rabat the next morning, to be in time for the Club World Cup match between African champions Wydad Casablanca and Al-Hilal from Saudi Arabia.
The glance at the sea of red of the vociferous Wydad fans was magnificent at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium. Sadly, they were eliminated via penalties, after playing out a 1-1 draw.
Hilal had familiar names like Moussa Marega from Mali and Nigerian striker Odhion Igalo, a former Manchester United player as well as the coach Ramon Diaz.
We quickly had to connect to the next city Fez by air after the match. I had barely rested, so I spent the next day in a hotel room to try recuperate at Marriott Hotel Jnan Palace.
Upon departing Fez the next day, we went through Ifrane, a town located in Morocco’s Middle Atlas Mountains. Its Alpine-style architecture matched the weather.
We had streamed through places with snow littered all over, most of it at the Michlifen Resort and Golf where we had a sumptuous lunch. The sun was still out though the snow was thick enough.
Our five-hour journey to Casblanca ended with a check-in at Idou Anfa Hotel. This is the biggest city and largest commercial hub of Morocco.
Casablanca is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. One could easily mistake it for a city in southern Europe, they share nearly similar architecture as there is a sight of European art deco.
And not far from the residence was the gigantic 30-year-old Hassan II Mosque, which has a 210m tower, whose lasers are directed towards Mecca.
The quality of the traffic is stellar, a Ranger Rover tucked in behind a Jeep or a Citroen behind a Volkswagen. The city, which is home to rival football clubs Wydad and Raja Casablanca, also has plenty of red cabs, which could charge one depending on time spent on a route, say 30 Moroccan Dirhams for 30 minutes.
Biggest mall in Africa
The grand Morocco Mall has more than 350 stores nearly all top brands in the food, tech, fashion, clothing, beauty and cosmetics industries. This is the largest shopping mall in Africa with 590,000 square metres of floor space, accommodating brands such as Givenchy, Louis Vuitton, Tommy Hilfiger, Victoria Secrets, H&M, Aldor, Dior, Emporio Armani and Zara, among others.
And people have a strong purchasing power that the country holds. Its proximity with countries such as Spain and France, a strong leadership under King Mohammed VI, partly explain their estimated GDP of $359.7 billion.
Morocco last year alone, received about 11 million tourists, who brought in an estimated 81.7 billion Dirhams ($8b) and the RMFF believes they could bring in more numbers, if the country hosted the Afcon in 2025 or the biggest soccer showpiece in 2030.
Classic Real Madrid show
As I settled in Casablanca, I did regular two-hour trips all week to Abdellah Stadium in Rabat, where I got an opportunity to watch the greatest soccer club in history - Real Madrid.
First, on a cold Wednesday night, they disarmed African powerhouse Al Ahly of Egypt 4-1 with the stars such as Vinicius Jnr, Rodrygo, Federico Valverde and Luka Modric running the show in that semi-final.
Two days later, I took a $70 cab solo to Rabat to the Mohammed V Football Complex for a soccer match against a student-packed side and we suffered a heavy defeat. Nyann, Adams and Ngoufonja also took part.
The night prior, we had dinner by the Ocean side at Complexe La Cascade in Corniche and had a taste of Moroccan wine, a local band and food such as chickpeas, tahini, pastilla with seafood and vermicelli.
At the weekend, Real Madrid sealed their record fifth Club World Cup title with a 5-3 victory over Hilal, in front of a sell-out crowd at Abdellah Stadium. French forward Karim Benzema lifted the trophy in company of his Real teammates, that cemented coach Carlo Ancelotti’s illustrious further.
I had travelled and seen a lot more than sport itself. And it is safe to say this was arguably my best work trip. On other trips, I usually work more than move around. Can we do it again Morocco? Choukran!