Butchers in the Border City of Oujda Face an Uncertain Future
Rabat – In the border city of Oujda, Morocco, butchers have passed down their trade, from father to son, for decades. Once a center for trade between countries, Oujda is located less than 10 kilometers from neighboring Algeria. In the heart of Oujda’s medina sits a series of stalls where local butchers have gathered to ply their trade for generations. As the largest city in Eastern Morocco, Oujda’s market thrived, especially on weekends when shoppers travelled in from Algeria to stock up on goods. A butcher selling bones at the market in Oujda. More affluent customers feed the bones to their pets. Poorer customers use them to make stock to feed their children.Photo Credit: Morocco World News/ Ann SeymourThe closing of the border between Algeria and Morocco in 1994 shut down overland trade between the two countries, impacting the local economy. Since then, Oujda’s market relied in part on smuggled consumer goods to fulfill local demand. Butchers in Oujda’s meat market selling meat cut from whole carcasses. When business is slow, the butchers may not be able to afford to purchase full carcasses from the abattoir to sell at the market.Photo Credit: Morocco World News/ Ann Seymour“In the early 2000s, the black market trade carried on largely unabated,” said Professor of International Relations Anouar Boukhars. “The government, fearing unrest due to lingering high unemployment and poverty, continued to heavily subsidize commodities, maintaining the allure and incentives for border residents to smuggle.” A butcher stall at the meat market in Oujda’s medina. Some butchers, like Hassan on the left, have inherited their stalls from their fathers. Others rent them out from the owners, adding to the cost of running their business.Photo Credit: Morocco World News/ Ann SeymourWith the rise of Islamic extremist groups, drug trafficking in the Maghreb, and the Arab Spring revolutions in 2011, Algerian and Moroccan authorities tightened border security and cracked down on smuggling.Customers linger at the butcher market in Oujda’s medina. Locals said the market attracts far fewer shoppers than in years past.Photo Credit: Morocco World News/ Ann SeymourThe black market dried up and Oujda’s economy continued to suffer. The butchers said the once bustling medina now barely provides them with enough income to support their families. These men, some of whom are third generation butchers, said they are encouraging their children to learn new skills instead of following in the footsteps of their fathers.Aziz, who has worked as a butcher in Oujda for over 20 years, says he is still struggling to pay back the debts he accrued when he was out of work for a week from a back injury months ago. He says he encourages his young children to study a new trade in school.Photo Credit: Morocco World News/ Ann SeymourWith economic prospects in decline, the butchers of Oujda see themselves as the last generation in their families to carry on their family trade.