Five Questions to Mahi Binebine, Marrakech African Book Festival’s President

1. What is special about the second edition of FLAM?


For our inaugural edition, it was challenging to persuade prominent authors to visit Marrakech. I was fortunate to secure the attendance of the French-language writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, who pledged to explore the Etoiles de Jemaa El-Fna, the Etoiles de Sidi Moumen, and the Fondation Ali Zaoua at some point.

He came to Marrakech, where he gave an exceptional inaugural lecture for our debut edition, which brought together approximately forty authors.

The first edition delved into “hot topics,” addressing issues that divide us, including the history of slavery and racism.

For the 2nd edition, our focus shifted to literature. Indeed, we were privileged to host an inaugural lecture by Souleymane Bachir Diagne. It’s a remarkable feat to have this esteemed philosopher, who lectures at Columbia, among us! We are also fortunate to feature Edgar Morin for the Grand Entretien, alongside other authors such as Raphaël Confiant, Abdellatif Laâbi, Alain Mabanckou, and other esteemed African writers whom we admire.


2) In your opinion, what is special about African and Afro-descendant literature?


We share a collective imagination. If I were to define myself as a writer, I would say I am the product of a union between my grandmother, my African nanny, and the storyteller of the great square.

I am deeply passionate about African literature. It is evident that we share a collective imagination because we share a common history. What we aim to accomplish today is to recount the tales of the past, discuss the present, and, most importantly, contemplate the future. Who better than artists and writers to ponder and contemplate this shared future of the continent?

Furthermore, we aspire to construct this shared future: we possess all the necessary resources to do so (intelligence, natural resources, cultural wealth…).


3) In what ways does this festival contribute to the promotion and enhancement of African and Afro-descendant literature? 


The festival is dedicated to raising awareness about African and Afro-descendant literature with the aim of encouraging Moroccans to engage in more reading. I was genuinely astonished to discover that the average Moroccan reads only 2-3 minutes per year.

Motivated by this aspiration to promote reading, we extend invitations to authors to participate in the festival, hoping to ignite a passion for literature. Moreover, this year, we have initiated a distinctive program. A cohort of authors visited 25 schools to interact with students who had immersed themselves in their works over the preceding months.

Conversely, when I visit Moroccan households or schools, I observe a scarcity of libraries, if any exist at all. This situation demands attention and resolution. Festivals such as this one are designed to stir things up and catalyze the transformative change we envision.


4) Will there be a place for African oral and popular literature in future editions?


Moroccan written literature comes from oral tradition. Every time I write a novel, I come back to all the stories I’ve been told before. Orality is omnipresent in the imagination of Moroccan and African writers, and is integrated into written literature.


5) How does this festival help to build bridges and forge links between writers of different backgrounds?


This year, we have some “sacred monsters” of African literature. Their presence among us, and that I can read their works is already a success!

In my opinion, it is through this exchange that we can build the shared future we all aspire to. Moreover, I am thrilled to have met the Italians, who told me they want to form a partnership with us.

In essence, we are thrilled to export our literature, initially to Africa and then elsewhere.

On the occasion of the 2nd edition of the Marrakech African Book Festival (FLAM), the president of this major cultural event, Mahi Binebine, spoke to MAP about the uniqueness of this edition, the distinctiveness of African and Afro-descendant literature, the festival's role in promoting this literature, and the manner in which it fosters dialogue and exchange among authors of diverse backgrounds.
10 February 2024